THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS: The bad, but also the very good

I am at home in Kalispell, Montana. It is really pretty wonderful to be here with my husband, Donnel.    I have missed him, a lot, so the companionship is great!

DOF & JOF-Kalispell-28 Nov2019
Donnel and Janet O’Flynn at home in Kalispell, sending you good wishes for Thanksgiving!

The reason that I am at home during this time is not wonderful though.  The country of Haiti is in turmoil.  The Global Mission office of the Episcopal Church asked me to leave in the third week of October, due to safety concerns, and, as it turns out, I think they were right to make that request. If I had waited it would have been hard to travel to the airport in safety.

The reasons for the turmoil are summarized here, at the end of this blog entry, in Appendix A.  Probably not everyone is curious about the political causes for the unsettled situation, so I am putting that at the end.

The troubles, while severe, have not directly touched our campus.  I took these photos just before heading out to the airport to show how VERY calm it is on Rue Barrière Rouge 2, our little street. Not even a chicken crossing the road, at least at the moment when the shutter clicked. And, except when the students are on campus to study, it is very calm inside the gate of  the campus too! You can see the Haitian flag and the flag of FSRL.

What does this all mean for us, as long-time supporters of FSRL?  Two remarkable things.


  1.  Our students have continued to go to school. We have tried to use some humor, calling it “ninja FSRL”: a stealth operation.  They don’t wear uniforms, and they don’t say where they are going.  But they have been dedicated to completing the courses they started during better times.

Here is the group of five OT students who have been participating with five Canadian OT students of the Université de Sherbrooke in a demanding and high-level course called Fonctions Cerebrales et Ergothérapie. The students are Abigail, Wood, Clinetana, Annabelle, and (back of his head only) Karly Emmanuel.  In the back is a very good cook, Mme Anne Marie.   One of the PT students, Boaz Telfort, is there too, lending his technology expertise.   

This picture was taken after I left by our wonderful chaplain, Père Sonley Joseph, who went by to encourage the students and staff.


2.  Our students have also continued to go to our clinic at the local hospital, Centre Universitaire Tèt Ansanm, at Hôpital Ste Croix.   The students are led by Nirva Elisma, 4th year PT student, who takes a mixed group of all the class years, OT and PT, to the clinic for outpatients and also to work with inpatients. Clinical supervision is provided by Mr Norman Villagra, PT Clinical Coordinator, who is in daily contact, from Santiago, Chile!  His photo is in the last post, with a soon-to-graduate senior student.

Nirva at STAND-April 2019
Nirva is in the scrubs filled with hearts, on the right side of the photo. Here she is with a patient and a volunteer at STAND, an American-led clinic in the north, a few months ago.

Meanwhile, the administration continues to be coordinated by Mlle Miselene Lafleur, Administratrice d’excellence! lafleur et jof at desk

And our two newest faculty members, Mr Jorel Simplice and Mme Cécile Auguste, photos in the last post, keep the academic life on track, in spite of the many many challenges.


I have been doing a lot of thinking about an article published this week by Charity Navigator:  the link, and an excerpt, are below in Appendix B.  (So that you can read it all for yourself! )  The article endorses organizations that take on risky tasks, which for that reason experience failures along the way.    We, the supporters of FSRL, certainly took on a risky task.  Taking on the job of offering two new professional education programs, with an annual budget of $8,000 the first year, was a big risk.  What failures have we experienced along the way?  Well, we hired a dean precipitously in October of 2016, and parted ways by mutual agreement soon after.  We accumulated various debts  (which we are now happily paying down).   We bought a used generator at a good price only to find it broke down within a month.  We tried putting a dorm into our new small building last May, but it was so cramped that we changed our minds and had to let our students go out into town to find rooms to rent. We have had twice now to send the dean (me) home due to civil unrest.

I can’t resist quoting two lines from the Charity Navigator article (link to full text below).

“The process of designing and piloting new ideas is inherently risky, costly, and may result in failure,…”

“A nonprofit that is willing to openly share what has worked and what has not worked understands the relevance of tracking and analyzing results, and values the importance of accountability and transparency.”

I give thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for the gift of FSRL in my life.  The Haitian academic and administrative staff have proven their worth, their dedication, time after time.  The unmeasurable gifts of time by North and South American volunteer educators (therapists, social workers, nurses, doctors) have added ripple to ripple, to make a wave of good going out into the world.  Small and large donations have been the energy source for this effort, without which it could not be happening.  As a result, I have had the privilege of seeing this beautiful multiplier effect: young people are becoming compassionate and competent professionals, and people with disabilities are receiving care.   That is one sign of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, and I can see it with my own eyes, and you can too!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Appendix A: the background of civil unrest, going back to October of 2018.

  • Two years after the election, the results continued to be contested, due to overwhelming influence of the departing president, Martelly.   Groups of citizens affiliated with political parties that were against the president, Jovenal Moise, began to hold organized protests demanding that he at least change his prime minister (PM) to include opposition representatives. At the same time the terms expired for one cohort of Parliamentary representatives (senators and deputies), but no election was held to replace them.  In response, Moise fired his PM and invited an opposition PM.  The opposition PM encouraged resistance to the government.  He was soon fired too, leaving the post vacant.  Demonstrators shifted to demanding that Moise resign.
  • Moise has become silent. During the past six months he has spoken to the people only twice, in hidden settings that are broadcast on radio and TV.   He says “we must continue dialogue.”  But he has not even started a dialogue.
  • PetroCaribe scandal:   Demonstrators raised the issue of a Haitian government report (over 100 pages) saying that more than a billion dollars loaned to Haiti by Venezuela had gone missing, and that in order to repay the debt the few methods of taxation were going to be drastically increased.  Moise was one of the people implicated, but never tried.
  • Hunger, limited ability to buy food and gas.  Inflation is making the earnings of ordinary Haitians dwindle.  When Donnel and I arrived in Haiti in the fall of 2015,  60 gourdes (local currency) would get you a US dollar.  Now you need 94 gdes for that same US dollar.   If a person’s earnings (for small business or a job) have not gone up, that means they can buy only 2/3 of the amount of food for their families.
  • Pays-Lock or “Country-Lockdown”: The opposition leaders organized the demonstrators to lock down the country, that is, to block movement of goods and people: not too hard to do because all roads between north and south pass right through Port-au-Prince.  Entrance and exit to the city has been more and more thoroughly blocked by physical blockades and burning tires.  Increasingly the barricades are reinforced by members of gangs, paid by the parties to use force. Spill-over into gang conflict now causes additional violence.  Schools have been forced to stay closed since mid-September, in what is called a “school strike”.

Appendix B: a timely article from Charity Navigator

“The fact that so many nonprofits have achieved limited success in their pursuit of viable and long-lasting solutions underscores the need to venture into uncharted territories. This exploration and innovation are almost always easier said than done. The process of designing and piloting new ideas is inherently risky, costly, and may result in failure,… Consequently, the nonprofit community,…, is often discouraged from implementing fresh ideas, fearing the loss of financial support if the program fails to meet its goals. However, the fear of failure, as if it were a foe, only serves to fuel stagnation and extinguish creativity and innovation.

Successful organizations are champions of failure. They know that the road to success is marked by twists, turns, and setbacks. …

The fear of failure, criticism, and risk of losing the support of funders dissuades nonprofits from taking the kind of programmatic risks necessary to learn, progress, and succeed in their missions.

As donors, we have the ability to change how we view failure or mistakes. We can choose to reward the organizations we believe are tackling long-standing social issues with new and fresh approaches, even if they don’t work out as planned. A nonprofit that is willing to openly share what has worked and what has not worked understands the relevance of tracking and analyzing results, and values the importance of accountability and transparency.”

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