Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saving Fabiola from a country in crisis.

A country in turmoil, people dodging bullets and the not so lucky will fall lifeless in bloody puddles. No one was exempt, your chance of survival was greater if you were home somewhere in foxholes away from stray bullets.  As a spectator looking from a distance, you instinctively detach yourself from it all unless you become a victim or someone you know becomes one.
On February 26, 2004; Fabiola Durand, a young girl from a neighboring home became some years ago a living in house member of Operation Hope since she was nine years old.  On this unfortunate day, she and four other members of the mission were out on an errand at the wrong time and at the wrong place.  They got caught in a cross fire and Fabiola was hit in the head by two bullets.  Other circumstances surrounding the shooting remain unknown.  I was in the States at the time when I was made aware of this shocking news.  What could I possibly do and how would I go about it.  At the risk of losing their own lives, two of her brothers managed to take her to the nearest hospital Saint Francois de Salle.  She was still alive they thought, and did not want to take any chances.  Lifeless bodies were piled up and for those barely alive, there was no medical personnel to assist them.  They were basically taken there and left to die.  However, her brothers, joined by her mother all members and working at Operation Hope Headquarters; were determined and not resigned. They pressed on me for help and I had no choice to ponder knocking the door of the divine for answer and help.
I was immediately engaged in multiple international calls trying to reach anyone able to help or redirect in our search to help save one soul.  More specifically, I was able to quickly enroll the help of Sharrye Moore from American Airlines who immediately put me in touch with Nancy Rivard President of “Airline Ambassador International” and Glen and Debbie Lahey President of “Kids Explore” in Canada.  In a domino effect a team was mobilized to help save one life while I wondered how many Fabiolas there could be out there.  Mrs. Amédé Gédeon, Director General of the Red Cross in Haiti was contacted and dispatched an ambulance for Fabiola with no specific drop off destination.  In the meantime with Glen working from Canada, plugging all possible contacts we found out that the Canadian Air Force was present on the airport tarmac of Port-au-Prince and was willing to airlift Fabiola to the Dominican Republic four days later after the shooting with no medical help while she was still in a coma.  I immediately released that info to Mrs. Gedeon who redirected the ambulance to the airport and then to the border where she ordered the drop off of the family members as the Air Force would not airlift the parents.  The Canadian Armed Forces flew Fabiola out of the country to the “General Hospital Plaza de la Salud” in Santo Domingo where she was admitted under the recommendation of Dr. Claudio Brito and under the care of Dr. Nepomuceno Mejia.  They miraculously saved her life, stabilized her condition and maintained her vital signs before discharging her to the care of Dr. Gittens of the Royal Columbian Hospital in Vancouver. 
We were able to gain international support and overcoming all obstacles upholding our commitment to save Fabiola and to manifest “Operation Hope” for her.  With the support of the Red Cross, the Canadian Embassy/Consulate, the Dominican Embassy/Consulate in Ottawa, The US Embassy/Consulate in Dominican Republic, we were able to secure safe passage from the Dominican Republic onto the US and Canadian soils.  On March 31 of the same year, accompanied Fabiola from the Dominican Republic, Glen Lahey, Volunteer Emergency Medicine Dr. Joseph Finkler and I arrived at the Vancouver airport, where she was immediately rushed to the “Royal Columbian Hospital”, New Minster, British Columbia.  She was admitted for emergency care by neurosurgeon Dr. Gittens, after miraculously surviving multiple gunshots to the head.  Later on, on my request, Debbie and Glen Lahey accepted the temporary role of Fabiola’s guardians during her stay in Canada.  
Operation Hope and Kids Explore launched a campaign that has rallied the interest of the Canadian people with the help of the Canadian media to support Fabiola’s recent plight and that of future children survivors of struggle throughout the world. 
Today, Fabiola is healthy however suffers occasionally from mild to severe headaches and seizures.  She is married with a beautiful daughter name Claruce and living in the US.   
How many Fabiolas out there who were not saved?  That is the question that haunts me every day as I continue to travel the slums of Haiti, living the Haitian struggle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Carrefour, what it meant to me

I spent most of my teenage years in Wanney, Carrefour, in essence I am considered a Carrefourois (From Carrefour) since 1968 and I am proud of it.  Unfortunately, I have seen Carrefour changed from a green land to an over populated archaic construction with no urbanization plan. I have seen friends come and go and that community going downward with an increasing sense of insecurity.

There was something very touching about this life shifting experience, it was for the first time I was moving in with my biological mother.  This reunion was significant as it gave me a chance to share a bit of my mother’s life, Alourdes as well as my sister’s life Kettely.  While I had the chance to live a normal life in a middle class family, I found my life near and with my mother to be as ordinary and magnificent as it could be.  My adoptive parents immigrated to the US and I was left at my teen’s years with the hope that one day, like any other Haitians kids dream, to be in the US as well.  

I attended Lycée Alexandre Pétion (1970) from a Catholic School “Sacred Heart”.  I had to make a lot of adjustment one could envision.  I made a commitment with myself to make the best of my school years there.  My Principal, Director Oxcyl, while he was fear by many, for the next few years would be for me a mentor that I will esteem for the rest of my life.  Through a classmate suggestion, We created an “Honor Corps” a paramilitary unit along with the existing school marching band teaching civic duties, discipline, self respect and honor. The Honor Corps was soon recognized nationally and was often requested by the president then Duvalier to parade on the presidential palatial lawn. This corps was highly respected by all even by the military and the police.  Very soon this idea was picked up by Lycée Toussaint Louverture, Lycée Firmin and College Frère Adrien.  When Duvalier instituted the Military Academy, the first recruits came from both Lycée Pétion and Lycée Louverture. While it was fearful for many, it was an opportunity for a few to take advantage and become part of the political/military system.  It was a sudden acquiesce to a social/military thrill, it was a chance to join the military elite and fame.  My mother however apprehensive of this system was frenzied about the possible outcome of my involvement, categorically stopped me from joining the military.  The second opportunity was a direct invitation and visit by the ministry of defense of a few selected one for a military scholarship to study in the US with a commitment to serve in Haiti.  Once again, my mother terrified more so by a black official government car and its passengers parked in front of our modest covered tree home than by this idea for her son to join the military.  Speechless but calmed and collected I recall, she consented to send me to this official invite at the National Palace.  As excited as I was, I was soon to realize that my mother was not sharing my enthusiasm. She quickly conceived my egress on the pretext of medical reasons and soon began to look into a way for me out of the country while some other parents were doing the same.   

In 1971, when Duvalier passed away, the Honor Corps played a historical role in his funeral.  The hearse was lead by Lycée Pétion and I was one of the first to witness a sudden violent whirlwind just before entering the cemetery gate that through a frenzy amongst the mourners and spectators, shoving and running from the invisible and the mental interpretation of what they thought it could have been.  This was given numeral explanations colored with lots of mysticism and superstition.  

It was also in Carrefour I was reunited with Nadia, the sister of an old classmate Jocelyn from Sacred Heart, whom four years later in 1975 would become my wife.  It was a simple yet lavish court yard wedding where family and friends reunited as this young couple was embarked in a new life in an unsure State.  During that same year, the prospect presented itself; my wife and I immigrated to the US with no intention to ever return, leaving political and economic fears behind and looking at new opportunities.  

Carrefour however remained truly my home community where my heart is and has always been and which was later transcended to other parts of the country as I became conscientious of the life condition of my compatriots in 1994 some 19 years later.  It was in Carrefour for some unexplained reasons I held my first political meeting.   This is also in Carrefour I took the engagement to move forward in the political affairs of my country knowing clearly the snare and danger I might have to face.

First General Meeting

At “Candle light”, we held our very first organized general political meeting in Brochette, Carrefour where about 20 people from different communes and backgrounds gathered in a home of a supporter with the intent to evaluate the objectives and strategies at hand.

In essence, this meeting was an assessment and a confirmation of my decision to run.  It was my first look at different individual political makeup but I was too prudent not to eliminate a few so early on the game.  Maybe because, I wanted to see if every one of them will deliver as so they promised.  It was also the time it was made clear to me that if I did not have available funds, there was no need for me to continue.  The money request began and automatically I started to fund what I called then the underground campaign. 

Some of these representatives in my eyes were honest while I allowed my inner sense of trust to advance and take my chance. One very aggressive experienced young man who happened to work for Aristide and Préval offered to work for me.  He is an attorney, very eloquent and persuasive and however would be the first one to betray me with false representation of Operation Hope in the South with the collection of funds on my behalf without authorization and later with the smuggling of medications and medicine supplies from our clinic in Diquini. It was also the time I began to see and understand the true motives of some pastors, their role and the true expectations of their involvement in campaign preparations.  I was much more impressed with a gentleman who presented himself as a true combatant with an interesting background.  For some unknown reasons, except one could guest, he believed in me.  His advice to me, was to always be kind and gentle while he will be behind me as a leopard ready to defend me and the cause.

There was a consensus to fully advance with the movement throughout the country as I was more than ever prepared and coherent with a conscious mind to stir the old system and help impart the changes for my people.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The decision to serve was clear

The political meetings became more frequent.  People from all over the ten departments wanted to see me and discuss their personal or group political experiences and their disappointments.  They saw in me someone who could represent them as I was become surer of this responsibility to serve my country in a different capacity that I initially anticipated.  If anything, I was ready to provoke the system in a revolution of ideas and attitude for change. 

In the mean time, the need for health care in my view became more apparent as I traveled the country.  I engaged several medical teams in different areas in a very timid way as I did not want to mix my political and social activities and for that reason, I never used the media for political exposure.  Something I was later made aware that I should have done.  I found great pleasures to be able to play that small humanitarian role in the country and more importantly to be seen as someone politically who could possibly contribute for a real change.

It was clear that I was engaged in this new role while I was being slowly shaped into it to fit in the best I could.

Meeting Père “Ra”

By the end of 2007, my life took on a new direction.  I started meeting people of all background and life styles with a different outlook, topic and purpose.    I was also being approached by different organizations all having one thing in common; the need for a drastic change and was I the person able to impart that change?

My time now was divided between social and political activities.  It was important that I kept the two at odds, although difficult to do, due to a certain similarity but separating the individual from the organization he represented was easy.  In essence once again I became an advocate of the people with a total different possible outcome.  As timid as I was, my popularity escalated despite the quiescence I imposed on the work of my supporters.  Now that I had a new purpose, I was forced to have at least two body guards in my company at all times which in my own way I found to be ridiculous.  To them it was maybe the lifestyle they wanted me to project but to me it was an anticipated complex of superiority that I could not bear.  Maybe it was a step that all aspiring political candidates had to go through. 

In a desperate search for transportation, a young man of a curious background offered to assist me in finding couple used automobiles.  He took me to Martissant to look at two good used cars as he so described.  The owner, an older well mannered gentleman was a bit disturbed as he without any reserves informed that he was unable to welcome anyone to his home without previously being announced.  However, there was something different about me he said that he will make an exception.  He invited me into his home, to his living room where he offered me to be as comfortable as I could be.  A bit bizarre but honored, I began to congratulate him for an impressive painting collection I could not avoid myself from noticing.  He was very tranquil and deep in his thoughts as he began sharing with me historical and mystical revelations of our native country.  When you walked through my gate he said, I had no choice but to welcome you.  You see, you have embarked in this new vision and you will have to be extremely careful he said as he leaned on his cane to weight out his words. "It will be awfully challenging for this President (Rene Preval) or the next President to be as our country will be severely hit by an earthquake or a tsunami.  You will need to start planning construction early enough in high mountains and urge people to leave the flat land areas and the capital to prevent the extermination of the lives of many thousands citizens while we will watch astounded and in fear the destruction of our institutions".  I listened to him in stillness, cold and speechless.  His mystic or psychic ability to speak with such calmness put me in touch with my inner self and I was forever convinced to purse the course I was in.  Just before I left, I asked him if I could get a photograph of us as a souvenir.  He kindly accepted but requested his picture not to reach any media or exposed to public view at any condition. 

I left dazzled and pleased as if I just met an angel with golden white beard.  It was a few minutes later while traveling in direction to Carrefour I realized that Père Ra and I never said a word about used cars.   

Béchelet/First proposal

During the same year of 2006, I received a visit from Béchelet, a friend of mine; a brother, a mentor who has been trying for couple years since 2004 for me to play a role in the political arena.  I would always give him the same refrain but this time he was not about to hear it.  He was accompanied by representatives from different Department and supported by other people from the West.  They were very compelling with their exposé and I was too humble to refuse and too weak to run.  As they talked, I questioned God the same way I did in 1994.  If it was God’s wishes for me to be an antagonist in Haiti’s political history, I was ready to take on the challenge and bear that flame to the highest point to bring about the change Haiti has been struggling to reach since 1804. It was almost with acquiescence I said yes to the invite if that was the wish of the people.   From that point on, an underground campaign was set in motion.

Béchelet and I have a long history together.  While he was very visible helping the Lavalas Movement and a great fan of Aristide, I was by political default doing the same thing helping the disadvantaged while working in Cite Soleil, Belair, Grande Ravine and other destitute communities in the Capital and in the provinces.  Béchelet while being a handicap, victim of political hatred never stopped fighting for the cause of the forgotten.  He was a non selfish individual giving his life and all for the cause of Aristide and most importantly for the cause of the Haitian people.  He was tireless, never complained of his physical disability while being carried, wheeled or dragged if need be.  Being the contact man for Aristide, he was very often in charge of public motivations but was also very often taken advantage by many.  He never kept a cent for himself; he always gave it all to assure the success of his political beliefs.  I wanted so badly to help him get some mobility.  I managed to get his medical record, even arranged for special surgery for him in the US but he opted to continue his fight on behalf of Aristide’s return and rejected all hopes of getting him a better life.  Today, Béchelet is as poor as he was and forgotten by all.   

Nevertheless, he was an inspiration for me and never ceased one day to urge me to go one step ahead as if I do, I could help him and so many more Haitians.

I began to be more coherent and left it all in the divine hands. 

Nothing but fear.

As I continued working in different communities in the different Departments, I began to realize that the country was contaminated with a bacterium of dependency, reinforcing an ever ending poverty with no way out. Those able to escape at the risk of losing their lives would do it without hesitation and unfortunately would perish braving the Atlantic Ocean trying desperately to reach another Caribbean island or the southern coast of the US.  Terrible choices one had to make from desperation looking for a better life and those able to leave legally would do so with a one way ticket with no special interest in the country except to financially support a family member with no other string attach. 

I could hear echoing an entreaty for me to enter the political life from the people I was serving, and who I was to even think that I could do more than what I was doing.  The struggle persisted for years despite all the requests and suggestions and one hot summer day in 2006, I grasped finally the rationale why I wanted to do nothing with politics.  It was fear and nothing but fear and in the meantime, I was seen as a valiant man bold enough to walk and work in areas fear by most.

If I was cultivating any idea to change the lives of these people with a long term outcome, certainly a more concentrated actions would have to take place to incite in all the need to alter and this change would have to start from within, starting with me.