"I went to Haiti to see how well my money was being spent," said Ray Good of St. Jacobs, "And I returned home feeling that this was the best trip I have had in 80 years!" Ray, who is 80 years old, a retired businessman and FIDA supporter, was one of 11 people from the Waterloo area who traveled to Haiti in February 2000 to see what in the world FIDA was doing. Ray admits that it took a bit of convincing to commit to taking the trip. "I even canceled my ticket at one point," he says with a laugh, "But I sure am glad I went." One of the highlights for Ray was getting to meet the foster child he supports through Compassion Canada. Both Ray and his niece Maria spent a day visiting their foster children at Wall's Guest House. One of the highlights for the rest of us was watching Ray and Homer Schwindt, FIDA Board Chairman (the other octagenarian on the trip), attempt to inflate a soccer ball with a balloon pump (a gift for Ray's foster child). The next three days of the tour were spent on the road visiting FIDA sites... Haute Saint Marc, where we met with representatives of the cooperative who have had great success in marketing Taiwanese rice and are now anxious to build a silo for their growing harvest. Without a silo, the coop is forced to sell the excess yield, thereby affecting the price they are able to get at the market. They are equally anxious to build a new classroom for the growing number of children now able to attend school. What a wonderful treat it was to hear the musical rote of lessons being learned!
The second day trip to Dessables was an exceedingly hot and dusty trip where lives the poorest of the poor. Dessables, being a desert zone, has little to no agricultural potential. FIDA operates a health clinic here, under the very capable guidance of Health Clinic Coordinator Rosemene Flezin. This clinic, which is now completed (through a spring fundraiser held two years ago), has trained in this past year 32 health agents, 17 matrons, and 11 veterinary agents in 11 areas. It has given care to 2,798 malnourished children, provided 7,255 children with vitamin A, and vaccines for 196 pregnant women and 2,998 women who are of childbearing age.
The third day trip to Fon Batis, always the most difficult, proved to be the most rewarding. This day, we travelled with Canadian embassy representative Michel Guillmette and a crew from Haiti TV to celebrate the completion of a 25,000 gallon reservoir. The reservoir project includes a laundry area, shower stall, and toilet facility and was one of the 25 projects that are approved each year through the embassy (Approximately 800 applications for these small time-framed projects are received each year. This is the second project that FIDA has had approved in the last two years). The incredibly steep trail to the reservoir itself inhibited some members from visiting the site. The real celebration, however, was not lost.
Further up the mountain, hundreds of people had gathered to share with us their thanksgiving for their new reservoir. "We started little by little," said the president of the cooperative, "And now we are growing. We had a problem with water and FIDA presented us to the Canadian Embassy where Raynall (FIDA's coop coordinator) insisted on this project. Then God led M. Guillmette to realize this project. We are thankful to FIDA for bringing us cooperatives, for giving us technical assistance. We are thankful to God for sending you to us."
Then a young boy beat out a gentle rhythm on his drum. The women of the cooperative swayed through the slim aisle, carrying on their heads baskets of beans, cabbage, potatoes, yams, coffee beans... the fruits of their cooperative, and set them at our feet.
They sing, "Women are the cornerstone of life. Without us you cannot succeed. We care for the home, we care for the garden, we go to market. Men, you must not take advantage of us. Without us, there is no life. We are important to the fight, we must fight together if we are going to change our life. So men, take your hats off to us."
And the men did.
Our trip could have ended there for each of us remained profoundly moved by what we had just seen.