Volunteering in Haiti - Tipperary's Breda Sammon shares her story

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Volunteering in Haiti - Tipperary's Breda Sammon shares her story

Breda Sammon pictured outside the new house built recently in Jean Rabel

After a week of introductions and getting to know Jean Rabel and the people I work with, which was lovely, Monday morning came around and my “first day on the job”.
Sr Rose and I took off with Maxim (our driver, which sounds posh, but if you saw the roads, you would feel sorry for him - more about that in a minute) - to a place called Acadien, which is a primary school out in the “middle of nowhere.”
Let me explain why it is there. Sr Rose, is part of an order of Nuns called the RJM’s (Religious of Jesus and Mary) who run Gortnor Abbey in Mayo - she went to school there and later joined up. The Order work all over the world, mostly in the poorer places. When they came to Haiti they decided to build primary schools in the remotest of areas so that the children in these areas would get a chance of education, here in Jean Rabel -there are at least 6 primary and 6 secondary schools but they would not be accessible to people in the more rural areas.

So my job is to update/or build (not personally) a classroom in two of these schools, Acadian and another place called Collette.
So Monday morning, we took off for Acadian to look at the computer room and see what needs doing. I met the Principle of the school, Mr Wiggins, sure all I could do was say “Bonjou” and smile- that is my big problem here, the language. While I am learning from my audio and I have books, it is not happening as quickly as I thought, the language is a “little” bit like French but only some words - sorry Sr Theophane - I should have listened more in my French class!!
I will be getting Creole lessons from next week but until then, I will just have to smile and hope for the best. I am also going to hire an interpreter until I can manage on my own, I’d say he will be a rich man when he finishes with me.
Well back to my first day at work, the journey was “interesting” as I said “what roads”, we had to drive in the river for some part and then along stony roads, with potholes the size of craters, with motorbikes coming at you with maybe three, four or five people on them -this is the main type of transport here. Also, if you want a taxi, that is what you get. To give an idea of distance it takes approximatley 2 hours to go 34km.

On arrival at the school I was looking for the computer room and I was shown to a plot at the back of the school. So that is my first project - to get a computer room built. We then went to visit some of the other classrooms and pre-school.
As part of Sr Rose’s work she tries to make sure that children get the chance to attend school, but also looking at the accommodation they have. We went to visit a couple of families, where Sr Rose has organised for a new house to be built for them. Now how this works is that the family must provide a plot of land and build the house to a certain stage, and then Sr Rose takes over and finishes the house. They used to build the whole house in the beginning free of charge for the family. However, the participation of the family by providing some of the materials for the construction was a better model, it gave them dignity and more ownership of the house. It costs, wait or it €6,000 to build a house. The houses that Sr Rose builds are amazing and the stone work is second to none, because there are so many rocks in this area, they use them to build the walls and I think they look fantastic. So, if anyone wants to sponsor a house and donate €6,000, don’t hesitate to let me know or to find out more information e-mail me.

So the rest of the week was taken up with looking at the schools and then preparing for a very big event they have here at the end of the school year. All the 40 teachers that I will be training were invited here to Jean Rabel to take part in what they call a “formation day” - this would be a day when they all get together, have team building games, videos, and problem-solving sessions, and this year they had me.
I had to get my speech ready, in creole, explaining why I was here and what they would like me to do with them to benefit them and going forward to be able to teach the children.
It went well but I was a nervous wreck, but apparently, I did well and my pronunciation was “not bad”, they understood what I was asking them.

Well I was only exhausted after that, I cannot believe how easy it is to get tired here. The first week, I thought I was “on the way out” anything I did, which was not a lot, I was exhausted. Then they told me here that that is why it takes so long to get anything done, you must take everything slowly. Well this week I am better at that than last week, now I know what is going on. I am sure I will have no problem, taking my Siesta and then back to work again!!!
What else can I tell you - oh ya the food. As most of you know I am a very picky eater, but thank god they have cheese, beautiful bread, eggs. I even found Laughing Cow cheese in the shop the other day I was so happy. I have been a little adventurous, for me, eating, mango, sweet potatoes - I tried goat the other day and it was not as bad as I thought. There is plenty of chicken here but only the leg. Nobody can tell me where the rest of the chicken goes, but it does not land on my plate. Don’t think I will be coming home the “skinny malinks” I thought I would be!!
We all take it in turn to cook- who is all you might say, Well Sr Rose, Sr Nazareth, she is a Spanish Nun who works with the locals making crafts. Then there is Belen, she is another nun from Spain and Paloma, who is a young Volunteer.
Well, I had the opportunity to practice last week as everyone was away and I made a Spanish Omelette - it was grand, but the ants loved it too. I went to have it for my tea but about a 1000 ants got there before me. I covered it with a tea towel, but they got in anyway. I did smuggle in some rashers and sausages and we had those for breakfast one morning, Sr Rose was particularly delighted.
My day to cook is Monday, so will keep you posted on how I do.