Open Arms

This past week, Mike Nicholson, Mike Foley, and I traveled to Brit’s Home with 16 hardworking high school students from Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury. A highlight for me, on this trip, and every trip, is working side by side with the Haitians. I recall Saint John’s first trip in 2013, when we helped build the road to the Orphanage. That year, we worked with a whole team of Haitians and the comradery between the Saint John’s Team and the Haitians was incredible. We were challenged that year to keep up with the Haitians and we had to prove ourselves. Some of the same workers still work for Be Like Brit and remember our teams from past years. The difference now is that we do not have to prove ourselves as hard workers and the workers now speak some English and we speak some Creole.

It seems that every trip with Saint John’s, Len steps up the challenge, from building the road our first trip, to the breaking of the ground for the Depot last year. This year was no different. Our goal this trip was to build two homes and pour the concrete footings for the Depot. One home was covered through the Britsionary program and the second through the kind donations made by the Be Like Brit supporters via Hurricane Matthew relief.

On Sunday after church, we visited the jobsite and the family for whom we’d be building the homes. The one room home would be for the Mother, and the two room home for the daughter, her husband and the son. The family’s existing home was a lean-to with a max height of four feet. When it would rain, the entire structure would be flooded. It was constructed of wood scraps, tarps, clothing, and tin. The family was excited for their new homes.

On Monday after our Creole lesson with Madona and Frankie, we headed back to the job site. Our job was to level the ground and dig the fourteen 3ft deep holes for the posts in preparation for the concrete slabs to be poured on Tuesday. Right above the job site is sacred land, where the Haitians would pray and sing praises to God. It is located high above the market of Grand Goave. It was the only area that provided shade, so we sat there for our water breaks while being respectful.

On most days we would return to the job site after lunch to complete the tasks for the day. On Monday, after we completed the site prep, we headed to Vallue to play soccer with the locals on the top of the mountain. This is always one of the favorite excursions. Following the game, we headed to take a quick dip in the ocean and return to Brit’s Home just in time for dinner a 6 PM.

Working with the Haitian laborers on the job site was interesting this trip. For the first time, there was a female worker. She was very strong and a very hard worker. This was great to see! With the two homes being side to side, it was difficult to arrange the site so that the nineteen Saint John’s workers and the half dozen Haitian workers could be continuously working. Multi-tasking is a foreign concept to the Haitians. They wanted to build one home, then the second. It took some convincing but we had both houses being built at the same time, like a production line. “Measure twice, cut once” is another phrase that needs to be taught!

One afternoon, Fredo, the oldest of the 33 boys, invited Mike Foley, my son Matt and myself to a couple of his English classes. It was the Advance I class taught by Wilmann. During the class the students can only speak English. Fredo’s English has improved so much since my last visit this past August. The interesting part of the class was before Wilmann came into the class the students were trying to finish their homework and one of the boys started to copy another student’s homework. Some things are no different from Haiti and the US! Also on Thursday night, they announced that there would be no school on Friday. They kids went crazy. It was like a snow day was announced in the US.

On Thursday and Friday we were able to begin the pouring of the concrete footings for the Depot back at Brit’s Home. We again worked side by side with the Haitians but it was a different group than the home building crew. Bucket Brigades is a rite of passage for a Britsionary. Our group, although exhausted, worked their tails off. We would crank the music, sing and dance while pouring hundreds of buckets.

On Friday, during the pouring of the footings, one of the workers asked if we wanted to play soccer after work. We accepted the challenge. So after our trip to the beach and souvenir shopping, we returned to play soccer against the Haitians. There were workers from the concrete crew and the home building crew. Because of the number of Saint John’s boys, Mike, Mike, and I played with the Haitians! We played until it was too dark to play anymore. It was one of the highlights of the trip.

In the beginning of the week, Mike, Mike, Frankie, Madona, and I sat down with Love to go over the week. One request that the three teachers had was to have as many meals as possible to be Haitian style. The food was awesome! The kitchen staff was incredible. We had chicken, fish, fried beef, pate, eggplant parmesan straight from the garden, just to mention a few. On the last night, we had the kitchen crew come up to the Britsionary area so that we could give them a standing ovation.

From the staff at the OC in Worcester, to the entire Gengel family, to all the caregivers at Brit’s Home, the 66 children, the construction workers, Love, and the Britsionary team of Frankie and Madona; you all made Saint John’s High School team feel welcome and part of your family. Thank you for welcoming us with Open Arms.