Friday, March 1, 2013

Rosaline


During my first week in Haiti, I met a precious little girl named Rosaline.  We rode into this little village and about 40 vibrant kids chased after our tap-tap and started cheering, "The whities are here, the whities are here!"  It was quite the scene that unfolded.  We sat in the back of this pick-up truck and witnessed how riled up people could get just by our presence.  I was laughing with them, smiling at them, and waving to them.  Their happiness was infectious.  But then I saw these eyes staring at me.  Rosaline's eyes.  They were the biggest, saddest, eyes I've ever seen.  I was hoping that she'd snap out of this glare she was giving me, and soon be as happy as the rest of the children.  This was not the case.

When we got out of the tap-tap, we made our way into a building where school is held, and where some of the orphan children sleep.  While we were talking to the people in charge of this makeshift orphanage, I looked over to the corner of the room.  There was Rosaline sitting all alone.  She was perched on a bench, just staring at us with those cold eyes again that rarely blink.  While all the other kids were outside playing and laughing, Rosaline secluded herself and just sat and stared.  I couldn't help myself, so I went over and held her.  I painted her nails and made silly faces at her.  I tickled her, sang her songs, bounced her on my knee, gave her toys, etc.  I did anything and everything to make her smile and get that incredibly heartbreaking expression off of her face.  I just wanted to make her happy and then go out and play with her and the rest of the kids.  But Rosaline isn't like the rest of the kids.


Seeing Rosaline (center) for the second time
After learning and doing a little research about worms and parasites in Haiti, everything clicked.  Rosaline is the prime example.  She has a swollen belly, yet her arms and legs are very thin.  She looks and acts as if she's had the life sucked out of her.  From the little food Rosaline gets everyday, the parasites eat about 20% of that food intake.  This leaves her malnourished and it also affects her brain. These parasites actually directly alter the chemistry of the brain, which contributes to slower development and a much lower performance in school.  How do kids like Rosaline get these parasites in their system?  Just imagine the dust after the earthquake three years ago.  Michael described to me how the entire city of Port-au-prince was fully covered in a cloud of dust.  The parasites live in this dust and unclean drinking water.  There was no way to protect yourself from ingesting them.  Now there aren't clouds of dust around making this inevitable today, but it's still very easy to get these parasites into a child's system.  If you already have a weak immune system, just sitting in the dirt is a way they can be ingested.  It's still hard to prevent even though the Haitian people know they are supposed to wash their hands, keep their fingernails clean, wash their food, fully cook their meat, and avoid the dirt.  That would be easy to do in a developed country.  But not everyone has access to clean, running water and I can tell you firsthand that dirt isn't always the easiest thing to avoid.

So what's the answer?  Education about how to prevent these parasites is important.  But more importantly - medicine.  There is medication that combats worms from somebody's system for 6 whole months.  Each dose of medication is around $10.  I've started a fundraiser at http://www.crowdrise.com/ParasitesSuck/fundraiser/taylorallis if anyone wants to check out how they can directly bring life back into a child.

Rosaline asleep on my lap
We went back to the orphanage yesterday during school hours and we were again welcomed by about 40 children.  Rosaline was there wearing not only the exact same outfit, but the exact same expression on her face.  I immediately gravitated toward her and just held her and held her.  I could sense all the other school children getting angry that I was putting all my attention into this little girl and not as much into them.  Another thing I sensed was that Rosaline remembered me.  Last time I held her, I could tell she was scared that some strange white person was forcing a pink hue onto her nails and toys in her face.  But this time, she held onto ME.  I could seriously hold this child for an entire day if that allowed.  I went and sat down in the tap-tap with her on my lap, and Michael starting telling us more about her story.

Purpose 1: school walls
Purpose 2: the kids' beds
Both of her parents died in the earthquake and she was taken in by her aunt soon after.  Her aunt somehow contacted the pastor in her village and knew that he could provide better care for her.  Therefore, Rosaline is technically an orphan.  She lives with the pastor, whom the kids all call Grandpa.  Grandpa also cares for three other orphans, aside from his own kids, and runs a school on his land.  At night when shade from the woven coconut leaves isn't necessary anymore, they take down the woven leaves to use as a bed.

By looking at Rosaline's size, we can probably guess that she was born right before the earthquake.  We may never know what trauma this little girl endured, but we can make some assumptions based on what she's like today.  It's our understanding that Rosaline probably has some kind of mental disability on top of everything else.

"Grandpa" is a good man
Then Chad started asking me what I want to do for this little girl I've become so attached to.  I was so overwhelmed and wanted to do so much.  The only thing my emotions let me do was cry my eyes out.  I couldn't even think rationally as Rosaline sat there on my lap.  After finding out that she won't be eating today becuase their food delivery wouldn't come until next week, my first answer to Chad's question was, "I'd like to feed her."  I also said I wanted to give her the medications that would rid her of the parasites.  But will that really make her into the bubbly little girl that I wish she could be?  Will that cure everything and make her life perfect from here on out?  No.

Michael said that he would like to give her a safe and secure place to sleep each night.  Grandpa wishes to build a dormitory to house about 100 boys and girls on his land.  With some good shelter, we'd not only be helping Rosaline, but we'd be impacting the lives of multiple kids.  Michael also said that he'd want to give her some good and consistent medical care.  I felt so naive thinking that a meal and a dose of medication would be of much help in the long run.  Michael saw how hard of time I was having with all of this, and gave me a sheet of paper he had scribbled something on.  That something said, "Quiz!  List 5 things you'd like to do for Rosaline?"  I was still a mess from crying, and trying to put all my thoughts into a list of 5 made me cry even more.

When I finally put the pen to the paper, here's what I came up with:
1) Provide her with a decent place to live where it's safe and secure every night
2) See to it that she receives a variety of nutritious meals every day
3) Make the parasite medication accessible to her every 6 months
4) Give her a good, quality education
5) Make sure she is always cared for and loved

How possible are all of these things?  What can a 21-year-old girl do about this?  And reading through my list, would each item be that much harder to accomplish for 100 kids as opposed to just one?  We can house, feed, medicate, educate, and love many more than just Rosaline.  Our dream is to make a difference, and I'm beginning to realize that a 21-year-old girl can help.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

First Experiences

After finally arriving in Haiti, I was blown away.  Everyone told me that it was going to be so indescribable and I wouldn't even know how to start explaining it to people.  I now totally understand that.  I can tell you, though, that I've learned more throughout these past couple of weeks than I would've ever dreamed of learning in school.

Prescott and Michael kite-flying
As some of you know, I wasn't given a whole lot of information before leaving for Haiti.  I was told that a lot of it I would just need to experience and see what I got there.  Now that I'm here, I can give people a better background of what it is I'm doing.  First of all, I'm traveling with Chad Haber, his 12-year-son Prescott Haber, and a salesman from Sioux Falls named Dave Jansa.  The four of us make a pretty good team.  Dave and Chad handle a lot of business, and I help where I can while being Prescott's tutor.  Prescott is technically being homeschooled right now, as he was pulled out of Patrick Henry Middle School to travel to Haiti with us.  Day one of homeschooling:  kite flying on the beach.  While Chad and Dave travelled into Port-Au-Prince to do some business, Prescott and I tried getting this huge kite in the air with little wind.  It didn't work so well, and after watching the instructional video twice, we decided to wait for better wind conditions and go swimming instead.  Prescott loves homeschooling.

We are currently staying at a beach resort right now called Kaliko.  It's nice and very safe here, so that's why we've decided on calling this place our home.  We are currently in the process of negotiating a long-term stay.  Some people have posed the question when referring to our better than average living conditions, "Isn't that immoral?"  Well yes and no.  But safety is our top priority.

Besides Chad, Prescott, Dave, and I, we have another integral part to our team right now.  His name is Michael St-Vilien and he's our Haitian translator (among other things).  He was waiting for us as we got off the plane, and Michael is someone that Chad met during his very first trip to Haiti.  We didn't go through big introductions, I was just told to trust him with my life.  Now that I know him more and see his intelligence and heart, I'm certain that my life is in more than excellent hands with him as our guide.  He's not only helps us out with translations, but he plays a huge role in founding this school.  Michael's on the Board of Directors for Preventive Health Strategies, and has been involved in our dream since day one.  He has tremendous experience with things like mobile clinics and even helping sustain orphanages.  Amazing resume for a 21 year old.

video
After getting off the plane, I don't think I spoke for the rest of the day.  I just stared out the window with wide eyes and couldn't believe I was actually here.  Haiti shocked me.  I had tried looking at some pictures and videos of Haiti before I left to prepare me a little for what I was going to see.  But this experience driving from the airport to our hotel was unreal.  The sun sets at around 6:00 here, so half of our drive ended up being in the dark through these narrow roads with people scattered everywhere on them.  It was also the week of mardi gras, so everyone was out and about on the streets.  I couldn't believe how we didn't get in an accident, because a lot of people didn't have headlights, there were people constantly darting across the street, there were stray animals roaming, and every vehicle was constantly swerving around the bad spots in the road as a result of the earthquake.  It was amazing to me how skilled the drivers were and how everyone understood the unwritten rules of the road.  Michael told me that there's not much you can get a ticket for.  I asked him what isn't allowed when it comes to traffic, and he told me hitting someone and bad parking.

After getting checked into our room, we sat down to eat while kompa music serenaded us.  I ate goat without realizing it, gorged on some of the best chicken nuggets I've seriously ever encountered, and again recognized what a huge wimp I am when it comes to spicy foods.  I went back to my room and just felt really lonely.  I sat on my bed and wondered how this was all going to turn out.  I was living with 4 boys whom I've just met, there were so many things about this country that I didn't understand, I didn't know what my expectations were, and I was still really confused as to what I was going to bring to this PHS team.

After two weeks, I have a better understanding of my role here.  I do feel like this is where I'm supposed to be, and where my talents are being put to their greatest use.  I love being able to help Prescott pass the 6th grade, I love being able to meet children everyday that light up my life, I love promoting our work to the world, I love the feeling that I'm making a difference, and I love being a part of PHS.  Our main goal is still set on building a school and a clinic here in Haiti.  However, we're also doing anything we can to help people who really need it.  This includes looking for places to run clinics, giving food to orphanages, visiting schools that are in need of some help, etc.  We're also spending a lot of time fundraising and getting our story out there.  I hope you all follow us on our journey.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Haiti?

Hello all.  Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog.  I've never published anything online before, so bear with me in my first blogging attempt.  I am about to be forever changed, so I find documenting this point in my life to be the obligatory thing to do.  Some other objectives to this blog are to keep everyone updated on our work, tell my mother I'm still alive, and clarify to everyone what I'm really doing in Haiti.

For those of you that I haven't informed about this adventure, I'm taking a semester off to help found a school down in Haiti.  I've come to a point in my schooling where it no longer fulfills me.  I really want to do something worth doing, and school just isn't it right now.  For those of you who knew me in high school, you're probably thinking I'm crazy.  That Taylor Allis girl is quitting school?  Well no I'm not.  I certainly value my degree and have every intention to graduate.  I always thought graduating in 4 years was a huge deal, and that I would be a failure if I went any longer.  However, I've really prayed about this and have come to the conclusion that life isn't a race!  I'm 21 years old and have still got a whole life ahead of me to live.  What's so wrong with taking a few months that weren't a part of the original plan, and doing something so much cooler?  What sounds like it's going to make me a more well-rounded, educated individual:  Sitting in class learning how to do a math proof, or helping make a difference in the lives of others?  It all seemed kind of silly after God helped me put things into perspective.  Bottom line, say what you want but it no longer bothers me that I am choosing this opportunity over school.  Additionally, an experience like this will make me want to be a teacher that much more  the teacher I've always dreamed of being.  So don't worry, Dad.  I'm not quitting school.



A question that I get asked a lot is, "Why Haiti?"  I should probably explain how this whole idea got brought about.  First of all, it's always been my dream to teach abroad.  Graduating, finding a teaching job nearby, and ultimately settling into a place longterm has never appealed to me.  Combining  my love of travel and my love for teaching has always led me to want to teach overseas someday.  I've been looking into teaching abroad programs for years now.  Then a friend of mine came back from a trip to Haiti last summer and posed the question, "How would you like to become a founding teacher?"  I was obviously intrigued, but I didn't know how feasible that would really be.  This friend of mine travelled to Haiti on a medical mission with the non-profit organization Preventive Health Strategies.  He travelled with Dr. Annette Bosworth and Chad Haber, a couple who have been doing work down in Haiti for years.  They have recognized the considerable need for a school, and Chad has taken it upon himself to make that happen.  Basically, we had originally thought the school would be built by now and I could go teach for a semester.  But as it turns out, founding a school is NOT easy and many roadblocks have stood in the way of that goal.  As a future teacher and lover of education, I still really wanted to be involved in this project.  So I'm traveling to Haiti with the goal of bringing this school to life.  I really have no expectations and have no idea how I will be of service, but "every accomplishment starts with the decision to try."

I will try to keep everyone posted on my daily activities and any progress we're making.  I may have told some of you that I was only going to be on a 2-week trip to get my feet wet.  Now the plan is that we're not leaving until we get everything accomplished that we want to accomplish.  We have no return ticket and we have no idea when we'll be returning.  This is the type of adventure I live for.

What I'd like to ask from all of you is your support.  I've been told over and over again not to do this, but I really feel like it's something I'm called to do.  My mind is made up and I no longer need negativity and judgement from people  I need you to be there for me.  The unknown is a scary thing, and I would be lying to you if I wasn't a little afraid of how all of this will turn out.  So I appreciate that everyone is worried about me, but at the same time, how exciting is this?  I mean really.  Maybe it's okay to not have it all figured out.  Maybe I don't need answers right now to know that everything will work out in the end.  Embracing this unknown could help change the world, and that couldn't be a more exhilarating thought.

"Transformation always asks us to enter the unknown.  How you manage the unknown of your life is how you'll experience transformation." 
 Robert Ohotto


"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life."
― Muhammad Ali