Greetings Clean the World Family. We have just arrived back from our third major soap distribution to Cap Haitien, Haiti. Come along with me on a short, yet eventful, 3 day journey in and out of the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere that has captured our hearts and minds!
A special thanks to my Uncle, Mark Von Seipler. Mark graciously donated all the funds necessary for this very important trip back to Haiti. On behalf of the rest of the Clean the World family, thank you Uncle Mark!
Thursday, November 19, 2009:
Its 4:00pm ET in the afternoon. Bobby Bahret and I completed our last supply run to Best Buy to ensure we had enough tape to document our visit. Pastor Brutus, CTW Caribbean Director and Haitian Aid leader, has just called to inform us that a very important meeting will occur on Friday evening with Board members of the Evangelical Church of Haiti (ECH), who are serving as our base of distribution operation in the northern region of Haiti- Cap Haitien. This is great news as these Board members will travel from all regions of Haiti to meet with us.
It is time to begin our drive to Miami for our early morning flight. This will be Bobby’s first international trip while it is Pastor Brutus’ fifth visit to Haiti this year.
We arrive at Loews- Maimi Beach around 10:00pm ET. Loews Miami Beach donated two rooms to Clean the World this evening. Isn’t that awesome!!! As they go through the process to officially donate soap and shampoo to CTW, they wanted to contribute to our efforts to help those that need it most. A very big and special THANK YOU to Ryan and all our wonderful friends at Loews Miami Beach who made a big contribution to Clean the World for this ever so important Haiti visit. Please visit them here and stay with them on your next visit to Miami’s South Beach: http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Hotels/Miami-Beach-Hotel/Overview.aspx
Friday, November 20, 2009
4:30am ET- Off to Miami International Airport for a 6:45am ET flight. Here is what I wrote on that flight:
*******I am writing this blog from seat 7A on American Airlines flight 377. Pastor Julio Brutus, Bobby Bahret and I left Miami International at 6:45am this morning bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We will arrive at 8:30am local time. From there, we will board a “puddle jumper” on Tortug Airlines, flying low, over the cities and countryside, to the northern region of Haiti- Cap Haitien.
If the internet is working, I will send this note to you from Hotel Mont Joli, about a 30 minute drive from the airport. That 30 minute drive through downtown Cap Haitien will be 30 minutes of an incredible dichotomy. Haiti, being colonized by the French, has beautiful European-style curves, moldings, entrance ways and stone. You can see it if you look very carefully. Of course, you will have to look around the sewage, through the desperation, and ignore the filth and disease. You will have to look around people that live every day in utter chaos, yet flow with a rhythm as this is what they are born into. This is their society. We cannot avoid it- countless numbers of children, so beautiful and precious and innocent. As children, they have hope and smile.
And you will see parents and adults, those that have lived in this neighborhood for many years. When we smile at them, they will smile back, but one wonders what they are really thinking and feeling. Here they are living with dignity and pride in a place that attempts to sap those feelings away nearly every moment of every day.
Bobby has never been to Haiti. This 30 minute drive may completely change his outlook on life, at least for a moment.
Pastor Brutus grew up here. He grew up at a time when you could see the beautiful architecture and the economy was relatively strong. This was his life a time ago. Crime was low and the island and region attracted tourist. When he speaks about that time, he has a smile and you can see yesteryear in his eyes. But when Jean Bertrand Aristide came into power, things drastically began to change. This dictator was the first of a string of dictators that sucked the life out of Haiti and threw it into a constant struggle and battle over power and wealth. The people and the land have suffered ever since.
Today, it is nothing like what Pastor Brutus remembers. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Dangerous, dirty, desperate… there is such a large population of children, teenagers, 20 and 30 year olds that from birth, most in this area have known nothing but the present conditions.
When I see this I have a burning passion- one thought- I must help! You must help! Together, we must find a way to help them live a better life with more dignity with less disease and death. Even if the change seems so small to us, I promise you it is good and it is our calling!******
12:00pm- Those words were almost completely true. The scenes were dramatic. The filth and desperation seemed to be greater than my first visit to Haiti. One big change was apparent: As we drove from Cap Haitien airport to Hotel Mont Joli, we attempted to video the drive. The population was not happy. Many have come to Haiti and documented how “bad” it is. Those documentations and exploitations occurred with no returns seen by the population. This has scarred the people. We received several curses, shouts, middle fingers and anger. Individuals approached the truck to ensure we stopped taping. For the first time, I worried for our safety.
1:30pm- Simeon, a long time friend of Pastor Brutus, was our driver. After a quick stop at Mont Joli to drop off our bags, check the internet, which was not working as you have probably figured out, and eat lunch, we drove through the town again on our way to the brush.
A very bumpy and slow drive reveals many scenes. All the filth, sewage and suffocation predicted earlier were witnessed at every single street corner and alley way. In front, behind, it doesn’t matter where you look, there is no doubt at all that this is one of the poorest and desperate countries in the world. Later on our trip Bobby made a very telling observation: “This place is a combination of complete poverty and no law and that is a very bad combination”. He couldn’t have been more accurate.
We gradually drove from the total chaos of the city to a more refreshing and calm scene in the brush. The country seems simpler, with less people and more greenery, but the disease is still present. Our first stop is to a school. This school is in the brush. No walls, no ceiling, no building. A school in the woods with circles and patches that represent classrooms. We delivered soap to this group on our last trip. We are greeted by 30 adults and their children. They are waiting for our arrival. They want two things: First, to tell us how incredibly grateful they are for the soap they have already received. They have been using the soap and they are so appreciative. With smiles, they ask me to pass the message to you and to let you know that they are praying for you. Think about this for a minute: We, in the United States are in their prayers! Isn’t that sort of ironic? They explain that by praying for us, they know that we will help them, and so they pray for Clean the World every day… Incredible! I thank them and speak to them about our progress in the US and our future plans. They clap and cheer us!
Second, they wish to receive more soap. We brought 3 boxes with us. We distribute one of the boxes. They receive 300 bars of soap and are again incredibly grateful. So far, it is a great day!
4:30pm- I now experience a moment of truth. I was led to a home back in the woods. A mother who has 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys, lives there. Her name is Teresa. I joke with her about my four children and how we are both crazy to have so many kids. She laughs. She appears to be in her late thirty’s. Her mother is 75 and lives in the house too. There did not appear to be a father.
This house is made of wood, and is no more than 20 feet by 20 feet. It has three very small rooms, a rusted tin roof, a curtain as the front door and nothing protecting the windows. Teresa tells me that her kids are always sick, including her oldest daughter, 11 years old, who is constantly coughing in the background. The kids frequently have stomach aches and their skin is very flaky and dry. Their scalps peel. This is diarrheal disease. The intestinal pains and dehydration are the exact symptoms of the fourth leading cause of death amongst children worldwide. And then she quietly tells me that she had another child, a 3 year old boy. She says he died to the illness. After succumbing to the pain and dehydration, what would have been her oldest boy now, maybe the man of the house, died, leaving Teresa to bury him. I am not sure what to say. At first, I am silent, and then I tell her that I am sorry for her loss and that I want to stop those deaths.
I ask if she bathes the children regularly. She says that she wants to but soap is expensive. She works in the gardens and makes very little money. She needs to buy food before soap.
This boy died over more than 3 years ago. Since his death, I estimate that we have thrown away over 1 billion bars of soap in the United States. Could we have prevented his death? Maybe.
Teresa tells me that she knows several more mothers in the area that have lost their babies to the exact same disease. I explain to her how diarrheal disease is contracted. I ask her to please ensure her children wash their hands after they defecate. She promises that she will. I give her 50 bars of soap $20 to buy food. She cries and thanks me. And then she says that she will pray for me so that I can help the other woman in the area. So selfless and humble and grateful that she will pray for me.
We speak to other mothers in the area and are faced with the same story again and again. The children are regularly sick and in pain. The symptoms are the same. The soap is almost begged for by each and every one.
5:30pm- We get back in the truck and head up the rough dirt roads towards an orphanage we visited on our last trip to Haiti. The mood is somber in the truck at first, but then we decide to hand soap to people walking up the road. Quickly, the joy comes back.
On our way, we pass a flea market. As the sun begins to set on the horizon, hundreds of sellers can be seen packing up. We get out of the truck and see a package of soap being sold. Three regular bars of soap are being sold for $1.80 American. This is one days wage for 75% of Haitians. Can you imagine a world where 3 bars of soap are equivalent to one days wage for 75% of the population? If you make $50,000 a year in America, this 3-pack of soap would be equivalent to $136 or $45 for each bar.
6:00pm- We arrive at the Orphanage. Children come running towards us. We break out another box of soap and begin handing it out. Another 300 bars is gone in a few short moments. I will only give a pack of soap to a child if they smile. They are all smiling and laughing. This is what it is all about.
As we drive away there is a feeling of joy in the truck. Thinking about what these orphans have been faced with thus far in their short lives and what is yet to come in this desperate island country, we know that bringing those smiles out of them today was very good for them and for us. I want to personally thank you for making that moment possible.
8:30pm ET- We finally arrive back to downtown Cap Haitien to meet the ECH Board of Directors. First, we view the storage room where 120,000 bars of Clean the World soap are stored, ready for distribution. It looks fabulous and the boxes are in great shape, stacked from the floor the roof. The boat delivery seemed to work.
After viewing the soap, we move to a very small room, under a single light, a fan blowing with a radio station broadcasting songs from the church behind us. Pastor Joshua is the President Elect. He is a warm individual with a very friendly smile and speaks very good English. The Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, former President and 2 other officers are also there. Among the group are two lawyers, and a PHD. They are Pastors and executives from all over Haiti and Miami. They are here for one reason: to form a partnership with Clean the World. They want to formally become our Haiti distribution partner and manage our efforts on the ground.
Each one of them personally thanks us for what we have already done and offer very clear feedback that the soap is incredibly helpful and making a difference already. They explain that our soap distribution program is being talked about from all parts of Haiti. Pastor Joshua very clearly explains “Our people need help. Clean the World is helping our people and for that we wish to join you and help your efforts as we are here to help our people too.” They are requesting clear guidelines and expectations from me. We meet and discuss several details from transportation to storage to regular communication. We discuss documentation and distribution procedures. We also agree to the most important rule: Clean the World soap must be handed out to those in need for free. They fully agree. We meet for almost two hours. These questions and discussions are great. I explain in detail our progress in the US. How we have come a long way but have a very long way to go. The partnership is agreed upon. Responsibilities are agreed to. We have an established a very strong base in Cap Haitien, Haiti with a very capable, trustworthy, and intelligent group. I am very pleased with the meeting. At the end, we have a moment of laughter and I shout “Now let’s Clean the World” and unison the room shouts back in Haitian accented English: “Clean the World! Clean the World!”
Pastor Brutus has made a very wise selection with ECH. He knows this group very well and knows that they should be our base. He is right. If not for Pastor Brutus, we would not be where we are today in Haiti. These are his friends and colleagues. He has been discussing Clean the World with them from the beginning. Even though he Pastors several churches in Orlando, is invited across the US and Canada to preach on a regular basis, he still finds the time to push Clean the World forward in Haiti. He believes strongly in our mission. We are incredibly blessed to have Pastor Brutus on the Clean the World team!
As we are leaving Bobby makes a great observation. “I wonder what others are doing on this Friday night across the world. As they relax at home, eating dinner or heading out for a night on the town, Clean the World is here, in the heart of Haiti, in a small room, under a single light, discussing the details on establishing our base. What a great Friday night!” It’s time to head back to Mont Joli.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
10:00am – We begin the day at the ceremony for Pastor Joshua’s official election as President of ECH. We are in a beautiful church building with a roof this time. In front of approximately 500 church members and officials, Pastor Joshua accepts his nomination. In his acceptance speech, he speaks about the partnership with Clean the World. He asks me to speak to the group. I graciously agree and speak to the entire room as Pastor Brutus interprets. I tell them about our mission and how we recycle soap. I explain that we will be here for many years to come. I even tell them the story of Teresa from the day before and our commitment to increase the amount of soap delivered here in Haiti and across the globe to prevent the needless deaths of children to a lack of hygiene. I am very well received as all in attendance nod, smile and then clap. When I am done speaking, in a show of solidarity, Pastor Joshua embraces and hugs me. It is a statement and symbol of our partnership and affection for each other.
I could never have imagined a year ago as I sat in another hotel room pondering the used soap question that I would be in the middle of the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere a year later, standing on a platform, an American business man in a room of Haitians, embraced by their leader, being encouraged and prayed for because of one simple thing: The hotel soap.
1:00pm ET- On our way to back to the airport, we take a minor detour down an alley. The city is absolutely bustling today. People are on top of people everywhere. Again, the camera is not well received. As we drive towards the river, we come across a dirt field with two make shift goal post on either side. We see children playing soccer with a tennis ball. We get out of the truck. The dirt field butts up against a river where children are swimming. As we approach the stench gets worse. What I now witness is the most incredible scene I have ever witnessed in my life. I still cannot believe and I know that I can never truly describe it to you: In between the dirt and the water is 10 feet of raw sewage. Trash and filth and crap. It is basically a landfill. And as we look around a wall to the left, we can see the sewage and trash piling up, a heap of trash at least 20 feet tall. The kids are playing in it while numerous pigs eat in it. And it runs into the water that 3 boys are swimming in, naked, laughing and splashing to get our attention. I can’t believe it. I look back towards the heap and now I see an adult man. He begins to squat, pulls his pants down and defecates on the pile. I begin to get sick to my stomach. Behind me 8 or so other boys go back to playing soccer with the tennis ball to get our attention, smiling and laughing. They have no idea what they live in. This is their normalcy. I am stunned.
3:30pm ET- Our twin engine plane on Tortug Air takes off from Cap Haitien, bound for Port-au-Prince. We will connect there and land in Miami by 8:00pm. I am still processing the last incredible scene. Every time I visualize it, my stomach gets nauseous. And at the same time, the fire burns stronger. We have a mission. We have a very clear purpose. You and I can do so much good for people that really need it. It is time to go home to tell the stories of the trip.
8:30pm ET- Back on the road from Miami to Orlando. Pastor Brutus, Bobby and I enjoy a few more minutes of reflection and each others company before Pastor Brutus lays down in the back seat to sleep. The next day he has 4 church services to attend, preaching at one. We all agree that the trip was incredible. Bobby thanks Pastor Brutus for everything. The trip, protection, guidance, and most importantly, life changing experience! I concur. Another great trip!
On a final note, I want you to see some of the names of the organizations, clinics, schools and churches that will receive soap this week from our CTW Haiti. Each one of these organizations has requested specific amounts of soap based on the number of people they serve. These are their 60 days supplies.
As I leave you for now with this list, remember this: You made this possible. As a hotel, you donated the soap and supported. As a donor, you assisted with the expenses. As a volunteer, you processed the soap and made it fresh again. You kept us in your thoughts and prayers. You encouraged the staff to do more. You made this happen. Here are the people that are getting soap to give their patients and their community:
The Haiti Mission 1200 bars
UND Haiti Program 300 bars
Bethesda Medical Clinic 2000 bars
SOIL 850 bars
Meds and Food for Kids 200 bars
Eben-Ezer Clinic Haut-Limbe 2000 bars
Dr. Steve James 1200 bars
Manusodany Network of Schools 2200 bars
Haiti Hospital Appeal 1500 bars
St. Joseph’s Church and Clinic 2000 bars
The Children’s Place 200 bars
The Methodist Clinic Tavar 1000 bars
Randolph World Ministries 1000 bars
Our Lady of Miracles Parish 2000 bars
Epicopal Church of Gros Morne 300 bars
St. Francois de Sales 1600 bars
Clinique de Bienfaisance Baptist Clinic 800 bars
Methodist Clinic Latanerie 800 bars
Sacre Coeur Hospital 2000 bars
Centre Communautaire de Limonade 2000 bars
Eben-Ezer Clinic Ganaives 3000 bars
Family Medical Clinic 3000 bars
Christianville Clinic 1500 bars
Emmanuel Hospital Port-au-Prince 2000 bars
St Raphael Clinic 1000 bars
Tabernacle of Praise 20000 bars
Bethesda School 1000 bars
Evangelical Church of Mapu 5000 bars
Evangelical Church of Vertierres 15,000 bars
Join our Mission to Change History in Our Lifetime!!!