What A Difference A Truck Makes!

Now I know why some cowboys write songs about their trucks. After TEN visits to Haiti, most of that time using plentiful but painful public transportation, we have our own project vehicle.

Our volunteer photographer Andrea Marchant was the first 'blan' to try out the truck!

Our volunteer photographer Andrea Marchant was the first ‘blan’ to try out the truck!

No regulations in Haiti ...here Junior fills up using a pop bottle as a funnel!

No regulations in Haiti …here Junior fills up using a pop bottle as a funnel!

Kind friends donated to this much needed item – and wow, it was amazing to meet “Fancy” at the Cap-Haitien airport. She is bright red, shiny and runs fantastically well considering a) roads are mostly gravel and full of pot holes b) she’s 23 years old!

A Nissan 93 King Cab might not be everyone’s dream car, but she is a dream come true for me.

No more sitting on the luggage rack of a motorcyle (I did 40+ hours of that in October, my sister wedged between myself and the driver). No more packed into a covered truck, called a tap-tap (I once counted 18 passengers. To me it was full at 8). No more school bus benches (no kidding, it’s not full until there are well over 125 people plus luggage and a few farmyard animals thrown in for good measure!).

“Fancy” is a really hard worker – here Caleb is loading up from the shipping container in Cap Haitien for the 6-7 hour drive south to Port-au-Prince.

“Fancy” is a really hard worker – here Caleb is loading up from the shipping container in Cap Haitien for the 6-7 hour drive south to Port-au-Prince.

The gas gauge, radio and rear right signal light don’t work. Gas is $5 US/gallon – the most expensive in the Caribbean. But this is all fine because now we can meet our shipping container from Joy and Hope of Haiti (Hamilton, ON) and load up all the donated dresses, sewing machines and boxes of donations for the Floriana job creation projects.

Every morning our team would wash her down, sweep out the cab and dust the dashboard and front bench.

We are so thankful to have Fancy as part of the Floriana Wedding Project – her first run with 50 gowns up to Cap Haitien was a resounding success! And the next time we take a team with More Than A Tourist, no hassle or haggling with rental drivers – just get in and go!

We do of course have other options, but for now, we’ll stick to our truck, ‘Fancy’!


Option 'B'

Option ‘B’

Option 'C'

Option ‘C’

What’s Your Ideal Family Look Like?

How many people live in your house? It’s a simple enough question, right? You probably can quickly say “two plus a cat” or “four when the kids come home from university”.

The Ideal Family… or Is It?

Most families in our part of the world are two generational: parents and kids.  Not in Haiti!

Haiti Family

Our project in Port-au-Prince already supports the three families of our three volunteers. Caleb has 7 in his home (his mother was widowed  when he was a baby, his father was murdered  “when he went outside and there was trouble”). Roro lives in a small house that he loves because it is built on the land where he and 7 other family members lived in an earthquake refugee tent. For two whole years. Wadley and 17, yes, 17, family members live in three small makeshift ‘houses’ in a family compound.

Great-grandpa, grandparents, widowed parents, sisters and their husbands, sisters and brothers, cousins, nephews and nieces all live together in community. Two new baby girls were born this year. In fact, Nancy – one of our travellers from Burlington – got to meet the newest addition when she was just three days old!

Haiti Family

The takings at the store are small, and we have intentionally priced your donated clothing that way. We want the stores to have a reputation for good quality and a fair price for everyone.

If Caleb sells a blouse for $3, that’s enough rice for that day for his household. If Wadley sells a dress and some shoes for $6, that’s enough for a dozen eggs, some mangos or bananas and clean water for 18 people at home. Roro can sell a man’s tie for $1 and take his mother some fresh fruit for the family.

Haiti Family

Meet ‘Roro’, one of our store workers, with his newest niece (born June 13, 2015).

It’s very much “give us this day our daily bread” in Haiti. Rice is sold by the bowl, avocados in pairs, phone minutes 3 at a time. Fridges are only for the wealthy and ‘blan’ foreigners. Even with a fridge, electricity is sporadic, so there’s really no point.

From Monday to Saturday the team opens the stores at 8 am. They are eager to make a sale not for themselves, but to buy Grandpa his medicine or send Sister to school with a good lunch the next day.

32 people and counting. 32 reasons we have decided to create jobs with clothing donations, not just drop off a bag of clothes at a church as a one-off gift. Job creation feeds extended family, boosts the local economy, gives pride to workers and brings a hope and a future to half a dozen cousins huddled under a leaky tarp “roof” when it’s rainy season.

We invite you to consider a journey to Haiti and share in the Joy of Empowering the Family…

Giving what we no longer need fulfils the needs of others. That’s worth doing right! Right?!

Loving Haiti & Making a Difference!

Haiti Air Canada PlaneFalling in Love with Haiti

When the plane descends over the blue ocean, green hills, brown river path and then the grey cement of the sprawling capital city of Haiti, the feeling of anticipation and excitement starts to well up in my heart. I love this country – the good, bad and the ugly. I hope to communicate the way I feel about travel to Haiti in a way that will make you want to grab your passport, toothbrush and swimsuit for a vacation like no other.

The stewardesses of Air Canada Rouge help us get our baggage from the bins overhead – and despite strict regulations, no airline can persuade a Haitian woman that if a bag is carried on her head it still counts as a piece of “hand” luggage! The pilot stands at the open door to catch the hot breeze off the tarmac, and we carefully take the metal stairs down. This part always makes me a feel like Jackie Kennedy, minus the ever present bandana I have ready to keep the sweat out of my eyes.

A walk of less than 100 steps takes us into the arrivals gate, then up the non-moving escalator to be greeted by a live band playing “kompa”. Kompa is that distinct Haitian music, similar to Jamaican and Bahamian light, delightful tunes mixed with steel drums and bongos. As a point of information, the current President is Michael Martelly, was a famous kompa artist before entering the world of politics. He’s been known to break out some of his famous dance moves at elections rallies, and some believe he sang his way into the palace because of his huge kompa following. Sweet Micky is his stage name that he still uses with great pride, keeping him connected to his fans.

After following the signs for tourists, we go and pay the new $10 per person tourism tax. This was implemented this year and seems to set a precedent for the week that says, “You’re white, so you’ll be paying extra. Get used to it!”. I now always have the cash ready and am happy that ladies serving me are friendly and chatty – another indication of how this visit will go.

$2 US secures us a “chariot”, a quaint term for a luggage trolley. I pay at one counter, take a piece of paper smaller than a postage stamp to the trolley supervisor and collect mine. It’s small but all the wheels work and this time, so does the hand brake. The luggage carousel starts immediately and the baggage starts coming around.

Again, an omen for the week – all the bags are thrown on in a haphazard manner, piled on top of each other without space in between. There’s no chance of being able to see your string or tag with all the people swarming around. Note to self – never travel with a black suitcase again. They really all do look the same, and the purple ribbon I tied to the handle is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Nicola Topsom in HaitiI am nearly overwhelmed by the heat, noise, pushing of people and the urge to get outside and meet up with our team. We clear customs without any incident – ever, not in 10 visits, and pass by the Information Desk. There’s nobody there so I help myself to the latest Haiti magazine to look over later.

Making a Difference

Now we push past porters who think they are being helpful but are rather too opportunistic for my taste and we see our team waiting for us past the barrier. The three of them break into big smiles, we hug and pass greetings from mutual friends and ask after their families.

They take all our bags off our shoulders and I step out of the welcoming area into hotter sunshine and deafening traffic and filthy diesel fumes that make my eyes water. Or maybe those are happy tears. Home Sweet Haiti.

The faces of a few we met this last experience in early October 2015.

Faces of Haiti

Pick Up Truck for Haiti

Pick Up Truck for Haiti

What happens when you mix people with a passion for the poor and a great meal at Boston Pizza? You raise $4800 in one evening!

Pick Up Truck for Haiti60 friends of More Than A Tourist came to our $30 ticket event and gave so generously, we more than doubled our fund raising goal. I planned in my head for $2000 towards our project vehicle, but the kind people of Spruce Grove, Alberta went above and beyond our expectations. I think Alberta is the place to go to raise money for a pick up truck – they really know what you’re talking about!

Pick Up Truck for Haiti

Soap Box Duo donated their talent and time as live entertainment – and kicked off the night with a wonderful acoustic rendition of this summer’s hit song “Honey, I’m Good”. The bar held 10 donated auction items including a few art pieces from Haiti, and these items themselves raised exactly $1000. I spoke for a few minutes about our job creation goals and the two wedding dress ‘pay what you can’ stores in Port-au-Prince, and then mingled with our guests who enjoyed a choice of three delicious meals from the menu.

Towards the end of the night as the crown thinned out and the organizers stayed to visit and catch up, the beer and the laughs kept coming. It was one of those nights with great friends that love your vision and want to see it succeed – a night out that has spurred me on to make this project long term, sustainable and something I want to continue to pour my life into.

I may have over 700 ‘friends’ on Facebook, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, having a handful that have seen me through sad, bad and glad times is worth everything.

I am so thankful that miles haven’t separated us but actually brought us closer.

Fund raising can be arduous, exhausting and dis-heartening or it can be fun, exciting and soul-lifting. I’ve done both, and I know which I prefer. Thank you, Jazmin and the other volunteers and sponsors, for making September 27 one of the best evenings I’ve had in years.

Running to Make A Difference!

More Than A Couch Potato

Terry Fun Run Burlington 2015Have you ever seen yourself in the mirror, after a shower say, and thought, “That can’t be right? Where did all those rolls come from?!”. Oprah calls these “aha” moments, those seconds or minutes when you come to a realization about yourself.

My self-realization was a long time coming. I blamed by thirty pound weight gain on stress – and I could justify it, too. Moving across the country to a city where we knew no one, the sudden death of my dear Dad, job and career changes, one daughter needing multiple surgeries, the other growing up so quickly we could hardly catch our breath – the excuses were endless.

Turning 40 last year was a wake up call to eat healthier but I still refused to exercise. It was just so much easier after a long day to binge on Netflix then go to the gym downstairs. Then I went back to Haiti – and realized how unfit I was. Just to walk 15 minutes in the sun and smog was a chore. The hotel we stayed at was in a quiet place high in the hills of Petionville, Port-au-Prince and walking downhill in the morning wasn’t too difficult. It was any incline that nearly did me in. I knew it was time to get fit.

You Just Can’t Sit There!

Terry Fun Run Burlington 2015So 10 weeks ago I started on the treadmill – 10 minutes, 0 incline, 4.5 speed. It was agony. I thought my legs were going to collapse along with my lungs. I called on all the stubborn resilience of my ancestors and went every day – sometimes twice a day – always adding 1 minute to my time. My 11-going-on-27-year-old daughter joined me sometimes, what a great activity to do together! We started going on long ‘walk and talk’ dates, all along the paths around our neighbourhood.

I began running outside after I put our girls on the school bus – what a difference than inside a gym! Birds, trees, squirrels and friendly walkers all cheering me on in their own way.

Making a Difference!

Yesterday, I ran the Terry Fox 5K. It all starts off with cheers, even balloons and a live band, but the reality hits when you see the 3K marker and realize how far you have left to plod. It took me a long time (nearly 38 minutes), but I didn’t stop running. Terry and my Dad would be proud, I think. I know I am.

Joy and Hope of Haiti Celebration

Wow!  What a Night!

Hope and Joy of HaitiMore than 750 guests and supporters of the Hamilton-based organization Joy and Hope of Haiti gathered together on May 28 for their annual dinner and fund-raising auction.  The auction committee volunteers hundreds of hours to bring about one of, if not the largest, charity events in the GTA.

Carmen’s Banquet Hall in Hamilton hosted the event, with doors opening early for a team of volunteers to get started setting up…not just the tables and decor, but over 400 silent auction items! Items that included bicycles, paintings, gift baskets and 12 pizza boxes from Domino’s where one lucky bidder could buy ‘pizza for a year’!

The live items included not one, but two, weekly rentals of cottages in the Muskoka region as well as lunch with the mayor, Raptors jersey and tickets and Maple Leafs tickets.  The grand finale was Air Canada tickets that were raffled off – the winner and one guest could go anywhere in North America, including Hawaii or Alaska (or Haiti, which is where I would have picked!)

Joy and Hope of HaitiHere’s a photo of my sister Abigail (she came from Newfoundland for the weekend) and my older daughter, Shantaya, and I greeting and helping guests find their seats.  We had a wonderful time at the event and got to meet some wonderful people that serve with Joy and Hope of Haiti.