Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Quiskeya Corps

In June of last summer I went up to Las Terrenas, on the crook of the left flipper of the Great Turtle here. It is a small international beach town where I lived when I first arrived here. My best friends are there and I consider it "home".

When I got there, I called my good friend Charlie Simon who is a Dominican Haitian artist and he came over -- looking like a skeleton of his former self. I was shocked. He must have lost 30 pounds and he was always thin. He had called me over the winter but -- as I had not had any money for another of his paintings-- he is one of the best artists in LT who routinely used to sell his paintings for $600 to $1000 each- I had not called him back. But I was ashamed of myself when I saw him. Because I had not known that a friend had actually not had enough to eat.

Within two days, I saw a Haitian with his hair turning red. This is kwashikoor, which is a protein deficiency. The hair turns red in a line, starting from one ear and going to another. Since Las Terrenas is one of the richest towns here in the DR, I was shocked. Again. Particularly since there were regular large tour buses bringing hordes of folks through town every day.

I went a bit nuts. Those of you who know me personally can attest to my capacity to go nuts.

I went screaming up at the tour buses... "would you like me to have some of my Haitian friends die for you on the street? Would you find that entertaining?"

I whipped out my American Express Card and started a few feeding station drop offs.. rice, beans, oil, peanut butter, cooking chocolate, oatmeal, sugar, condensed milk.

One day as I went passed the police station, there were over 50 Haitians assembled at the fence. A young Dominican had killed his Haitian girlfriend. He had confessed. He was in custody. The Haitians were afraid that he would be released.

I walked around the fence line.. addressed them in my few words of Kreyole.. I speak French and Spanish so the Haitians here in the DR can always understand me...and said that we should have a meeting.

So we had meetings.

We had meetings every week for six weeks, every Sunday. We even changed the venue a couple of times. We had no fliers. We did not make any calls. They all just talked to one another and every week 100 Haitians showed up.

It took them a while to understand that I was not an NGO nor did I have Bill Clinton's cell phone number.. All I said was that I was friends with their Minister of the Diaspora, Edwin Paraison, and that I knew the head of the Border foundation, Max Antoine and that they would .. at the very least... take my calls.

So what did these Haitians want?

They want to go home, they said.

There is no work for them here in the Dominican REpublic. They are homesick. And now they are beginning to starve. They are trained builders -- masons, electricians, finish carpenters, plumbers, assistants.. they speak Spanish ... they are ready to go home and help build Haiti.

We now have over 250 of them registered with the Association of Haitian Workers in Las Terrenas.

We are in the process of writing up a budget and a grant proposal.

Basically, we are hoping to send in the FIRST team -- of about 35 to 50 workers -- their World Cup Team-- with a work contract for one year and a tool bag full of tools. Every one of them has agreed that they will be very happy with that offer.

However, many of these men --we do have about a dozen women registered as well but it is mostly men- have children. Few of these children have any papers other than a registration of birth which has not been filed with any governmental authority.

Since this is a fragile population, we will have to proceed with care.

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