The Heartbreak of Haiti….

After a layover in Panama and a chance to see the Panama Canal, the boys and I arrived in Port-Au-Prince. After a year on the road, I thought that culture shock was a thing of the past. Wrong. The aerial view of Port-Au-Prince from the plane was mind-boggling.

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Even after three years, Port-Au-Prince continues to face desperate times. The poverty, the pollution, the state of the roads and buildings, and the over-all living conditions are unthinkable. Though some of the tent cities have been taken down, PAP remains a city of crumbling buildings, debilitating air quality, and homelessness.  The streets are filled with rubble, potholes and trash. One truly has to experience it to believe it.

IMG_9278We spent our first week here in Port-Au-Prince working with Pastor Olrich. He is a wonderful man helping to do what he can in a city with so much need. His efforts include helping to build schools, organizing after-school programs and the plans for a new orphanage.

 

 

We visited a school outside of the city. I did an acting workshop for the kids and they seem to really love it. The children are absolutely beautiful…. kind hearted and so welcoming. They all asked me if I knew Kobe Bryant. They love him. I guess that will be one of my assignments when I get home. Anyone know Kobe?

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The boys and I were hosted by Fritz Valescot of Ecole de Musique Dessaix-Baptiste (Jean Baptiste Dessaix Music School). A special thank you to Janet Anthony from Lawrence University who set up our itinerary in Haiti.

IMG_9625 Fritz is a charismatic man who was a radio personality in Haiti for years. He’s funny and incredibly soulful. He spoke only Creole but we had no problem communicating. Though not a musician himself, he felt the need to give people in the community a space to get involved in the arts. Now the school has hundreds of students. Fritz has teachers from all over the world come to teach the kids and adults, alike.

 

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Amongst the heat and humidity, the crumbling buildings, and the crowded streets, there is a school that offers its students a haven… a place to focus on music. We were able to document by video, a lot of the work at the school including interviews with Fritz and other teachers. Jackson got to play alto saxophone with the school too.  Was a great treat for him.

While in Jacmel, I was invited to do a master class at The Spare Change Theater. So the kids and I organized an on-camera week-long workshop with acting students at The Jakmel Ekpresyon Community Arts Center. What an incredible group of actors. We had a lot of fun and I think they all learned from the experience.

IMG_9809I was also invited to visit the Cine Institute. Amazing. It’s a film school in Jacmel that offers a two-year filmmaking program tuition-free to Haiti citizens. The school was founded by American filmmaker, David Bell, who also started the Jacmel Film Festival. The campus is absolutely beautiful. They are training the future Haitian filmmakers with visiting professionals like director, Paul Haggis. I have been asked to come back in a few months to do a class to train the directors how to work with film actors. I’m very excited and feel honored to be a part of the school.

IMG_9544In between teaching classes and visiting schools, the boys and I visited Basin Bleu, an incredible waterfall and swimming hole that is so crystal blue it almost looks surreal…. so beautiful.

We also cannot forgot to mention our friend, Jacque.

IMG_9819We met him on the streets of Jacmel selling electronics from a little table.  He spoke perfect english.  He was severely physically challenged, but was out on the street working.  We stopped by everyday and had the best conversations.  He was a man who didn’t let his disability effect his life or his attitude.  Such a great guy. Thanks, Jacque for making Jacmel so memorable.

 

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After our work was finished in Jacmel, we headed back to Port-Au-Prince to work at Foyer Maurice Sixto – a school and arts program for restavek children (kids in domestic servitude). These children come from families with too many children and their parents send them away to work for another family for room and board. Many of these children are horribly abused and treated like slaves, working all day, given limited meals and offered no education.

 

 

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Pere Miguel is another one of my heroes. He is a selfless man, working day in and day out to help build up their school, offer positive opportunities to these kids, and he also has a great vision for the future of the school. Twelve In Twelve is committed to working closely to help this cause. I have also been asked to return to do a workshop here as well.

IMG_0104Our friend, Stanley, has a great project going on.  He has organized an arts program that takes trash from the streets of Port-Au-Prince and recycles it into works of art.  While we were there, we got to participate and sculpt beads made of cereal box cardboard.

IMG_0106He is a great artist and is doing great things with these workshops.  It’s such a pleasure to see a leader in the community like this. Stanley is such a hard worker and when he’s not putting together workshops, he is organizing camps and classes for kids in the community.

 

IMG_0683Port-Au-Prince. PAP is a difficult city. It’s an assault on the senses. Loud, dirty, tent cities abound, a sense of danger in the air. There are so many people… so much trash and rubble. The boys and I were heading back to where we were staying and witnessed men with wheelbarrows dumping trash into the river. For an American, that is difficult to watch. But that is their reality. That is were the trash goes. Of all of the places we have visited, I think Port-Au-Prince was one of the most over-whelming.

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And now… Now we are stateside, having just arrived in Ft. Lauderdale. We head out tomorrow morning to work in Mississippi. We will be working with Habitat for Humanity on the Gulf Coast and also for an organization in Holmes County, one of the poorest counties in America.

So many feelings have been running through my head. It sure is nice to be back in the good ole USofA. I never have appreciated the conveniences of home more. We have been living a life in huts, cinder block shelters, yurts, hostels and dormitories. We have spent a good amount of the trip without electricity and have taken most of our shower with a bucket tossed over our head. All of that was magical and I will miss it…. And I know the boys will too. The journey is not over yet. We still have Mississippi to tackle with 100+ degree weather. But we’re home…

 

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And again, The Love Revolution continues… More to follow.

 

24 Comments

  1. mark jay

    J,D, Welcome back to the US, though it sounds like coming “home” may be bittersweet…looking forward to connecting with you at some point….let’s chat when you are settled and ready….best regards, Mark

  2. Karen Talavera

    I love hearing the stories from your journey – this was a hard one. Living in south Florida so close to Haiti and many Haitians, the poverty and disdain for poor Caribbean nations and citizens is very visible here. I can’t imagine seeing it firsthand. Your courage and determination is admirable.

    What you’ve done for your boys in this initiative is amazing. It will likely change the course of their lives, and inspires me as a parent.

    Welcome home, although as I suspect you’ve already found, home is where your heart is, and now your heart lies beyond the borders of one country.

  3. Roberto Elinan

    Welcome home JD, Jackson and Buck …!

    I perfectly know you’re not in North Carolina yet, but … YOU’RE HOME NOW GUYS … you can breathe freedom, again … and that is accompanied of that wonderful feeling of having contributed to the betterment of the world. Life can … and will … make many changes in your lives but, nobody could ever take, what you have done and accomplished, away from you … that’s your pride and joy … that’s your award … and you make us all, so very proud of you three guys.

    Do you know something …? I’m a proud American citizen, by adoption but now … there’s one more reason for me to be proud to be an American … and that is because I share that citizenship with the three of you.

    I’m sure God is always very close to you … You are His Work Of Art … You are His Masterpiece …

    From the very bottom of my heart …

    Much love …
    Roberto.-

  4. Bob Gingher (Susan McMullen's husband)

    Susan and I’ve followed your global journey with great interest…just wanted to mention that, as a photographer, I think your portrait of Fritz Valescot is VERY strong…soulful indeed!

  5. Mimi Leder

    J.D.
    Home IS where your heart is. And you and the boys have given your heart and soul to all you have met. Touched so many. I think in many ways, this was just the beginning of your journey. You are my HEROES.
    With Love and Respect,
    Mimi

  6. Norbert

    I m in nicaragua where my brother in law lives. Cantwait to see you face to face and hear about your expereance from your own mouth. We re proud of you.
    Norbert

  7. Patrick Duffy

    Dear J.D., Jackson, and Buck,

    Our thanks to you for bringing us INTO the situation in Haiti and the efforts to ease the conditions there for young people and others. This is another extraordinary footprint in your journey of helping, learning and giving your stories to us, so we understand.

    Recent work in Cambodia and a trip with Elisabeth on the Italian/Balkan Coast (read volcanoes and earthquakes) brought home the ongoing vulnerability of life on this blue planet. And your clear and sensitive reporting takes us into the related human experience. Thank you family and carry on !

    With love and appreciation,

    Patrick, Elisabeth and the family of Lewis descendants,
    Vancouver, Canada

  8. Ana Shaw

    I can’t believe after all this time you almost home, and wow what stories you will have. Thank you for opening my eyes to whats going on in the world. I learn more from you then all my days watching the news which is actually sad if you think about it. This is the stuff they should be reporting on. Stay safe, healthy, and I will see you soon with a big hug.

    Ana

  9. Kristina Haddad

    Welcome home Lewis boys – heroes to me and so many others. Absolutely remarkable what you have done – can’t imagine the rush of feelings you must have and the different life view! Now I can’t wait to read the book! LOVE You and so so beyond proud!!!! Big kisses, hugs and licks (from Olive and Ernie!!!!) xoxo

  10. Doug Charles

    I am in awe of you and the boys and I thank god that you are on US soil. What an amazing journey, and my love to you all. You have made a difference in so many lives and it will continue. Welcome home (almost). You are all in my heart. I’m so proud of you.

  11. Bo Henderson

    Welcome back boys, I really don’t know how to tell you what your adventure throughout the world has meant to me as a follower of your good deeds done and love spread. You know how much you mean to me, and now I know how much you mean to the world. You are citizens of the world and I am so profoundly proud to be one who can walk in your shadow and know that goodness and God-ness is within each of you. Again I’ll say, you are my heroes, one and all, and after Mississippi I can hardly wait to hold each of you in my arms as I have held you in my heart this past year. For all you have done for everyone you have touched in your journey, thank you for embarking on this unbelievable adventure for all of us who have followed you day to day. Much love boys, and well done! XOXOXOBO

  12. Drew Mohoric

    JD – sounds like an incredible 12 months of travel, especially for two boys to experience so much at a young age. This reminds me of James Altucher’s thoughts on the importance of travel (http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/01/8-alternatives-to-college/).

    A friend of mine passed along your blog after your post today on Haiti, since I just returned from my third trip a few days ago (6 week trip this time). I’m glad you got the chance to visit Jacmel and see some of the natural beauty of the island.

    I’d be interested in chatting more about the country with you to hear about your experience and perspectives. Personally, I think Haiti may appear hopeless at initial glance, but when you dig deeper I think the country is on the road to improvement. I believe there is actually a lot of potential for Haiti, particularly if we take a nation-building approach to development, rather than a poverty alleviation approach. Please reach out to me if you’re interested in discussing!

  13. Jenny maass

    JD! Thank you. Thank you for doing what most people never will! You have an invaluable year of memories and impressions to cherish and respond to over the rest of your life. You may never know how many lives you have completely changed around the world!
    I wish it were possible that you could bring that heartbreaking perspective to every American living comfortably and entitled on US soil. You may have seen physical poverty, but we know an emotional poverty that stretches across our land; emotionally poor lives, void of joy and hope, internal poverty, characterized by ungratefulness….
    What message do you bring us? And how can your life ever be the same again?

    Finish the journey well!!
    Much love,
    Jenny Maass

  14. Michelle

    What a wonderful, amazing, heart-wrenching, awe-inspiring trip! I wish every young American student could partake in even a small portion of what you’ve seen and done… it would give them an appreciation of the abundance and security of life in the US (for most people.) And what a great time to come home– for the Fourth of July! Enjoy and celebrate your return with the parades and fireworks– God Bless America and you and your boys 😉

  15. susan McMullen

    Welcome home and Happy 4th of July! I once landed at JFK after what I thought was a difficult trip to Russia and remember wanting to kiss the tarmac, so I have only a tiny bit of the feeling you must have had landing in Florida. In a perfect world, you would have been met with a band, a chorus and a screaming, adoring crowd. I would have been in the chorus singing “For all the saints who from their labors rest,” knowing,of course, that your rest is only relative and won’t last for long, as your mission continues. You are true heroes and I am proud to know you. Much love, Susan, xxoo

  16. Vanessa Ashford

    Hello guys,
    I’m so proud of you! What a wonderful adventure. I know you have learned so much. I’m glad you are back.
    Love,
    Vanessa

  17. Margaret

    J.D., Jackson & Buck,
    It was a pleasure to meet you (by chance) in Bangkok. I was immediately inspired by your story & wanted to tag along. I was volunteering teaching English at a Buddhist Monastery in Thailand at the time. I have followed your journey, prayed for your safety and congratulate you & your sons for the success of TwelveinTwelve. You truly are HEROES.
    Namaste,
    Margaret (Canada)

  18. duncan tucker

    wow.
    wow in a thousand ways.
    so happy for you, for all that you and the boys have done and seen and learned, for the people – and elephants – you’ve touched and who have touched you.
    i bow to your courage, sense of adventure, joy, heart and compassion.

  19. Ann Zadra

    Thank you sooo much for sharing your incredible 13 months! Could you please continue sharing? I would be interested in your thoughts as you readjust to living in our society. Also, I have a feeling that you will have many more adventures as you serve others.
    Lastly, I seem to remember that in one of the earlier blogs you mentioned someone filming your adventures. Will there be a documentary released?

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