PAINTING PORT-DE-PAIX (Haiti): A 2018 Trellis Arch Voyage by OWLEY

PAINTING PORT-DE-PAIX (Haiti): A 2018 Trellis Arch Voyage by OWLEY


Arriving in Haiti was a huge culture shock, I must say. As soon as you get off the airplane, you know automatically you’re in a completely different part of the world even though it’s not that far from the United States, you know? The culture shock was immediate. At first, you think this place is completely out of control and it’s chaotic.. and in reality, it’s just the way things are down here. The conditions were shocking at first. When you see it in person, it becomes very real to you. It’s eye-opening. It’ll change your perspective on life. They definitely need some things here, but I could stay here longer. You need to come see this place. It’s fascinating. It’s life-changing. So, having been down here before, I knew what to expect. The best part of these trips: the fact that I get to share this experience with other people who hear about Haiti, they wonder about Haiti… They hear all the bad things – the negative narrative. Once you break through the chaos and you kind of understand how things try to work down here, it gives you a better appreciation of life in Haiti. Beautiful, resilient people, an amazing country with an incredible history that not many people know. I think gaining familiarity with what this country is all about is very important. The thing that I kept thinking about was, how this place was just simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. They’re able to cope and to make the best of the situation they’re faced with. It was a bit concerning to me at first like how is everybody going to react and what if somebody comes down here and on Day 2, [says] “I can’t do this”. Everybody powers through, and that’s how the Haitian people are. 5 hours of dirty roads and “Mad Max” ambience, but it will be cool. We’re on the journey, which is this you know, can be up to 7 to 8 hours depending mountainous, treacherous dirt road, bouncing up and down in an SUV. That’s why I ask people if you’re easily car-sick, you don’t want to come on this trip So, it’s super bumpy.. let’s see… We popped out of the car at the top of the mountain, and there’s a massive market there, and I’m thinking “okay, we’re going to get swarmed, and it’s going to be uncomfortable for everyone.” I turn around and Ramiro, Denton, and JPO are like tagging the inside of a cement culvert making their mark there. It was cool, it was like, “hey we’re here and we’re trying to be part of what’s going on.” Who was speaking about cheeeburger? People gawking at us, we’re behind tinted windows, we’re in air conditioning, yeah the ride is bumpy. Again, you think about how uncomfortable they are. This is the tea from the flowers that she picked off the tree over there, and it’s unbelievable. Tea! Oh! Uh, what is this called – Oh sure, sure… Tea. So I really loved the fruit. We have had great food here. Again, that speaks to the wonderful hospitality. We have had amazing fruit, fruit juice. For our meals, bananas on the road, we see it growing all over the country. Topographically, and with the ecology here and everything, the country is gorgeous. When we visited the hospital in Port-De-Paix, utterly shocking. I couldn’t believe how terrible it really was. That pump will pump the water into the hospital. They’ve got the groundwater. Does it work? Yeah, but The second they run out of fuel, they can’t pump the water. But, you’ve got all this sun, you could put in solar panel system on it. That’s where they burn all the trash. The waste, okay. The bed is good, all the beds are good but the wheels don’t work. We also visited an orphanage that is affiliated with the hospital and I think they had 76 children there. There was a lady who was taking care of them who had also been an orphan 30 years ago. She just stayed there and worked with all the kids and she called them “her kids.” Well, now we have 76 [orphans]. Some of them have tuberculosis or are malnourished. We have 10 in Port-au-Prince to go to University. We have 53 to go to school this year. So we are praying for money, they have to go to school. Some of them are abandoned here by their families because they are very poor they cannot come back to take them so, I cannot put them outside, you know? They are my babies. Just maybe for 1 week he is there – we give him food, we give him milk It was heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once. You see a baby crawling on a concrete floor whose mother has died or other kids who have been abandoned because their parents don’t want them or can’t take care of them. Their mom died 2 days after they were born. Despite all that, they just lit up. We were lifting them up with our arms, we were having a great time you just didn’t want to leave. You wanted to spend your whole trip there. It was heart-breaking… It was heart-breaking. The desire to help is overwhelming. These kids are dropped off like stray dogs. Those kids, from what I was told have diseases already, like Tuberculosis, AIDS. They didn’t have the supplies they needed or the attention they needed from the doctor because he’s so spread thin. that the kids would just have to stay at the hospital. Their positivity was infectious. It was devastating – it was unbelievable. It definitely made me care more about what we were doing here. The way they set this thing up, if you can pay a little bit of the money they charge you, you get a room. But if you can’t… The people that are there? They needed a dentist, an optometrist they needed training on so many things, they had almost no supplies. This costs money, and the guy can’t afford it, so… The guy is here because of a motorcycle accident but he’s laying on the Harley Davidson blanket. 0-2 years old. Newborn. Somebody has twins. I know for some, it was their first experience seeing a hospital like that. This city has 200,000 people in it and there’s 2 hospitals here. and they’re very small and very ill-equipped. Anaesthetic? That’s the biggest problem. A shortage – not having it. Titanium [hardware] to stabilize. Right now, what they’re working on getting someone to specialize in orthopedics to do surgeries. Because right now, a guy can support a doctor for 15 days They’re supposed to do 15 days and they send somebody else. Right? 15 days then they switch. But, usually the switch doesn’t happen. There’s no turnover. Yes. They just left? Yes. In the mean time, If a motorcycle accident or something happens, This regular doctor, the guy that delivers babies, or the other guy who sees people for colds try to do whatever they can and if they can’t… If you have money, you go to Port-au-Prince. So now, what they’re working on It’s a program where they want to sponsor somebody to go specialize in that and they can come here for a year. They can be here all the time? But, you might need more than one of those guys. Exactly. But if we have one.. it’s better than none. You realize why certain groups and communities want to help some of these places because they have nothing. They’re trying to give them like a scholarship where they can spend about 30,000 gourdes. 70 gourdes is 1 dollar, so… Every time we come down here we work with the Brother’s Brother Foundation out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and they donate medical supplies for free clinics and places in need. Each year we deliver those medical supplies and we did the same thing this time. We delivered some clothing there and some first-aid kits. Dave and Linda brought some first-aid kits donated by Leidos and that was fantastic. Thank you so much. Thank you brother. It’s always good to make a little bit of a difference in the places you can. We’re not a medical charity, we are an education-based charity, but there is opportunity there for Trellis Arch to do more. So, I’m really looking forward to being able to do more work with the hospital and the orphanage there. That was a huge, moving moment. To be able to see the kids there, the kids at the orphanage were fantastic. Knowing that Linda, who runs the orphanage, was an orphan there, herself and now she’s giving back. That’s exactly what I feel the need to do – – is to give back. That was a pretty intense visit. But it was really necessary because I think that when you start seeing those kinds of things, you realize the needs of places like this and I think that those kinds of other perspectives really help you and them see okay, how can we move forward. Every trip that we had to go through to get places, the payoff was so worth it. The village of Paulin, just west of Port-de-Paix, we always pay some sort of a visit there. We go to the village. Kervens had mentioned they’re having a local soccer tournament up there. He had purchased the jerseys for them, which is great. It was super cool, and all the kids were just very curious to see us there. The sun is setting, everyone is there, out on this beautiful pitch. This place may have all of those problems, but that was the most beautiful soccer field I’d ever seen in my life. It was a little crooked and it didn’t have nets but like I’d rather play soccer there than in some field in the middle of Brooklyn, you know? The game went into penalty kicks, who could’ve written that? It was just amazing to see the excitement of the whole village getting together to watch this game. It might sound tripe but, you don’t need much to enjoy life and get something out of life. The thing that I most remember about that was at the end where Linda had quite a crowd around her and they just didn’t want to quit it was a lot of fun. Just to be like slowly immersed into these local experiences was invaluable, and it builds up your understanding of the place and I’m happy we had those experiences before we painted because It made me care that much more about getting the mural right and making everyone like it and doing a good job for the people. So, historically, Haitians are and have every reason to be apprehensive about people that show up with promises of assistance or help. Historically, [it is] absolutely justified in questioning whatever it is you are bringing to the table. Who are you supporting for political office? Why are you doing this? There’s always a – historically, in Haiti, a give and take. You come down here and you say you’re going to paint a school – – everyone has a different idea of how that’s going to make sense. And we bumped into that. The first time we went to the school that we intended to paint the entire thing and go crazy. We had a little bit of difficulty with communication about our intent and what the purpose was. Ultimately, we broke through that and Ramiro was able to paint a really cool bird on the inside of this one classroom. Painting at the schools was a really awesome experience. I think more for the kids than for ourselves. It was really loud and there was like a hundred kids around you the whole time. Thank you. Good job. Thank you. It was just awesome to be in a community that hasn’t really seen that kind of stuff and to do it for them. Oh, you didn’t wash this either? [laughter] Did you actually wash them? I’ve washed every single one of them. Where? Right over there! and then I just threw water all over myself. Next day, we roll into Toussaint Louverture school and we do the Inside Out Project in the hallway and suddenly these bare walls, these dirty old walls with pigeon poop on them and everything suddenly are transformed into these welcoming faces of these French kids. The biggestt sacrifice I made coming here was being willing to get anywhere near wallpaper or wallpaper paste. Me and that kind of activity don’t get along because it never ends well. We toughed through the first one and we got better and faster at it and it came out great. Today, we are in Toussaint Louverture School. It is a primary school which will work and create bounds with a French school within the project “Inside Out” by JR. We are here to share this idea that with good ideas we can change the world, and as says JR, “turn the world Inside Out.” With the photographs between the French and the Haitian kids, it’s really to get them to start reflecting, introspecting on what it’s like to be in another country. By education, by going to school, they will be able to support families, and villages, and to bring improvement in their daily life. I think the little things we do down here have a huge impact, even spray painting a wall. We always like to think everybody’s got something to offer, and they do. When you come down here to Haiti and put it to work, you see it happen. There are no murals here. The fact that they trusted us to do our own art in their place… It was pretty unbelievable. If you’re having a bad day in Haiti and then you go to school, at least you can see some images that are really bright and really uplifting. You’ve got Ramiro who’s painted this mural with these fish, swimming a school of fish into the school. You’ve got Denton’s amazing image of Toussaint Louverture the school’s namesake with a collaboration with JPO drawing the colors up the wall. It transformed that place in a day and a half. You see the conditions in the country and a lot of them aren’t very pretty. You sort of say, “how can anybody help? Where can anybody start?” Here’s a way that we can help and we can start, and we can help future generations. I just told them the little twig here won’t do nothing to this ball. Yeah, it’s a strong ball. You can run a car over it. Strong ball. They say, “thank you.” Lots of bandages, aspirin… Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. Each of us has a talent and each of us can share it and change the life of one child. It was amazing just to see everybody even the teachers’ and I believe the principal’s eyes light up when they saw it for the first time. They just seemed to be so excited about what was going on that they wanted to be right on top of it. Their eyes are just so bright, their smiles are so big. And you think, “Man, that could teach us a lesson.” I included a lot of stuff that had to do with the school and their school motto, the school name. I wanted to put up something that was kind of funny and kind of playful for them. The thing about the kids and the school most of them were just so cheerful and happy and a big smile , it melts your heart. I’ve learned that when you go to places like this and you go back to the States, and you talk to people that have never seen anything like this you can’t really make them understand. You can see this stuff on television, but it’s not the same thing. We had been here a couple of days and when we drove 7 hours to Port-de-Paix, Charlie, one of the guys on the trip was in the back of the car and he hadn’t said much in awhile and then he said, “Every high-schooler in America should come here for a week.” And it’s true. I think that it won’t happen. But it’s really really true, it changes your perspective so much. It shows you how you really don’t need all the excess that we have to be happy and to live. We are all human beings. Their plight – the things that they have to deal with and try to overcome are only theirs because of where they are born. They could be mine, they could be yours, they could be anyone’s. So, it’s our responsibility, as human beings, to share the burden to share our blessings. Our work in Haiti right now is focused on 40 kids. We have 40 sponsored children that are the poorest of the poor, and for $20/month sponsors can send them to school. It provides Their tuition, their backpacks, their school supplies everything they need. Most kids in Haiti don’t go beyond the 5th grade, and that’s sad. So, we are just doing a small piece trying to make a difference, one child at a time. As we grow as an organization, we intend to ultimately build a school down here. To pay teachers, so we create jobs and have free tuition for the school. A much larger operation, that’s the vision 5-10 years from now. In the interim, if you’re interested, check out our website: I’m always happy to answer any questions about our work here in Haiti, Uganda, India, Nepal and back in the D.C. area. To have been sort of indoctrinated into this opportunity of an organization that is doing a good thing that now I’ve seen and now I trust. I know that I can’t fix all the problems of the world, but now I’m part of something where I can make a difference. And that’s a really cool feeling. I had a positive experience here. and I think Trellis Arch is doing awesome stuff. We’re strangers, and we get here and are automatically family and that’s how it felt right off the plane. Thank you, Dave and Lydia and like I said, everybody… including you, Brad for doing such a great job. When people don’t have these kinds of experiences it’s difficult to be able to verbally explain and emotionally explain everything that’s happened. Even when you see it in movies and TV shows – unless you live it, it’s really difficult I would just hope that people are more open-minded to coming to countries like this and doing work. I’m so ready to make this what I do for the rest of my life.

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