Bringing Christmas to Haiti

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-1It is hard to believe that a day could be more exhausting than yesterday but I think it might have happened. While today was not as physically exhausting, it definitely was emotionally. Although it was emotionally exhausting, it wasn’t in a bad way. It was an emotional journey that I imagine will stick with everyone who went on it today.

The morning began again with breakfast at the hotel again along with a celebration of Kevin’s birthday! For me, the highlight (besides the birthday) was again coffee (although the French Toast was delicious as well). We were leaving the hotel by 7:30 and hopping in the vans to go visit the Citadel. The Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by black slaves who had gained freedom to protect their freedom from France, should they return. The drive to the town below the Citadel took approximately an hour (maybe a tiny bit more, I really lost track of time). It was an absolutely beautiful drive as we left Cap-Haïtien and went into the country and towards the mountains where this fortress is located.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-8Our guide was named Cyril and drove us a bulk of the way there. We arrived at a small town at the base of the mountain where the Citadel was located. There Cyril relinquished the steering wheel to our regular driving Fritznel. Cyril continued on with us as our guide as we wound our way up the mountain on a very thin, very rocky, very steep, very dangerous road. We finally arrived at a small outpost that was at the beginning of the trail that would take us the rest of the way. As we got out of the vans we found ourselves suddenly surrounded by local vendors. Thankfully Cyril was on the ball and quickly cleared the crowd. He informed us that he is trying to encourage the vendors to say in the shop portion of the outpost and asked if we would please visit the shops upon our return (even if we didn’t buy anything).

To get up the mountain, alf of the group went on horseback and the other half went aboard rhinos (ATVs). I went aboard a rhino for the quick trip up the mountain. Everything the road was, the trail was even more. It was beautiful but it felt like one wrong step on the pedal or turn of the wheel and it would be the end of the story. Our rhino arrived at the Citadel first so we had some time to wait which meant… time to take a few photos! The view up there was absolutely stunning. There were also canons laying around that I took some pictures of until the second rhino and horses (and Cyril walked I believe) arrived.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-24Once everyone had arrived, we entered around the back side of the Citadel. This fortress is absolutely incredible. It is huge and it is absolutely incredible to think of how all of the material had to have been carried up be hand to the top of this mountain. It was built by 20,000 workers between 1805 and 1820 under the direction of Henri Christophe. He was a general in the Haitian Army that oversaw the northern region of Haiti. It was one of many fortifications built to protect Haiti from French attacks.

The history behind the Citadel was really fascinating to hear. What was even more awesome was hearing the pride and passion that Cyril has for his native country, Haiti. It was definitely eye opening to see a different side of Haiti. This is a Haiti that is really proud of its origin and has a legacy of in Cyril’s words “live free or die.”  Realizing how important that freedom is to this country is absolutely incredible.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-49After the tour around the Citadel (there will be a video later), we returned to the outpost and shopped around the outpost as we promised Cyril we would. Coming back down the mountain, we had time to stop at what was once a Cheateaux for Henri Christophe. Sans-Souci Palace is now just the remains of what was once apparently a very grand estate. The original palace would have been surrounded by army barracks, houses for his sons, and administrative buildings. There also was a beautiful church and town right down the hill as well. We explored this for some time and learned more about the history of Haiti and Henri Christophe.  With the adventure over, it was time to bring Christmas to the orphanage in Petite-Anse.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-72We arrived in Petite-Anse just before lunch. Reggie Ament and company arrived from Auberge du Picolet with hamburgers and fries for the group and also the children that live at the orphanage. It was a wonderful time of teaching the kids about ketchup and mustard. We also ate with them which was a lot of fun as well. One little boy affectionately called “little Manno” absolutely LOVED the ketchup. Another little girl Nada, who we had met the other day and was very shy/scared, absolutely loved the meal and quietly sang as she ate. She also ended up being the last child to finish eating.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-99After lunch, we had some time to hang out with the kids before the presentation that continued the Christmas festivities. After playtime the “house papa” began things with the aid of a PA system that had been set up in the yard. It really was beautiful seeing everyone coming together to celebrate Christmas in a way that blended some of our traditions with the culture of Haiti. The children of the orphanage had two different presentations. The first one involved a group of girls dancing. The second came quite a bit later and had some juggling type performance that really was a lot of fun to watch. It was fun to see the kids do something they were proud of and show us what they could do. Also a little boy sang a song to us. The whole presentation/performance portion of the day was completely charming and endearing. At one point the presentation seemed be slowing down for whatever reason so Chris Ederer started dancing and within moments the area had turned into a big dance party in the yard. Throughout the entire day people were pairing up with different kids in the orphanages and loving on these kids. It truly was amazing.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-111As the performance portion of the day came to a close, the ice cream came out. For all of us from the states though, that meant it was time to go for a walk. The walk was through the community outside of the orphanage to a church quite some distance away. I had taken this walk a year before and had been gearing myself up for it. The reason being that the further you walk into the community, the more impoverished it becomes. This is a community that feels like it was built on a garbage dump. In the middle of this dump is a white church (really rusted white tin walls) in the middle of this community. Inside, the school/church was packed with children who were in school. They sang several songs to us that started with a “welcome” song and then continued to a couple of hymns. One of these was “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” and was a lot of fun as several of us sang along. After delivering some candy and special cups, we made our way back to the orphanage.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-113At this point I really need to pause and describe this community in more detail. It is a community that is along the edge of the bay in a location that could be absolutely stunning. Instead it is shacks that are built from whatever happens to be left over built on dirt, sewage, and garbage. It is hard to believe that people live in a situation like this. It really does look like a bunch of shacks put into a garbage dump. There are people that live in this garbage dump. Today, we saw people bathing in this garbage dump. As we walked up to the church two young men were bathing right up against a pool of what appeared to be raw sewage. They had soap all over and were bathing in who knows what. This is the reality that thousands of people that live in this community.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-118After our walk it was time for Papa Noel to arrive and share presents with the orphanage of Petite-Anse. While I’m not entirely sure that each of them knew who Papa Noel (Santa) was, they definitely enjoyed the experience. Each child received a present from Papa Noel (something that had been put together by Reliv corporate employees) and then took a photo with Papa Noel. After they received their present, many of them waited to open their presents until everyone else had received a present. It really was sweet to watch. The people in our group were interspersed with the children and helped open the presents. As time went by some balls and jump ropes came out. It was really fun to watch as everyone was playing with each other in the yard in front of the orphanage.

RelivKalogrisFoundation_BeTheChange_Haiti_2015-128As the day ended it was time to go. As often is the case, goodbyes were rough. The van was full of tears as we pulled away. Oddly enough, many of the kids at the orphanage were all smiles as we pulled out of the yard and headed into the community and back to the hotel. The drive home we saw a building with Christmas lights, which seemed entirely fitting. It also almost seemed a bit out of place for it being in the craziness of downtown Cap-Haïtien.

Dinner was wonderful and was shared with two local priests. At the end of the meal, the priest from the Cap-Haïtien cathedral offered a beautiful blessing as he thanked us for the work we do down here. He also offered encouragement to us as we continue the mission of the Reliv Kalogris Foundation.

Day three in Haiti has been such an incredible journey. While there were definitely tears involved for many people today, they weren’t a negative thing. They were a positive thing. The Reliv Kalogris Foundation (RKF) does such fantastic job down here and it was such a pleasure to get to experience the difference that the RKF makes both down here in and also around the globe. I hope that in the future we can continue to help this organization grow and continue to make an even bigger difference! Tomorrow we will be hitting a few things and then hopping on the plane back to Miami. I’m looking forward to getting back and sharing about the experiences we have had hear and help this organization to grow. There were far too many kids receiving the positive impact of this organization and it needs to change. It’s time to make this happen.


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