Sunday, December 4, 2016

Where We're Supposed to Be

Often, it takes the gentle reminder of strangers to sort of "reset" yourself. Such is the case here in Haiti, for sure, as with hundreds of visitors each year, it's usually through their eyes and their reflection that I'm reminded of all that is good in the world; especially when it can be hard to see that good amidst the fog of it all...

For me, it was our most recent Britsionary Group who reminded me of that - perhaps in the most unassuming of ways. It's always such a pleasure to host groups, and while we love our returning friends, I particularly enjoy getting to know the newbies - the first-timers who have felt compelled to travel to Haiti and give of themselves for a week in the spirit of humanitarianism and selflessness that is so much a part of our immediate and extended family. Reflections on the roof are indeed often  my most favorite of experiences, and this group especially reminded me of my blessings last night.

The group reflected largely on the impact that one can make. How it's really quite simple to make a difference, and how it doesn't require a momentous, huge outpouring of effort or support or money to make it happen. Indeed, Britney Gengel's life, in just 19 short years, has had a lasting and permanent effect on the lives of thousands here in Haiti and in the USA - even without her knowing. As our new friend Amy remarked, most people don't manage to affect things on this level over the course of a lifetime. Britney was able to do it with a simple text message, unbeknownst to her at the time - that would resonate for years to come, and for thousands to witness...

It was wonderful to have good friends and colleagues here this week, like Charlie, our incredible volunteer who gives so much of himself and helped me remember the privilege of being able to serve - of helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Wendy, who works for us part-time at the OC in Worcester is such a gracious soul, and spending some time with her this week was definitely therapeutic. Our friend Michael, who volunteers with us as a grant writer was here, too, and he and Cherylann and I got to spend some quality time together talking about future projects and initiatives. We have our sights aimed very high, and we're so grateful for all of the support along the way.

As we grow as an organization, we are constantly looking to improve. Len's motto, CANEI (Constant and Never Ending Improvement) is indeed the words we live by here at Be Like Brit. As we plan for 2017, we have great endeavors on the horizon. I am confident that through the support of friends and strangers alike, we'll make great strides in achieving those goals...

Having Cherylann here is always such a gift, and the children just love it when Manmi Cherylann is in town! The group made the "big haul", having brought in most of the Christmas presents that all of you have so generously sent to us at our Operations Center. Our children are truly blessed, and we're grateful to be able to extend those blessings along to our precious 66 children.

The week was especially productive as our friend and Board Member Eileen was on hand, too! Eileen handles most of our human resources issues and is an all around friend and confident. She is my voice of reason in times where I doubt myself - or anything else, for that matter. She is a true gift, and this week more than ever I am reminded of just how many gifts I have in my life.

In this holiday season, this time of thanks and of things near and dear, let us all be reminded of those blessings we take for granted, of just how fortunate we are to have so much in a world where so many have so little. It is through this work, through my friends here in Haiti, and through the hardships of others that I am reminded of just how lucky I am, as Charlie put it, to be able to serve others. 

Thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, November 27, 2016


I sometimes feel like a broken record. As I sit to write a weekly update from Be Like Brit in Haiti, I so often talk about the overwhelming support of friends that we have here - how none of this would be possible without the generosity of others. That remains true, and that truth is reinforced on a daily basis here in Haiti. We have so much to be grateful and thankful for.

This past week, as our friends in the USA celebrated the Thanksgiving Holiday, Haitians by and large, I think, breathed a collective sigh of relief, as the November 20, 2016 Presidential Elections came and went without much fanfare in terms of violence or fallout. Elections which have been delayed on more than one occasion, results contested, with threats of and actual violence have happened. We're patiently waiting for official results which should come any day now.

Many of you may recall in the days following Hurricane Matthew that here at BLB, we set up outside of our gate and allowed people to come to us to sign up for assistance in the damages or losses that they may have received as a result of the storm. In just one morning, we received requests for assistance from more than 100 households. Of course, not unlike anywhere else where poverty and circumstances push otherwise good and honest people to do dishonest things, we did find some instances where people were not reporting accurately the damages they suffered. In many cases, people would prefer to have a cash payout vs. a repair to a home, or the replacement of contents. 

In order to best address these discrepancies, we sent our Britsionary Team Leaders Francky and Madona out to visit each and every home that was signed up on that list. This is no easy task, as those of you who have been here know, the area around Brit's Home in Haiti is mountainous, and the sun, unforgiving. Francky and Madona exuded a tremendous amount of work in conducting these visits and assessments, and we are grateful for their commitment. BLB now has a long list of repairs - confirmed need, in an effort to ensure that the relief dollars so many of you donated are spent in the most appropriate way possible. 

The photos above are just two examples of the all-too-common reality of our neighbors and friends. This is why we are so grateful to all of you who donated to our Hurricane Relief efforts. The homes that we are able to repair and replace, as necessary, will protect against the loss of property and protect lives ahead of the next challenge to our resolve...

We were so proud this past week when our children brought home their report cards!!! Another subtle reminder of why we are thankful. The gifts of sponsorship allow us to send our children to the best two schools in the region with Mission of Hope International and St. Francois. Together with our home schooling program for five of our boys, we truly believe we are raising the next generation of leaders in Haiti. 

Between all of the wonderful things happening here in Haiti and the awesome work that our Team in the USA, along with our selfless volunteers, we know how fortunate and blessed we are. No matter what the cause, no matter what the need, it seems that there is no end to the blessings we find ourselves on the receiving end of. 

Just last week, we shipped our container out of the Port in Boston to make its way to Haiti with more than 16,000 pounds of supplies on board. Dozens of volunteers showed up at the Operations Center with just one request that we posted on our Facebook page, asking for some hands to help us with some important items we had in our USA office. We hope that you all are confident that in those blessings 
and in this abundance - in this time of thanks - we are both humbled and honored in the faith you put in us each and every day with all of your efforts, your time, and your support!

We have big news coming your way soon out of South Florida, but we will make you wait for that! Be sure to stay tuned to our social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for more information!!!

Thank you for helping us raise the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Be Like Brit Star.

For those of you who have followed us over the years, you know how fortunate we are to be surrounded by so many incredible individuals who have offered their time, their talents, and their resources to help us help the children at Be Like Brit. Last weekend, we recognized one of our most dedicated and generous ambassadors for Be Like Brit, in the awarding of the Star Award to the Reverend Dr. Debra Pallatto-Fontaine. Debbie is a powerhouse in so many ways. We've benefited from her expertise from our earliest days, as Debbie served as a member of our Program Committee back during the construction phase of our work, and now serves in a much more expansive role.

After receiving the Star Award at our Gala last Saturday, Debbie flew back to Haiti with me on Monday of last week to deliver her quarterly professional development staff and teacher trainings to all of our caregivers. Debbie provides this professional level workshops at least 4 times per year, and the benefits of having her perspective and insights in areas of faith, child development, psychology, curriculum development, and early childhood education are invaluable to us. Our staff has grown by leaps and bounds, and they absolutely love it when Madame Debbie visits!

As a Reverend with the United Church of Christ, we look to Debbie (along with our own Father Madden) for guidance when conflict arrives as a result of faith - or, more specifically, differences of faith. While the Be Like Brit Foundation is not specifically a faith-based organization, the Gengels are Catholic, and faith was a huge part of Brit's life, as it is for the family still. As some of our children are from a Catholic background and others a Christian (Protestant) background, we're noticing as they get older that sometimes the perceived or actual differences between the two faiths can cause problems and conflict to arise between not only our children, but our children and our visitors, too.

Debbie was supposed to have traveled to BLB the first week of October, until Hurricane Matthew hit, forcing us to reschedule her trip. When we figured out that we could get Debbie here when I flew back from the Gala, we took the opportunity of asking Debbie to incorporate some kind of service in to her week, where she could talk to the children and to the staff about what it means to be an ecumenical organization here, but more importantly, how we're all created in God's image and every human being is deserving of mutual respect and civility. The values of tolerance and diversity are very important to the Be Like Brit Foundation, and we hope that we can raise our children to hold these same beliefs. Debbie's service, sharing in the body and the blood of Christ together, regardless of formal faith or ideology, was a great lesson for our children. Like she always does, Debbie found a way to work the children in to the service, with a choir, faith dancers, and helpers up on the altar, too!

We are thrilled that at last week's Gala, we were able to announce officially that, through the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Becker College, Debbie has launched what is called the "DREAMS Program: Educating the Future of Haiti This is a 6 module, 15 week hybrid course, focusing on topics around social and emotional intelligence, child development, and intensive English language instruction. We've started out with our first cohort of 11 Be Like Brit employees, who, upon completion of the course, will receive official course completion certificate from Becker College! The group is loving the program so far, and we are excited to see how it may develop and grow over time! What do you think about their Becker gear?!

It is these kinds of initiatives and partnerships that truly do allow us to bring a whole new level of care and professionalism to our children, our program, and of course the organization. We want people to know that when we say we're working to raise the next generation of leaders in Haiti, we mean it, and these types of programs are what set us apart from the rest! We're proud of our work, and especially grateful to Madame Debbie - our Star!!!

It was a joy to have spent the last few days working with Debbie, and talking about other ways that we can deepen this relationship! We have an exciting trip for Becker in early 2017, where we will be meeting with the Country Director of the Yunus Social Business in Haiti and visiting some of their projects in the country. We look forward to a long relationship with Debbie and with Becker! 

Thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Be Like Brit 6th Annual Fall Gala!

Last night, Saturday, November 12, 2016, we at BLB held our 6th Annual Fall Gala FUNdraiser! This is actually the night that I look forward to the most each year, as it truly is a chance for everyone at Be Like Brit to come together with our friends, supporters, Britsionarys, and Ambassadors to not only offer a look at the events of the current year, but to discuss and share some of our plans moving forward, too. It's our biggest event of the year, and last night, some 340 (or so) of you came to the event at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA. What a fabulous night!!!

We are always so grateful and overwhelmed at the love and support we receive at Be Like Brit. This year, we were tested in many ways, and the Worcester Community and beyond never let us down. More than 16,000 pounds of Hurricane Relief donations came streaming in to our Operations Center in just two days - and more than $60,000 USD was raised - in the first two days! Donations both in-kind and monetary continue to roll in for our relief efforts, and we are busy planning out the best way to utilize these funds to respond to this most recent tragedy and plan ahead for the next. It's people like you who make it possible.

While Madame Love and I traveled up from Haiti, we were honored that Len brought our newest addition, Deb Kaiser Cross up from Florida, too! As we grow in to an international nonprofit, we are strategically planning for our future, too. Deb will be leading groups in to Haiti from Florida, as she works with Len to share the news of Be Like Brit and we plan to set up an office at some point in 2017 in Delray Beach! We're thrilled to have her on board and it was wonderful to be able to introduce her to our friends last night!

Deb isn't the only one who made the trip to Worcester for our big night! We are so blessed, and have friends who traveled to be with us last night from Long Island, Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Hampshire, and more! Our own Susan Wornick of course came in from FL, and we were honored to have Congressman Jim McGovern and his wife Lisa in attendance, as well! As many of you know, Jim was instrumental in getting Len in to Haiti just after the quake back in 2010, and both he and Lisa have been to Be Like Brit and have been staunch supporters of our cause. What a wonderful night!

Our evening was a huge success, and we can't thank you all enough for the generosity of not only your attendance, but to all of those local businesses and individuals who work so hard to get auction items and donations together for the night. With well over 100 items to bid on, we are so happy that nearly every item we had went home with someone last night! We're so grateful to so many of you that I know if I tried to list them all here, I would miss some! It is this amazing collective effort that makes this night such a success.

With dozens of volunteers helping us with the event last night, we have to acknowledge the great people of St. John's in Shrewsbury, who have from our earliest days of operating Brit's Home in Haiti been such incredible supporters. The fine young men of St. John's filled so many roles for us last night, and under the direction of Mr. Tim Williams, Mr. Mike Nicholson, and Mr. Mike Foley, we are truly blessed to have them on our side. 

With more than 100 Britsionarys who have traveled to Haiti, countless sponsors, and more - I could go on and on. Your generosity and dedication to Continuing the Compassion is overwhelming, and I know I can speak on behalf of Len and Cherylann Gengel when I say that we are truly humbled by your selflessness, and are so appreciative that each of you have come in to our BLB lives! While it is a night for fundraising and a night for some business, most of all, it is a night of fun - of celebration - to take the time to appreciate and recognize the fabulous family that we all have with Be Like Brit.

People, indeed, are so very good. Thank you for helping us help the children of Haiti at Be Like Brit.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Evolving Over Time

This past week, we welcomed Cherylann, Father John Madden, our good friend and rock star Britsionary and Operations Center volunteer Lauren, along with our friend Rae Ann and her son Max to Haiti for one of our post-Hurricane Matthew-specific build-a-home trips. The group while small in numbers had a huge impact on an area of Grand Goâve hit especially hard by Matthew - the area near the coast, at Taino Beach.

The community that lives on the only road that heads down to Taino is especially vulnerable, as they are either just barely located above sea level. Again, while we in Grand Goâve were spared the most destructive forces that Hurricane Matthew brought to Haiti, there was no shortage of flooding along the coast and the lower-lying areas, and the family in need this past week was no exception. The rains entered their dirt-floor home, and the standing water turned the floor to mud, rendering the home inhabitable. When our friend Father Brice from the St. François Parish approached Be Like Brit, we knew we had to help! Even more fitting, St. François is the Sister Parish to St. John's of Worcester, and so having our friend and Board Member Father Madden along for this trip was especially serendipitous. What better way for the two forces to come together than through a build-a-home trip in Haiti just weeks after a major disaster?

It was wonderful to see how this group took charge and in just two full work days was able to construct a safe, hurricane reinforced home with a concrete pad as a floor, walls securely anchored in cement, and roof strapped to resist the next threatening winds and rains that will inevitably, again, come. Our commitment to Haiti and to providing jobs for our community is clear, and this week we were able to employ an additional 15 laborers for this and other construction projects we have ongoing. The evolution of our Britsionary program and the changes we've implemented from our first days operating after our own construction was completed are nothing short of amazing. What started out as a "fix a home" program has evolved, and we're not just building in our community, but we're developing our community, too - both in neighborhoods and in economy.

You may have noticed recently that when possible, we are sending some of our older children (boys and girls!) to work alongside our Britsionarys. As our children grow, and as we work with them more closely in terms of setting short-term goals and even in some cases life goals, we are learning so much about them, as they are about themselves! Fredo came to us recently and asked us if he could start to work alongside some of our carpenters, as he felt like that was something he was interested in learning. As Fredo is one of our 5 boys at the Be Like Brit Academy, we thought it was perfect to work in some professional/vocational training to his standard academics. A very generous friend learned this, and got Fredo a proper tool-belt, hammer, work gloves, and steel-toed boots! He worked right alongside the group over these two days, and his sense of pride and accomplishment is clear! He event took on the skill saw, under the close guidance and instruction of our job foreman, Nico!

I love that Nico started out with us as a laborer, became a caregiver who went through dozens of child-development trainings over the course of two years, and now is working as a foreman on our job sites. Who better than to work alongside our children as they age in to these areas of interest. This is just another way how at Be Like Brit, we're working to raise the standard of child care in the developing world. Not many programs can make the claim that their carpenters have gone through years of professional development training! We are so proud of the work we're doing here, and it's only possible because of the generosity of incredible individuals from all over the world!!!

The final house blessing was a beautiful event, with Fathers Madden and Brice on-hand to give the home the appropriate Catholic rite. So much good can come from  people intent on making a difference, and this week was no exception. We are blessed to know such incredible people and to call them friends.

It occurred to me as I flew back to Haiti last week from a vacation in Santo Domingo that in just over a month, I'll mark four full years with Be Like Brit! Wow! With Cherylann here, we laughed until we cried at some of the earliest days, at some of our more challenging moments, and at how naive I once was - not understanding Haiti, not understanding the history and the nuances of culture and every day life here. It is fair to say that we've all grown in ways that we never imagined we would - and that all of the difficulties and hardships - whatever struggles they may have brought us - have all been life lessons from which we've learned, adjusted, adapted, and persevered. Much like our Haitian friends and family, with Hope, Faith, and Love, we evolve.

Just yesterday, Meghan lead a group of Britsionarys down to undertake another task - another home, in just two days! Together with Lauren (who stayed on from the previous trip, and who we're not sure we're going to be able to get rid of!), Nikki, Maggie, Alicia, and our own Madame Amanda, we know it's going to be another opportunity for us to pay it forward. Stay tuned for updates!

As always, thank you for helping us help the children - and the people - of Haiti through Be Like Brit!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

7 Birthdays without Britney!!!

What a week at Be Like Brit in Haiti and the USA, with Mr. Jonathan on a much deserved vacation, I’m sharing my thoughts this week.   With lots of relief efforts going on in Grand Goave and in Worcester with building houses and folks dropping off donated food items.  We have never shipped a container to Haiti either, but thanks to Patrick and Charlie, we bought our first container just before Hurricane Matthew that we are now filling for shipment to Haiti.  In Haiti we had our first Britsionary Team since the Hurricane and the name they picked is fitting, “ After Matt “ ! They built a couple houses this week and distributed the food they brought down at St Francois of Assis Parish for the mountain folks of Mount Carmel who lost everything, they are devastated.  These coordinated efforts are happening because of our team in the states being able to communicate with Haiti, and the people on the ground that truly know who has the most need in Grand Goave.   Cherylann and I were told a long time ago, don’t take on Haiti, it will consume you, just do your piece and do it well!  This was sound advice as some of you know who have traveled to Haiti in the past, the need is everywhere and not just in Grand Goave on the mountain of Ricondo where Brit’s Home sits! 

I was in Haiti until Tuesday morning, even though I was supposed to stay until Friday, I had to fly out because of a dental emergency, my temporary implant fell out and even though Dave and Coach took me to a so-called dentist in Ti-Goave, she couldn’t fix it!  Now as most of you reading this are in America, don’t think this was a typical dentist office in the states.  This was a white and green building with no electricity, it was getting dark when we pulled up around 5:30pm and the guy at the desk told someone to start the generator.  Lights came on and they sat me in a very old dentist chair, there was a Sears Craftsman air compressor next to the chair and when the dentist arrived, she flipped on the lever and the drill started to hum as the compressor kicked on.  Now I looked at Dave who did 1 year of Dental School and told him to tell the women that she wasn’t sticking that drill in my mouth!  She LoL and said it was only to clean the temporary tooth, she tried her best to glue the tooth in place, but to no avail, she said she would get better adhesive the next day!  I made a tough decision, to stay or not to go, I opted to go and fly out of PaP the next morning, how lucky am I to be able to just get on a plane and go to the USA, not everybody in Haiti has that ability!   On the flight to Ft Lauderdale a lovely woman with her granddaughter sat behind me, it was Marylin who had just come out to visit Brit’s Home a few weeks ago.  She introduced me to her son, Jean who sat next to me and as we started to talk, he told me he was the 2nd generation owner of a Shipping and Brokering Business in Port au Prince.  Well, you can guess what the next conversation was about?  Yes, I learned in great detail how to pack the container the so that the Haitian Officials in PaP will allow it out of Port when they check the Bill of Lading!  We call this a God Wink, when you really need something or someone and they just sit down next to you!!!  

This past Thursday was my 56th Birthday, my 7th year without Brit, it’s always Bittersweet.  Now I don’t expect you to understand how I feel, unless you have lost a child or sibling.  It never gets easier with that empty seat at the table as a reminder of just how unfair life can be sometimes.  Don’t get me wrong, I count my blessings every day, I love my two sons, Bernie and Richie and I love my 66 Haitian Children, but these days that we are supposed to celebrate, like a birthday or holiday, are just reminders of the pain and suffering we have persevered!  A lot has changed over the past 7 years, I am blessed with many good friends, but lost 3 people very close to me over the past few years, my Brother in Law and friend of 38 years, Steve Penka.  My lifelong Best Friend John Cassidy I lost 16 months ago and my nephew Tommy who lost a 10 year battle with Pancreatitis, like Brit, they all died way to young and it makes you question not only your Faith, but your purpose on this earth as well?  They say that God only gives you as much as you can handle and with my Loving Family and Friends, I’m still standing, thanks be to God!!!  

I would be remiss If I didn’t thank our team on the ground in Haiti, Mami Love has been incredible with her commitment to helping those in need.  Dr. Rev. Deb Kaiser Cross who lead her first team into Haiti and is now part of our team in South Florida has been Amazing, I love her spirit and determination to get the houses built, even though she has a cast on her foot!  Davidson who now wants to be called Dave has gone far above our expectations, he is thirsty for everything I teach him and his desire to do it right the first time is on a level above the rest.  Madona and Francky are learning and working really hard to make our Britsionary’s experience memorable.  Gina, Coach, Willman, Walter, Farah and Peterson do an amazing job everyday with our Children!  We never can forget our vision for our children at Brit’s Home, to “ Raise the next generation of Leaders in Haiti “ !!!  This past week I got the best gift ever, my children made a 10 second video in English, telling me how much they Love me and wish me a happy birthday!  Like many Americans after the earthquake, I went to Haiti thinking I was going to help the Haitian People, but it was the Haitian People that have helped me survive the most horrific loss a parent can live thru…  

We continue to Keep the Faith in Haiti and the USA and Thank You for helping us help the Poorest of the Poor in Haiti… 
Papi Len

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Keeping the Faith

We are now almost three full weeks post-Hurricane Matthew here in Haiti, and the real work is just beginning. While we're so fortunate to have the support of so many of you both in in-kind donations and in financial commitments, today we will be welcoming our first Britsionary group since the Country Bank group evacuated just a day ahead of the Category 4 siklon that has ravaged the southern peninsula of Haiti and beyond. While it looks to be a typical work week, we know that this group is especially driven to do more. We're happy to announce that we'll be building a standard house, and also completing repairs on other homes in our area throughout next week! As we develop our community, we are doing so with foresight and planning. Our road is starting to look very nice!

If you haven't heard "how it's going" in terms of the response to those hardest hit by Matthew, the answer is, unfortunately, not great. Many of you saw those infuriating images of a Dutch ship carrying over 35 tons of relief by way of food, water, medicine, and shelter forced to abort their landing at the Port of Jeremie due to security concerns. I watched in horror on social media while people from all over the world remarked at how "savage like" the survivors were and how "out of control" their behavior was. I ask you: If you hadn't eaten in 2 weeks and saw the equivalent of a floating restaurant coming ashore, what would you do? Likely, you would do anything and everything in your power to provide for your family and your friends - secure whatever provisions you thought you could get, as after two weeks with no cavalry, who could know when they might come again?

In the absence of any real, organized, government response, it's those organizations, NGOs, missions, and good-hearted people who are really carrying the brunt of the relief effort. Tons of food may be shipped in, but people on the ground are the ones who are delivering it. Water and medicine makes its way to distribution centers and whatever homes might be left standing not because foreign militaries are bringing it to them, but because missionaries and volunteers or aid-workers are here - traveling over land and air to reach the most remote areas of devastation.

I think we should take a moment to recognize the tragedy that happened just this past week, when a small plane ferrying aid to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, with Canadian Humanitarian worker Benjamin Cole Brown, along with American couple Chuck and Candy Ritzen, crashed (presumably) into the sea near Puerto Plata after returning from Jeremie. The work they were conducting by use of the seaplane they piloted was so important, as they were able to land off the coast - working runways are few and far between. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with their families as they work through this loss...

As the region struggles to recover from the storm, we've recently been pounded with heavy rains, only adding insult to injury. Just yesterday, when stories in the press broke about the American Marines leaving Haiti as the bulk of their work (the "heavy lifting") was completed and roads were passable, we received a notification from the American Embassy, warning that the rain waters had flooded National Route 2 from Petit Goave to as far as Port Salut. Ironic, the same government issuing two entirely conflicting notices. Perhaps a tiny example of the complexity of these enormous, bureaucratic agencies and entities responding to these types of crises.

Our work continues here on the ground, as we roll into this final week of October. We're also keeping our eyes focused on the south for another reason: Cholera. Conditions like flood waters and heavy rains are ideal for the contamination of drinking water, and as the water rise, undoubtedly, so will the number of cholera diagnoses and deaths. People immediately think of these types of serious illness, and that's of course important, but there are other deadly, less-visible diseases that can wreak havoc on this still-reeling population. Even still, we're working hard at reinforcing good hygiene and talking all about cholera prevention with our children, staff, and our neighbors.

We're hearing some troubling news from health workers in the southern peninsula, and even from as nearby as neighboring Petit Goave - only 10 minutes to our west. People who are developing symptoms of cholera are resistant to going to local clinics and hospitals, largely because they already are skeptical and have trouble trusting foreign aid workers, who, in many ways, they cannot separate from the foreign soldiers who introduced cholera back in 2010. Others believe it's just too late (cholera kills very quickly), or in many other cases, there's just no help. I've heard and read extensively about how Haiti is uniquely complex. The historical context, the dynamics of religion and beliefs, faith, voodoo, etc. Now, I see it. The storm having peeled back the layers - people are dying of cholera not just because of Hurricane Matthew, but because of a lifetime of decisions made for and imposed upon this struggling nation of revolutionaries and heroes. It is the great tragedy of our time.

I have to share with you my own personal medical scare this week. I share this with you somewhat embarrassed, because what I thought was becoming a serious issue really never was - but I think it's revealing in that given the current situation and state of medical care here in Haiti, even the smallest medical issue or concern can become problematic and can really become an emergency with little or no warning. Imagine being someone entirely cutoff from the outside world because of this natural disaster, added rain, flooded roads, and aid shipments forced to abandon their mission for security concerns. Imagine how desperate and panicked you might feel if you were in that situation. I was (and am) fully connected to the outside world, have access to medicines, emergency evacuation insurance, telemedicine equipment, and direct lines to some of the best health care providers in the United States.

Still, when I woke up on Sunday morning of last week with what appeared to be an aggravated hair follicle on my side, I was a little concerned. It felt different. It was "angry" - and it got progressively worse and more painful as the day went on. By Monday night, I was literally writhing in pain, my entire side inflamed from the middle of my back down to my waist. I couldn't sit up, I couldn't lay down. A drive from Port-au-Prince back to Grand Goave was the most pain I've ever felt in my life - every bump in the road and every turn sent what felt like burning fire and shooting pain through this area.

What appeared to be a simple cyst turned in to a decent size infection, inflamed under the skin. In the midst of it, I reached out to our good friend, Steve, with Mass General, and he talked me down a bit. Through sharing pictures with him (I'll spare you those, here), he was able to recommend treatment and lead me in the right direction. In bed for 2 full days, three antibiotics and some painkillers later, I am almost back to normal. What was, and is, nothing serious, the idea that it could be was terrifying. The ideas that ran through my head - the whole what would I do if really shook me for the first time in my almost 4 years here. It was an overwhelmingly helpless feeling. And so, when I see images of thousands of people rushing an aid ship that has aboard it life-saving supplies for people who've been largely abandoned and forgotten, I can certainly understand how and why the situation unraveled rapidly.

What I cannot understand, however, is how millions and millions and perhaps billions of dollars in aid and supplies and manpower pouring in to this country wasn't able to put in to place a system to receive this kind of aid, nor a system to manage it. On the heels of the lessons that surely should have been learned just over six years ago in 2010, it just doesn't make sense. And while there will be plenty of time for blaming organizations and governments and entities later, one thing is clear. The lack of collaboration and leadership at the highest of levels during this most recent crisis is clear, and the results are nothing short of catastrophic and criminal.

I may be one of the least religious people I know, but sometimes I can find a verse in the Bible that resonates (at least I think this is a Bible verse!)

"For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’"

We are Keeping the Faith in Haiti and the USA.