Back in March of 2020, when the world first learned about Covid-19, one of the things we heard over and over again was “wash your hands.” For those of us in the States, that is a fairly simple task; we have running water at our sinks, and we can purchase soap with a simple trip to the grocery store. For our friends in Deschapelles, Haiti, that is a luxury that not many have.
Besly Belizaire, our SCEH Library Administrator, heard these words and knew immediately that frequent hand washing was going to be difficult or impossible for most members of his community; most households do not have running water. Besly had seen a simple hand-washing system using a 5-gallon bucket and a spigot, and took immediate action to help keep the people of Deschapelles safe and educated. With his own money, he bought a number of buckets “boukit ak tap” to place in the main public gathering areas and enough soap so that people would have access to handwashing. He quickly realized that his own funds were not going to be enough and reached out to his dear friend, Jenifer Grant, for donations. Each boukit ak tap cost $7.00. Jenifer’s friends and family, plus Sister Cities Essex Haiti, were all eager to help. Besly’s goal was to install 50 to 75 handwashing stations, each with a “moun responsable” (responsible person) who would bring the buckets in each night, sanitize them, and put them back out in the morning with water and soap. With donations, Besly ended up purchasing and placing 93 handwashing stations throughout his community, along the side roads and along the main road leading into Deschapelles. Besly also included a friend with a good voice and a loudspeaker on his truck to drive around letting people know about the handwashing stations, and to remind them of the proper safety measures; stay 6’ apart, wear a face covering, and if they got sick to go to the hospital. (Hospital Albert Schweitzer was set up with an adjunct Covid center to care for those who were infected. At this time, HAS has not seen an overwhelming number of Covid cases or deaths.)
In October 2020, at our annual SCEH board meeting via Zoom, we personally recognized Besly for his efforts to go “above and beyond” the duties of his role as Library Administrator with an honorary distinction award. Most rural Haitian people struggle to make ends meet, and don’t have the means or the opportunity to take care of their fellow community members in the way that Besly has done. The vision for our work at SCEH is allow the people of Deschapelles, Haiti to flourish educationally and culturally. It truly makes us so happy to see someone like Besly come so far not only in his abilities within the library, but in his ability to show leadership, compassion and understanding for the people of his town of Deschapelles. In Besly’s thank you letter to the SCEH Board, he stated that (translated from French) “this high distinction comforts me in the path I have chosen and gives me even more courage for the path that remains to be traveled, both in my professional and personal life. Thank you again.”
This is why we do the work we do.
There is a Haitian proverb, “Se le ou nan bezwen, ou konn ki moun ki zanmi ou.” “When we are in need, we know who our friends are.”