Archive for the News Category

UKRAINE: SURPRISES AND SADNESS WHILE FINDING ROOTS

Posted in News, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2014 by klustgarten

 

kiev downtown, main street

Kiev, Kharkov, Zhitomir—-May, 2013:   On assignment to produce a video for Xado, a global corporation headquartered in Kharkov (aka Kharkiv), founded from the ground up by a self-made Ukrainian businessman with a typical American story of hard work and perseverance. In Ukraine’s second largest city, I found that hospitality and professionalism were outstanding.

To reach Kharkov I had to land in Kiev (aka Kyiv), a gorgeous European capital famous for stunning, trendy women, fabulous food and picturesque historic architecture.

Kiev downtown 1

If your ancestors are Ukrainian — and mine are–you are considered family in this country and receive the royal treatment like a long lost cousin finally coming home.  I was embraced by the family of a Ukrainian friend of a friend in Florida like I knew them all my life. Members  met me at the hotel in Kiev, showed me unforgettable sites, made a special dinner in my honor and gave me delicious gifts to take home with goodbye hugs and tears at the airport.

Alina & father, dessert at Alina's       dinner , K at Alina's apt

Wherever we went, I was introduced to people in Russian or Ukrainian and when they learned that I’m from America with roots in their country, they lit up and gave me offerings, like food throughout the   market.

 

Besarabsky Mkt, woman offers vodka & white bacon 2

I was overwhelmed by Ukrainian hospitality, generosity and kindness for the brief, intense two days there.  I felt reunited with my Kiev family from a past life; how else to explain it?

Sasha, K at airport

After the video shoot, I took a detour for a couple of days to Zhitomir (aka Zytomir), the city where my maternal great grandparents and grandfather were born.  In my lifetime, I never thought I would see “the old country” of my ancestors.  As with others who take a journey to their roots, it was an emotional and enlightening experience.  A cousin, keeper of the family history, found the name of their homeland so I was able to arrange a visit.  With Bubbie, Zadie and Grandpa  long gone, much research went into the preparation and many questions were answered during the visit.

 

Zhitomir contained one of a few thriving Jewish communities in “the Pale” under the anti-Semitic Russian empire, which included “the Ukraine.”

synagogue Brodskiy

When sanctioned pogroms became massive and violent, peaking around the turn of the 20th century, many Jews fled in a mass migration out of Russia to America as steerage class on ships. My ancestors were among those landing at Ellis Island.

 

Ilya, assistant to a Hassidic rabbi in Zhitomir, gave me a tour of the community where my ancestors probably lived.  It was destroyed by the Nazis in WW II.  I saw the destruction, rebuilding without government remembrance and the renewal of a Jewish community taking roots under the rabbi’s guidance.  There is a community center, orphanage, award-winning school today doing remarkable work with few funds.  So far, this fragile community is surviving in the current unrest.  I mailed a few souvenirs to my cousin in appreciation for finding the name of the city.

zhitomir, classroom 2     zhitomir jewish children's home lobby

 

Upon returning home, I put together a PowerPoint presentation  entitled “Journey to My Roots in the Ukraine.” The 45-minute presentation with 98 photos  includes the  research and more extensive findings that apply to most of us with Ukrainian roots.

 

The night before I gave the first presentation, my cousin passed away. I dedicated the presentation to her with gratitude.  I journeyed to Ukraine to produce a video and found my roots and a new family along the way.

family, K, outside museum, water tote

To view the full Ukraine Web album:  www.picasaweb.google.com/hawaiikaren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANTARCTICA: How I kept Warm in the World’s Coldest Climate–14 clothing items (gear) that worked

Posted in 1, News, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 2, 2011 by klustgarten

I received the assignment to produce a video in Antarctica for a polar expedition company (Quark Expeditions) with mixed emotions: thrilled about an adventure of a lifetime/ fear of freezing. The freezing part is justified: I have Raynaud’s disease, a medical condition defined as a hypersensitivity or allergy to cold that can cause hands and feet to discolor.

Being cold-challenged, I wear a sweater when entering a supermarket because the refrigerated sections make me shiver. Same with air- conditioned buildings. Snorkeling in Hawaii was impossible without a wet suit. Winters in Washington, D.C. froze me out with multi-colored hands, and for 10 years I bundled up on the beach in Los Angeles.

Antarctica? I have spoken the name of that continent maybe once in my life and turned blue.

The subject of the mini-documentary was a tourist adventure expedition to Antarctica for 10 days that included land and water activities and encounters with penguins and seals.
With a little luck, drugs and a gown of down, I had hoped to survive the expedition to tell the tale and declare a victory over supermarkets.

I did extensive research about gear/clothing for extremely cold climate, but did not find a clear and detailed list. Finally, a week before the voyage and no clothes for it, I walked into an upscale ski store to be outfitted. I left with $800 (incl. tax) worth of layers/gear, not including the boots and parka (provided by the expedition company).


After 6 days in the Antarctic peninsula (South Shetland Islands), I can report that the gear worked to keep even me warm in some seriously cold weather.

How cold was it? Antarctica is an ice continent; the coldest, windiest, driest (and highest) one on Earth. It is gorgeous and mysterious, accessible to tourists only in summer.
Although it was mid-November (summer), temps were mostly in the teens (F). But with wind chill from blizzards, some days were well below that. It got up to the 40s one day, a few days hit the 20s or teens without wind for a few hours, but mostly it was windy and snowy much like I imagine Canada in winter.

Visiting 12 islands, I rode daily in a zodiac boat from ship to shore, went hiking in the snow, kayaked,

camped overnight in a pup tent on ice and snow during a blizzard, visited a couple of scientific research stations, took zodiac tours of glaciers and icebergs;

and spent hours following, observing and photographing penguin colonies, seals and birds. Regardless of the weather conditions and activities,
THE CLOTHES WORKED TO KEEP ME WARM!

From someone with Raynaud’s disease in Antarctica, this is the list of clothing to know about because it all worked in sub-zero temps.

Keeping warm starts with 3 layers and the unique fabric technology of each layer.

1. Base Layer (top/bottom): warm-wear moisture transfer fibers (MTF)

The MTF base layer is a patented knitting fabric that fits like second skin. It’s a tightly knit polyester micro fiber blended with Lycra. The MTF yarns create a weather barrier to keep you warmer and dryer because moisture from perspiration gets dispersed and evaporated quickly. Looks like tights; is machine wash/dry.
(retail: $55/each, top/bottom)

2. Mid layer (top/bottom): Thermolite fiber technology (95% polyester, 5% Lycra)

Thermolite is soft, flexible, durable insulation for movement and warmth. This is a slightly heavier layer than the base layer, yet thin. The inside of the fabric feels soft and warm; the outside is smooth. The top piece has a half-zipper to pull over the head. This layer can also be worn alone, but on top of the base layer the two kept me very warm. Machine wash/dry. (retail: $79 each, top/bottom)

3. Outer layer: waterproof/windproof/durable layer worn over the mid layer (ski pants, parka)

a) Ski pants: Gore-Tex fabric: shell 100% polyester; lining 80% polyester/20% nylon; insulation 100% polyester

The lightweight ski pants didn’t restrict movement. Gore-tex 2-layer shell: a thin, soft polyester lining inside and a thin, sturdy outer shell. The pants have features: expandable waistline, brushed tricot pocket liners for warmer hands, waterproof leg zippers, zippered cuff bottom openings in the legs with inner boot gaiters with elastic gripper to help prevent water from getting up. My legs were kept warm and dry getting in and out of zodiacs and in blizzard conditions. Machine wash/dry (retail: $279)

b) Parka: 100% thick nylon outer shell, 100 % polyester (fleece) inner jacket with 100% nylon outer top

This is such a crucial garment that Quark Expeditions refers to it as a “piece of equipment for the polar regions, not a fashion statement.” Quark manufactures and provides the parka to each passenger complementary. It can also be purchased from their Website.

It’s a 3-in 1 miracle of construction that ensured my survival. Long enough to cover my butt when sitting in the zodiac, the parka is lined with a zip-in-out fleece jacket liner that doubles as insulation and also as a stand-alone fleece jacket in warmer weather (40s or higher). The outer yellow shell of thick nylon with lined hood and neck straps was fully waterproof/windproof. Without the jacket lining, it serves as a water-windproof jacket. The entire “piece of equipment” is loaded inside and out with pockets, zippers, Velcro fasteners, snaps, hook rings. (from Quark: $250)

4. Foot layers (sock liners, socks, boots)

a) Sock liner: Thermasilk fabric (80% spun silk, 20% stretch nylon)
This thin, light, soft fabric sock comes just under the knee. Wash/wear (retail: $12/pair, 2 pair)

b) Socks: SmartWool fabric (a wool-on-wool Duroyarn fabric technology).
My feet, including toes, were kept warm and dry. Machine wash/wear (retail: $21-26/pair, 2 pair)

c) Boots: Quark loaned these to each passenger for the duration of the voyage because boots are indispensible. They were lined, rubber, sized boots that came up between calf and knee. (from Quark: $140)

5. Hand layers: Gore-Tex storm-proofing

a) Glove liner: Dryride Thermex fabric, 4-way stretch with sticky grip palm.
The thinner liner was warm enough to wear by itself for short periods of time (like when taking photos)

b) Gloves: Gore-tex 3-in-one fabric for sub-zero conditions with top zipper pocket for a hand-warmer. I needed gloves with fingers, which are not as warm as mitten style gloves. Even with the glove liner, hands got chilly at times because I forgot to take glove warmers to put in the top zippered pockets. (retail: $65/liner and gloves)

6. Neck: 100% acrylic neck warmer worked perfectly to keep out wind. Machine wash/dry (retail: $12).

7. Head: 100% acrylic snug -fitting hat to forehead that covered ears worked well. Machine wash/dry (Retail in Ushuaia: $7).

8. Eyes:

In blizzard conditions, I wore goggles with interchangeable silver/amber lenses for brightness and they kept snow and wind out of my eyes. (retail: $65). Otherwise, I wore a pair of plastic, full UV-protection sunglasses, or nothing some days.

9. Camera: a DrySac or moisture protector was needed for expensive camera equipment. Cameras with lithium ion batteries did fine. Unfortunately, I had a digital camera that used AA batteries. They kept freezing so I was unable to take many photos. Same problem with the mini video camera. But I did have some luck:

See photos of Antarctica:
http://www.picasaweb.google.com/hawaiikaren

See video of penguins:

See guerilla video of Antarctica:

View the mini-documentary about the expedition:

to return to website: http://www.multi-mediaworks.com

VIETNAM: Agent Orange’s Legacy

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2010 by klustgarten

March, 2010– Hanoi, Da Nang, Thai Binh, Saigon (HCMC), Mekong Delta

Background

On assignment to write/produce/direct a mini-documentary in Vietnam for East Meets West Foundation (EMWF), a humanitarian NGO that established programs for severely disabled offspring of Agent Orange survivors and others with disabilities.

Agent Orange (AO) is an herbicide/defoliant contaminated with dioxin, a powerful poisonous chemical.  It devastates trees and causes gene mutations in humans, which are passed on for generations.  In a country of 86 million, about five million Vietnamese were exposed to AO during the war with the US.  More than three million offspring of Vietnamese AO survivors suffer from birth defects, deformities and other serious health problems. During the Vietnam War, the US military sprayed AO in various provinces for nine years to kill jungle tree cover and expose the Communist army’s hiding places.  High levels of dioxin are still found in the environment and in the blood of Vietnamese people living in the AO “hot spots.”

I asked EMWF staff in Hanoi how they feel about Americans today.  The program development director, in her late 30s, was a toddler during “The American War.” At one point in the bombing, she and her parents had to evacuate Hanoi on the back of a water buffalo.  They returned to devastation.   

“We have moved on,” she said.  “We are not looking back, we cannot change what happened.  We are focused on healing and re-building our country.  We don’t blame the war on the American people; we know that many were against it.  We hold the American government responsible.  Now we welcome Americans, they help our economy.”  This may be the Buddhist way:  look to the future, heal, re-build, find the positive.          

A Day in Da Nang

Staff from EMWF drive me and my cameraman to four sites where we experience the human wreckage from AO in children and adults.  Although some severely disabled are not offspring of parents exposed to dioxin, most are.  One rehab center is filled with children and adults engaged in various types of therapy to build their strength and stamina while parents watch or assist.  At Da Nang’s modern rehab hospital, a crowd of parents bring their sweet, well-behaved youngsters born with serious birth defects into the hospital’s huge rehab room. 

The children are placed on a large, raised mat where physiotherapists administer gentle exercise therapy while parents observe or learn what to do to help their children.  One deformed four-year-old walking with a limp has a big hump in the middle of her back; another has deformed feet and missing fingers.  Everyone is quiet, respectful, gentle. They smile at me and the cameraman.  The scene is heart-wrenching.    

Our third stop is a visit to a recipient family’s “home.”  We walk up an alley to a one-room windowless hovel the size of a kitchenette (9m square) where a single mother and her three young children are living like cell inmates. I see a kitchen sink and a curtain that encloses a tiny area serving as both shower and bathroom.  A rusty old bike is propped outside the door, their only transportation.

 Mrs. Thuong, a gracious 44-year-old mother with a friendly smile, greets us warmly and offers water and tangerines, all she has.  Her  teenage son–deaf, blind and immobile with cerebral palsy– lays like a vegetable on the only bed, which is made of straw.  The other three sleep on the floor.  Her disabled daughter, eight-year-old Phuong, wears a plastic spine prosthesis around her midriff to help correct a backbone birth deformity. 

She is a bundle of energy hugging and drawing pictures for us at her little wooden desk.  She is very bright, receiving a three-year scholarship from EMWF that includes school supplies and the prosthesis for her and a forthcoming wheel chair for her brother.  The youngest child was at school.  The father is imprisoned for six years for causing a truck accident (details unknown), so Mrs. Thuong must work.  She’s a garbage collector, the lowest of jobs, earning $38/month (USD).   

We videotape the “home” and the family, but I decide against an interview in the claustrophobic room off a noisy alley.  As we depart, the cameraman and I each hand the mother a few dollars in Vietnam dong and she thanks us profusely.  Phuong runs after us with two of her drawings as gifts of thanks.  The drawing she gives the cameraman depicts a house, a man inside at a door holding a suitcase.  Three small children are behind him, one little girl with tears running down her face.

Back in the van, I discussed with the staff how to help this lovely single (separated) mother of three, two of the children seriously disabled, all four living together in such deplorable conditions.  One staff member has already petitioned local authorities for better living conditions and services for this family and even featured them in their literature, but so far no help is forthcoming.  At least EMWF is providing Phuong with a multi-year scholarship for school supplies and expenses.

Our final stop was at a center the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation established for Agent Orange victims and other disabled. We spent a few hours videotaping wonderful programs here then meeting with the director, whose goal is to open many more centers. 

At the end of a long day, the van dropped me off at a lovely modern hotel across from a Da Nang river and boardwalk. I felt grateful to enter the clean, bright, modern lobby and my large room with a view and all the amenities. With dusk approaching, I needed to take a quick walk and change some money.  The adjacent street was teaming with women lining both sides selling fresh fish, fruits and vegetables.  It was such a colorful collection of food that I bent down to get some shots with my camera. 

When I stood up, a mother and young daughter appeared magically before me.  We stared at each other for a few seconds, confused, trying to recall why we look so familiar.

Then, like in the scene with Drew Barrymore and “ET,” we screamed simultaneously in disbelief of the encounter.  Phuong flung her arms around me; I almost crushed her prosthesis in the hug.  Hearing all the excitement and commotion with the only Caucasian on the street, a crowd of women gathered around us.  I asked if anyone spoke English, but not here.  So I gave Mrs. Thuong some dong and gestured to buy food with it.  Then I took Phuong’s hand and walked to the fruit section.  I gestured while speaking in English that she should pick out her favorite fruits. She didn’t understand, but fortunately one woman who had just arrived understood and translated.  Phuong picked tangerines, so I bought her a bag with the last few dong in my wallet. 

 The child was so excited jumping up and down, gesturing to me and her mother that now we must cross the street and walk along the picturesque boardwalk. 

She placed the tangerines and her drawing paper and pencil on a stone table there, where her mother parked the rusty old bike that brought them. They were undisturbed by passers by.   Despite her disability, Phuong flittered from statute to statue nimbly climbing them all along the boardwalk as I snapped photos of her.

Like a kid in an amusement park, we rushed to keep up with her.  

 Mrs. Thuong spoke excitedly to me in Vietnamese, which I don’t understand, so I stopped a trendy-looking young woman observing us with curiosity and asked if she spoke English.  “A little bit.” 

“Great, please ask this mother what she is trying to tell me.”

“She said her family has a lot of problems.  But she is so happy to see you.  She wants a photo with you.”

“I already have photos with her and her daughter taken at their house today.  See, in my digital camera. Maybe I can mail them to her.”

“No, she wants a photo she can take with her to put in her house.”   

How in the world can I do that?  Just then a man with a big camera magically appeared on the boardwalk heading toward us.  My translator explained that this man can take a photo and develop it immediately in his car.  I gave the boardwalk photographer $2 to take a couple of shots of me, mother and daughter.  He returned in a few minutes with a nice 5 x 7 photo of us, which I handed to Mrs. Thuong.  She and Phuong admired it and thanked me.  

We hugged as we parted, Phuong not letting go of my hand.  Her mother asked for my address, which I wrote on her daughter’s drawing pad.  Heading in opposite directions while waving goodbye, Mrs. Thuong pointed to me and called out something in Vietnamese.  I turned to my volunteer for the translation:

“She said,  ‘I will never forget you.’ “

Postscript: 

After returning home, I bought a colorful pop-up book about Delray Beach for Phuong and slipped it into a FedEx envelope with a few gifts for the family.  Although it was just a padded envelope, I discovered it would cost $75 to send! So I got a USPS “if it fits it ships anywhere” box and stuffed it with all kinds of useful and fun goodies for the family, book included.  Cost: $43. After viewing the video, my friend Karen G. wrote a $50 check to cover shipping and start a “kittie” fund to help the family. (Phuong and her brother appear in the video.) 

I received an e-mail from the EMW Da Nang office that the box arrived and the family was so excited. It read:  “You can not imagine how happy Phuong and her mother were when receiving the gifts.  Not only the material aspects, but the gifts have brought to them a deeper love for life, a belief that they are not alone in the battle against the poverty.”

Since the mother earns $38/month—less than the postage– the next gift will be a check. If you would like to make a donation, please let me know.  —KL

 Click to view Vietnam video 

To view the Vietnam Web album with commentary:  http://picasaweb.google.com/hawaiikaren

to return to website: http://www.multi-mediaworks.com

RWANDA: Hardship and Hope

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2009 by klustgarten

June 2-6,  2009– Kigali, Rwimiyaga, Gacundezi, Nyagatare

assignment:  write/produce a video for Food for the Hungry, an international relief organization  

BRIEF BACKGROUND 

Rwanda is called “the land of a thousand hills” …and 10 million smiles.  A land-locked country in E. Africa the size of Maryland, today it is said to be the safest and cleanest country on the continent. The national language is Kinyarwanda. There are 576 Rwandan francs to $1 US.  The largest franc is equivalent to a $20 bill.      

Fifteen years since the genocide, the green countryside is peaceful now. 

countryside 2

President Paul Kagame is considered an enlightened leader in Africa. He invited all who fled during a war (including the 1959 uprising) to return in peace to their homeland.  More than a million were repatriated from neighboring Uganda, Burundi and the DR  Congo.  He declared after the genocide that there will be no more references to Hutus and Tutsis, everyone will be called “Rwandans.” Blaming the French for provoking genocide, he kicked them out and replaced French with English in schools as the second language. Most signs are in English.

 Since their villages had been looted or destroyed, many returning  house, clay bricks and scaffold branches refugees  were settled in a huge wildlife preserve where they received a measured   plot of land to begin anew—enough land for a house (hut) and to farm. They built from scratch with tree branches and mud bricks, but at least they were safely home. 

 Kagame received a military education in the US before securing victory. I’m told he’s a Christian who was inspired by Rick Warren’s book A Purpose Driven Life and decided to become a beacon of light for Africa after reading it. 

 He outlawed plastic (except water bottles) because it’s not biodegradable and causes litter. Upon retrieving our suitcases from baggage claim in Kigali, the capital, visitors who had wrapped their suitcases in plastic (for security) or carried plastic bags were stopped and asked to dispose of them in the trash before leaving the airport.  Indeed, when driving  north from Kigali through rural villages we did not see a spec of litter.  Rwandans are required to devote one Saturday morning a month to community clean-up work.   

 June 2, 2009

Brussels Airways has the direct flight (8 hours) to Kigali.  I was one of a handful of Caucasians on board.  

Jacksons at Kigali home  Brenda, the wife of Food for the Hungry’s country director, picked me up at the airport and welcomed me into their Kigali home, large enough to serve as a B & B for all the staff and visitors passing through each year.  She graciously had dinner ready and a guest bedroom and bathroom for me with hot and cold running water, a luxury that would not last long.

June 3 

The camera crew and I set out in the morning with our suitcases in the van and the client’s Rwandan driver, Jean-Claude at the wheel, driving three hours north past remote villages where some had never seen a white person.   

  The sunny green countryside was pastoral and lovely.   countryside The land seemed to be sectioned off into equal parcels for huts and farming.  This is a beautiful country of gentle hills and savannahs. 

 People were friendly, waving and smiling to our van or responding to our waves.  We passed an endless stream of men, women (many swaddling babies on their backs) and school children walking up and down the hills along the dirt shoulders of the paved two-lane highway. There were few vehicles on the road, so people noticed us. Children especially waved enthusiastically.  

I observed Claude exchanging hand signals with each driver in a vehicle passing in the opposite direction.  He showed me the signals for “police check nearby, slow down” or “all clear, no police” or “police in next village.”  We did pass a couple of soldiers and a few traffic cops on the roadside.  One stopped us and asked a few questions in English then let us go after glancing at Claude’s papers. Claude said they mostly look for speeders.  

 In passing many rural villages, we witnessed how arduous life is for subsistence farmers in a primitive culture.   bike, girl help father 

bike carries goods from market

Here at the equator, work is back-breaking.  They use only a rusty hoe (no tillers or machines) to plant and machetes to cut the corn stalks, banana clusters or tree branches for construction and kindling.  We saw adults walking miles uphill in worn, torn flip-flops along the shoulders of the highway with bundles of goods balanced on their heads or loaded on bikes they were pushing and pedaling uphill, every inch a painful test of endurance.

 Children of all ages walk to school by themselves for miles in the heat along the dirt sides of the road in worn out sandals.  Some walk six miles each way.  Your heart breaks passing so many friendly, decent people working to the bone to bear up in poverty.  bike, bananas

I don’t know how a primitive life without infrastructure is possible to   survive. The average lifespan is 49 years. Infant mortality is 85 per 1,000 yet I never saw so many children before; there are 6-8 per family.    

 After driving three hours, we pulled up to two small office buildings set back on a dirt road in the Rwimiyaga Sector of north east Rwanda.  A group of about 15 men and women from Highland’s Church in Arizona were already meeting with the sector leader and pastors.  They have established a long-term plan to build alongside the villagers a much-needed sustainable community.   

We videotaped their meetings and I conducted a couple of interviews, then we followed the group in a three-van caravan to nearby Gacundezi, where we taped a small milk collection center. 

African cows have horns  Along the road, we passed some herders tending their cows, a sacred animal because of the milk (African cows have horns.).  We spotted many zebra, gazelle, lots of cows, even  a monkey.  We followed the other vans as they turned down endless dirt roads deep into a resettlement area near a lake close to the Uganda border.

 The residents approached us with curiosity; vans just don’t pull up in these parts, especially ones filled with Caucasians.

  Paul, family at resettlement area

Many had never seen a white person before.   village, kids never saw white person

The children were especially shy when we waved and smiled to signal that we are friendly.  The older ones waved back; the youngest turned and headed up the hill a bit frightened.  Dwight, the country director, spoke in Kinyarwanda and with the help of Paul, a native on staff, they were able to determine the needs of the people living in this temporary resettlement for the past year.  The area lacks a school and health clinic. 

One pregnant woman with five children said she was ill and needed a doctor. kids, lollypops in purse The nearest clinic is more than eight miles away; the only vehicle is a bicycle.   

 We asked permission to take their photos.  I mimed my request by holding up the camera and pointing.  I couldn’t tell if they understood, but we took photos anyway and showed them the digital feedback in the cameras.  They were so excited to see images of themselves!  They began to pose with each other for more photos so they could see the result.  We learned that smiling and waving first, then taking a digital photo and showing it in the camera was a great way to break the ice.  

 On the way back, we stopped at another village where they had never seen a white person.  As our caravan pulled up, people emerged from their huts and the fields to greet us.  village gathers, never saw whites

village people curious

Having visitors is an honor in Rwanda. 

village, distant women   Women with babies swaddled on their backs hung back under the trees, but large groups of men and children swamped our vans excitedly.  I heard a child scream when I got out so I walked over to her in her mother’s arms.  The child screamed louder and covered her eyes.  Her mother smiled at me and turned away to calm the child.  I followed, taking out a lollypop but that made things worse.  It took a moment to realize that with red hair and white skin, I was a monster! 

   Dwight and Paul conversed with a group in Kinyarwanda while the rest of us smiled, waved then took digital photos. 

K, camera  Again, when we showed the result in our cameras, everyone gathered around to view it, then wanted more shots taken to see more. Soon we were engaged in a nonstop picture-taking-showing fest.  Too bad Polaroid cameras were discontinued because permanent photos would have been a treasured gift here.    village, boy poses

We climbed back into the vans and headed out while the entire village gathered to bid us goodbye, smiling and waving.  All but one little girl still screaming. 

 We arrived at the Nyagatare District and town at dusk and checked into the Blue Sky Hotel.  Curiously, it’s the only hotel in the entire sector (county) for miles around. We all had private rooms and bathrooms upstairs (no elevators or air conditioning in Rwanda).  Mine did not have hot water.  

mosquito net over my hotel bed  Each room included a mosquito net over the bed and a TV set with remote control. The one working station was broadcasting a “Friends” episode.    

 Fortunately, the hotel staff was prepared for our large group of about 20 and served a full buffet dinner: fish, meat, rice, vegetables, potatoes, mashed bananas with bottled water, Fanta, coffee or tea.  Fruit is the only dessert.  Rwandan coffee is excellent.   

 Since I don’t do cold showers, I did what I could with bottled water before retiring.  I should have appreciated what was provided because there was no running water in my room thereafter.  

 June 4, 2009

Following a hearty hotel breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, juice and coffee, we set out for a long day of videotaping in various locations, a few with the church group. Our first stop was the Gacundezi Primary School.

  When we drove up, a sea of smiles and waving hands in blue school uniforms greeted us.  

Gacundezi Primary School & K

The head master mentioned that no one has visited this school before and these children have never seen a white person.  We were greeted like rock stars.  Some kids gently touched my hair and skin to see what I was made of.   Rwandans have shaved heads, so my full hair and color must have seemed bizarre.

 I rolled a suitcase out of the van into the headmaster’s office.  Inside were school supplies I packed from my home office, 200 pens donated by TD Bank in Delray Beach and assorted stuff from home:  frizbees, balls, glitter and glue, balloons, books.   I gave half the contents to the headmaster and saved half for the school we were videotaping next.  He was most grateful.  

Taking digital photos with so many kids surrounding us was a major event; they could not get enough of seeing their images in our cameras.  The headmaster tried to steer students back into their classrooms, but they followed our van to the gate, waving and calling “Goodbye” until we were out of view.

  Rwimyaga Primary and Secondary School was the next stop.  When we drove up, two classrooms were being conducted under the trees. 

Rwimyaga Primary School, children under trees, teacher 2  In each class were nearly 100 elementary school children in green uniforms sitting like sardines on benches learning to count in English by rote.  Each teacher under the trees wrote on a blackboard with chalk but no erasure.  When we came close to videotape, the children stood up in unison and welcomed us in Kinyarwanda.  Unlike in the US, teachers are strict and students are respectful and well-mannered. 

 We met with the headmaster who explained there are more than 2,300 in his  school and not enough supplies or classroom buildings for them all, so the trees serve as classrooms.  I rolled my suitcase into his office and gave him the rest of the supplies.  He said many students do not have pens, so with only 100 left from TD Bank, he decided to single out the best students to receive them. 

pen distribution at Rwimyaga Secondary School 2  He called a few to his office for a picture-taking moment of the pen distribution for my bank back home.   I’ll try to get more pens, a valuable school supply here.

 The day was hectic videotaping several more interviews and a school celebration held outside for the church group.

Gacundezi Secondary School, celebration 2, c-u  Students welcomed them with a ceremony that included singing and dancing then a dance join-in session. After the celebration, we followed a few church group members to their home visits with children they sponsor in the Gacundezi cell (village area). 

Rwimyaga, home visit 1  Here sits a typical primitive village where families of 10 live in small, two-room huts. One woman who was here during the genocide agreed to be interviewed in her hut.  Her eight children came inside and sat quietly (just like American kids).

 With Paul interpreting, she spoke about being beaten then, and how happy she is now to live in peace in her hut and have Food for the Hungry provide the school uniforms and supplies for her children’s schooling. “My life is good now,” she said. 

 We thanked her then I asked permission to take a photo with the children around her.  She shrugged not knowing what I meant.  Paul said it was OK, so I snapped a picture and showed her the image in the camera.  She was overcome with emotion when she saw her family portrait.

   Rwimyaga, home visit family

 Back at the Blue Sky Hotel, there was no running water in my room but the buffet dinner was delicious. I learned to appreciate bottled water, especially during the day.  To everyone else, the weather at the equator was hot, but coming from Florida it was just fine since there is little humidity.  

 June 5

Along the drive back to Kigali, I asked to make stops so the crew could videotape typical scenes of daily life here.  We experienced several touching encounters with villagers when we pulled over.  First we smiled and waved then mimed permission to take a photo. Showing the image in the camera helped get the approval to videotape.  Gacundizi Primary School, boys in trees 1

 We stopped to tape a group of women, some with babies on their backs, pumping water from a central field pump.  I could see their reluctantance to allow the cameraman to videotape so I got out of the van and approached them.  One woman gently pulled at my white shirt and said something.  I looked at Claude, “What does she want, the shirt off my back?”  “No, she wants clothes,” he said.  “She wants to know if you have any clothes you can give her.” 

 I held up my index finger meaning “wait one minute” and dashed up to the van, opened the trunk, unzipped my suitcase and yanked out what was on top.  It was a long, cotton nightshirt in lime green (not a common color here) with several pink flamingos in sunglasses across the middle and the words “Delray Beach” underneath. The nightshirt had two white bleach stains on the bottom.  

 I hurried back to the water pump and held up the garment for her approval.  She smiled, took it from me and examined it, then put it on over her African ethnic dress.  It fit her perfectly.  She smiled again and gave me a thumb’s up! 

 Greg took a picture of us with the rest of the women by our side.  When we parted, they smiled and waved. Carrying water jugs, the women disappeared down a dirt road that cut into the field to their huts. Despite the heat of the day, she did not take off the nightshirt.  In an unknown village in Rwanda somewhere between Kigali and Nyagatare, the City of Delray Beach has a presence (photo coming).  The same with Boca Raton, but that’s another story about a cap.

It was nearly 3:00pm when we pulled up at Brenda and Dwight’s Kigali home dirty, hot and hungry.  Brenda had lunch and our rooms, complete with hot water, waiting for us.  I did everyone a favor by taking a long, hot shower that felt wonderful.  She and helpers were preparing her famous buffet dinner this evening for all 20 of us.

Dwight calls it the “Mt. Kilimanjaro” dinner. On a big plate, you build a mountain starting with rice, then curried chicken in sauce over that, then some kind of beans, chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped mango, chopped nuts, some other chopped items I can’t remember, raisins and topped with shredded coconut.  It was fantastic!

 June 6

I awoke to Brenda’s scrambled eggs, the best bagels I’ve ever tasted (from a bakery in Kigali) and delicious Rwandan coffee (wish it were available online).  Chatting for awhile with Brenda and Nathan, I learned about his complex project building a pipeline delivering sanitary water to remote villages and all the construction and people challenges he confronts daily, including the recipients. There’s a book in this. 

 Betsy helped load my suitcases into her car and drove me to the Kigali marketplace where I bought some beautiful hand-made baskets before heading to the airport.   Kigali Market, boy w grain

   Kigali market, grain section

It was difficult to bid farewell to the wonderful, dedicated staff with Food for the Hungry.     Jacksons, K, Elgin, Becky, Greg

  This  remarkable, moving journey in Rwanda is one the crew and I will never forget.  I smiled, waved and bid everyone farewell.   The Kenya Airlines flight to Dubai included a long stopover in Nairobi.  From primitive to futuristic, another culture shock was waiting in the Middle East.   –KL

MORE PHOTOS: of Rwanda at http://picasaweb.google.com/hawaiikaren

VIDEO:   

 

to return to Website:  http://www.multi-mediaworks.com

HAITI: T-Shirts for Haiti, a Journey of Donations

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2009 by klustgarten

March, 2009–  Before leaving for Haiti to produce a video for Friends of the Orphans, I viewed some of the client’s raw footage taken in Cite Soleil, the largest slum in Port au Prince and branded as the worst one in the world.  In the video were many kids without clothes living in appalling squalor  among sewage, rubble, mud, polluted water and garbage picked over by wild pigs.  I decided the children could at least use T-shirts as simple protection against the harsh conditions, an article of  clothing Americans have in abundance. Cite Soleil 1

A month earlier Ivan had donated bags of clothes to Caring Kitchen, which services the Haitian community in Delray Beach.  I had given bags to Goodwill.  So I sent an e-mail to a few friends about collecting used, clean T-shirts in any size to bring with me and distribute to children in Haiti’s notorious slum. Within five days I received 205 T-shirts and 61 other clothing items that filled four hefty suitcases.  Lisa packing suitcase

In Ft. Lauderdale, Lisa packed a huge duffle bag suitcase.

 Kathy's 2 bagsKathy and Gabby gave enough bags to fill a suitcase of their own.

   Paul's bag           

 Paul in Lake Worth donated a haul to fill another big one.  

Henny Pennys 2

The Henny Penny women in West Palm Beach brought 33 clothing items and Gene in Boca Raton donated 25 golf shirts only worn once

Anabeth 2, winnerIn Deray Beach, Gloria, Charles, David, Annabeth and Marjorie donated the rest.

  TD bank in Delray and Boca donated 300 pens for the orphanage school.

pen giveaway 2   pen giveaway

 I was overwhelmed by the response in such short notice.

 The four full-sized suitcases were checked from Miami to Port au Prince on March 25 along with Darryl’s camera equipment.  Fabi, our Haitian production assistant (coincidentally) and I had carry on cases, so we met the quota for checked luggage.  suitcases at PaP airport 

suitcases at airport

To accommodate all our bags, the client arranged for their driver and bus to pick us up at the airport.  We were driven to the client’s St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, an area in Port au Prince. There we videotaped the wonderful facility treating the sweetest and sickest youngsters. 

 I interviewed Father Rick, the priest and doctor who established the facility along with schools in Cite Soleil and an impressive orphanage for 500 kids in the misty mountains of Kenscoff.  K, Jen, kids, crop

                                                       Kenscoff Mts from cafe 2

It was still light when we finished videotaping at the hospital so Fr. Rick agreed to take us with suitcases to one of the schools he founded in Cite Soleil where I could distribute the T-shirts and take photos for the donors in Florida.  St. Anne’s school is located on the perimeter of the slum, not deep inside where the video of naked children was shot.  As deplorable as conditions are along the perimeter, these kids were wearing clothes. Conditions are worse and more dangerous deeper into the shantytown and Fr. Rick did not want us to go there. He does outreach work in the inner slum twice weekly, but felt it was not the right time for us to go. Cite Soleil 2 

When the children saw five of us plus three suitcase carriers walking through their narrow, rocky “street” toward the school, they followed with great curiosity.  Visitors, especially three Caucasians, are somewhat rare here. The kids were adorable, respectful and friendly.    Fr. Rick warned that there would be a stampede if we opened the suitcases in the street, so staff carried them into the small school yard area then closed the large metal door to block the view and entrance.  He had the children line up, letting a certain number inside while the next group were lined up.   Cite Soleil, Fr Rick & man & kids                 

 Before opening the suitcases, he made a short speech in Creole and all the kids sang a song.  I decided to say a few words, too.  With Fabi translating, I told the children, “I brought these gifts from people in Florida who care about you very much and want you to know that they love you.” 

Cite Soleil, T-shirt distributions 5Then I unzipped one suitcase.  Their eyes grew wide when they saw the treasure of clothes.    Cite Soleil, T-shirt donations

 Me and two staff members began handing out one T-shirt at a time.  All the hands went up.  Some kids got extra excited for certain colors, styles or items.  We tried to give to each the item wanted the most.    

 Cite Soleil. T-shirt donations 4 Soon the kids were rushing the suitcase rummaging through the clothes.  We closed the case, Fabi told them in Creole to back up to where they were sitting and the cycle began again, then all over again with the next group of kids.    

When I got to the stack of Gene’s golf shirts, I held up a few and looked at Fr. Rick.  They were his size and he was wearing a golf shirt.  He said, “No, thanks, I have everything I need.”  Later Jennifer told me she’s sure he only has the one he was wearing.   Eventually we distributed the donations in three suitcases (the fourth one saved for the orphanage).

 During the commotion, Fabi had me hand over a stack of T-shirts from Delray Beach’s recent commission election.  She disappeared with them into one of the school rooms then emerged  asking me to quickly take a picture inside.  A dozen adult students in class had put on the election T-shirts.  The effect was much like a club shirt or school uniform. Cite Soleil, students in campaign T-shirts 2

   Cite Soleil, students in campaign T-shirts 3

We headed back to the bus, children surrounding us smiling for the camera and making hand gestures, holding our hands or just gathering in curiosity.  Although they appreciated the clothes, I still wanted to get more for the naked kids I saw on videotape in the inner slum.  Fr. Rick said he’d see that any items I send get distributed there.

 Thank you all for your much needed and appreciated donations!   The Haiti T-shirt drive did not end with you. 

 Northwood University T-Shirt Drive

 Gayle from Henny Penny’s was in a meeting with Northwood University Professor Janice Scarinci in West Palm Beach and mentioned she had to leave and drop off T-shirts for Haiti.  Dr. Scarinci wanted to know about this spontaneous T-shirt drive because she has a special empathy for Haiti’s children.   She invited me to do a media presentation for her class, showing my photos and video of the T-shirt drive and the video I wrote/produced for Friends of the Orphans, Haiti.    Northwood, K at screen, T-shirts, blurred

After the media presentation, Dr. Scarinci asked the class if they would like to duplicate my T-shirt drive, involving the entire college.  The class was excited about the idea and the planning stage began right there in class.  The drive was spearheaded by Anna, one of the students who said she was inspired by the presentation, the great need and the donation response I received from one e-mail to friends.

group, Carol, J, K, students T-shirts With only two weeks left before graduation, the hotel and hospitality class of about12 seniors had to obtain college permission, design and distribute flyers and set logistics for the collection, counting and delivery of the clothes on campus.  The goal of their year-end “Give the T-Shirt Off Your Back” drive  was to collect 1,000 T-shirts for naked children living in Cite Soleil. By May 11, they had collected 1,330. Northwood, carrying out T-shirts

  Northwood, Counting T-shirts

Dr. Scarinci asked me to do another presentation on collection day for the general student body and staff.  This time I brought Alfredo, a representative from Friends of the Orphans who manages the Miami-Haiti in-kind donations warehouse. 

Alfredo, Sherman, T-shirts 2 Alfredo was an orphan who grew up in one of the homes supported by Friends of the Orphans.  The students had lots of questions and were touched by his story. 

 On May 16, students bagged and trucked 1,330 T-shirts down to the Miami warehouse. Alfredo will put them in a shipping container to Haiti where they will be received by the orphanage staff there and distributed by them to children in the poorest slum in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  

Northwood, group shot under display Dr. Scarinci and Anna said they hope this T-shirt drive will become an annual event at the college.  They will remain in touch with Alfredo “to keep it going.”   I hope some day soon all children in Cite Soleil, Haiti will have at least one article of clothing to protect them.    —

Karen

MORE PHOTOS:   of Haiti and the T-shirt drives at  Haiti   

To return to Website:  www.karenlustgarten.com 

VIEW THE VIDEO  

Haiti Earthquake Update 1/15/10

I just saw a photo of the collapsed building in Petionville (a section of Port au Prince) where the camera crew and I stayed 10 months ago producing the video. Friends of the Orphans owned the building, which included a day care center for handicapped children and a “hotel” for visitors like us. 

This photo was taken of us in front of their building March, 2009.  Now it’s gone.  There but for the grace of God go I.

 I saw on MSNBC that one of the schools in Cite Soleil established by Friends of the Orphans was destroyed along with the children in it.

 It was the very school where we distributed the T-shirts many of you had donated.    

 I cannot comprehend that this school and the precious children are gone now!   Located in the mountains, the orphanage  received some structural damage but not extensive.  However, some employees who were working at sites in Port au Prince the day of the quake perished.  

 Fr. Rick Frichette in the mini-documentary is the Haiti director for Friends of the Orphans.  Also a doctor, he  established the only pediatric hospital in Haiti.  We taped his interview at his  beautiful St. Damien Hospital in Tabarre.  Although this hospital suffered damage, it is still standing and has become a center where the wounded are brought for treatment.  News segments about him and the hospital since the quake at   VIDEO: ABC News at St. Damien Hospital    http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerIndex?id=9570839)  and  VIDEO: NBC Nightly News at St. Damien Hospital 
         Message from Fr. Rick on January 14, 2010, 12:45 p.m. (EST): 
Our 120-bed pediatric hospital has moved all of the patients outside into the driveway and courtyard areas due to the government’s statement that no one should be inside buildings because of the numerous aftershocks. We are working on obtaining tents from the United Nations to try and make the children and parents more comfortable. Most of the perimeter walls have collapsed and there is some structural damage to the main hospital walls. A source explained,  ‘It is not easy for the children to be outside and obviously some are not able to receive the intensive care that they need. I was there for only a few hours on Tuesday and many injured people were brought in with horrific injuries. Everybody is terrified. As of this morning, people with very serious conditions are still streaming in. Nurses are working hard and doing their best to cope.’

Fabi, our Hatian production assistant,  translated for us on the shoot.  She worked part-time while in college then moved back to Haiti last month. I met her lovely parents while there.  Her sister in Florida called the office to report that Fabi and her parents are OK but they could not locate all their relatives and learned that some died.  No word if they are homeless. 

 Most of the houses in the hills of  Petionville where they lived have collapsed.   (Petionville, 3/09) 

HOW  YOU CAN HELP:  AT www.friendsoftheorphans.org   They suggest donating essential life -saving relief supplies:  medicine, dry beans and rice, flashlights, batteries, water purifiers, and bottled water.  In South Florida, take your donations to their office:  7175 SW 47th Street, Unit 207,  Miami, Florida 33155; phone: 305/663-6211.  They have their own shipping containers that go to their Haiti orphanage and hospital.  – KL  

To return to Website:  http://www.multi-mediaworks.com