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What is Mission Haiti?
Running Free first visited Haiti in the fall of 2008. Our goal was to bring to the people of Haiti a day of celebration in the form of a 10km road race. On January 16, 2009 the first ever "Courier de la Soliderite" took to the streets of Cap Haitian, Haiti. Over 20,000 Haitians lined the streets to watch local and international competitors race. Without question, the event was hugely successful in building community and diverting attention for the daily struggles of the Haitian people. Since that first race, Running Free has teamed up with local and Haitian NGO's to deliver other sustainable projects aimed to improve the living standards of the Haitian people. Below you will find (in chronological order) an account of our activities in Haiti since our first arrival. If you would like to get involved with any of the projects now under way in Haiti, please contact Nick Capra at missionhaiti@runningfree.com.


Article
Re-Use shoe program in Action
2011 Haiti Update
Together we've raised $80,000 and counting!
Training For Solidarity - Haiti needs us now more then ever.
Consider contributing to this unique and successful Canadian Mission.
Video of first ever Marathon de la Soliderite
Cap Haitien, Haiti Slideshow
A Race Like No Other - A Race Director Recalls
A Canadian Mission for Haiti
Date Posted
February 22, 2014
June 10, 2011
February 6, 2010
January 12, 2010
December 17, 2009
December 9, 2009
February 2, 2009
January 21, 2009
December 19, 2008

posted on: February 22, 2014


The Running Free Re-Use Shoe Program in action
By Nick Capra

Since my last trip to Haiti, the Re-Use Shoe Program took a new turn. I was excited to meet some of the recipients of the shoes that had been donated. The idea of the “new and improved” Re-Use Shoe Program was born 4 years ago on a hot evening in Haiti during a conversation I had with my good friend Ebed Pauls. Ebed is an incredible Haitian man of whom I feel so lucky to have met. With a Masters in Economic Development, Ebed can find good paying work anywhere in the world, but has chosen to stay in Haiti where he can help his people. We stayed up late into the morning hours brainstorming and envisioning ways we could help the people of Haiti that would be sustainable and empowering without creating dependence.

Earlier that day we drove around the country visiting different projects started by good-willing NGOs from all over the world. The consistent theme was that of dependence; ongoing dependence for the people of Haiti. We recognize that building schools and medical clinics are needed, but these projects required continuous support of which many did not receive. This left schools with leaky roofs, unpaid teachers for months, doctors without pharmaceuticals to dispense and so on. It was that night that the new and improved Haitian run Re-Use Shoe Program was born. Rather than give out free shoes to people, we decided we would bundle shoes in cases of 20 and distribute them to as many Haitians as possible in the form of a micro credit loan. These shoes would serve as a means for individuals to earn money and sustain a family’s needs. Individuals would receive this “shoe loan,” and sell them in their community. They would keep the profits, but were expected to pay back the loan (approximately $2.25 per pair of shoes), which would cover the costs of shipping, duties and administering the program in Haiti. Our job in Canada remained the same: collect, process and ship. This is how the program worked on paper and to my delight it was how the program actually played out. After several small trials where shoes were shipped in hockey bags by Canadian visitors to Haiti, we were ready to ship a 20 foot container and expand the program’s reach. There are always lessons to be learned and learn we did once again. Costs were slightly higher to ship than we anticipated and following up with loan recipients was more difficult than expected. However, many people benefited greatly. The micro credit Re-use Shoe program empowered people to work, earn money, feel proud of their accomplishments and dream about their future. In November of 2013, the container of footwear from Canada arrived in Haiti. To date, over 35 additional Haitians have received re-used shoes in the form of micro credit loans. Here are a couple of the loan recipients’ stories.

Meet Fritz Paul, a 43 year old man from a remote village in the north on Haiti called Balan. Fritz has been sustaining his family by planting and harvesting taro and cassava, 2 commonly consumed root vegetables in Haiti. Many years of hard manual farming had caught up to him. Fritz reported that his back no longer allowed him to be efficient enough to support his family. When the opportunity to do something different arose, he gladly welcomed it. Fritz received his first micro credit loan of 20 pairs of re-used shoes and to his delight, sold all of them within a month. He earned $55 US and that was enough to pay for an entire year of school for his children. It would also pay for a doctor’s visit by his daughter Fritzca, who was suffering from unknown facial swelling. Fritz plans to continue selling footwear and expressed gratitude for the loan saying there was no other way he would have been able to start his own business.
Meet Marie Joceline Pierre, a single mom of 4 living in Plain Du Nord, a village just outside Cap Haitian, the 2nd largest city in Haiti. Things have been very difficult for Marie. With limited education and raising 4 young children on her own, Marie often struggles to feed her family. In fact, there are days when food is scarce or there is nothing to eat at all. At 51 years of age, Marie’s energy level is not what it once was. She was very eager to get started with the re-use shoe program when she found out she was to be included as a recipient of a shoe loan. It took only 2 weeks for her to sell her 20 pair allotment! She netted $45US and was able to purchase food, pay for transit and pay off debts. “It’s better for me to do something than to do nothing,” Marie expressed. “I want to keep this going; this gives me hope and some security.”
While following up with the Re-use Shoe Program was an important part of this trip, I was also in Haiti to assist in the 5th annual “Course De La Solidarite” road race. Included in this year’s event was the country’s first ever wheelchair division race. With four spirited competitors, it was a glorious start to what we hope will continue the tradition of inclusion and solidarity by this wonderful community event. This year’s race also marked the very first year that the event was totally funded internally by Haitian businesses and organizations – no Canadian funding was provided. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen often in Haiti. Again, we applaud the work of the Haitian Race committee.
A total of fifteen Canadians came on this trip. We all arrived in Haiti as tourists. We toured many cultural sights learning about the Haitian people, the land and their history. These tours of which we have coordinated for the last 2 years, mark the beginning of a new movement that we are calling “social tourism.” Experienced Haitian guides are able to share firsthand their accounts of what it’s like living in Haiti. Their passion and culture provide a beautiful combination for an unmatched experience that is not easily attained. No one leaves Haiti the same. We have all gained tremendously from our experiences in the proud, yet humble country of Haiti. Most leave saying they have received the greatest gift a human can receive.

If you are interested in sharing in this powerful life experience by joining us on our next adventure in Haiti, drop me a note at missionhaiti@runningfree.com.

Nick Capra
posted on: June 10, 2011


Haiti Update
The little race that could.
By Nick Capra

In 2008, Running Free embarked on a journey to help the people of Haiti. Encouraged and supported by Esther Pauls of the Runners Den in Hamilton, this visit began what is now an event the people of Cap Haitien, Haiti anticipate with joy and excitement. On January 16th, 2009, the Courier de la Soliderite became the first ever 10km road race in Cap Haitien, the second largest city in Haiti,. After the overwhelming success of the inaugural run, it was apparent the people of Haiti wanted this event to be an annual celebration.

Just days before the 2nd annual race was to be held Haiti was struck by one of the largest earthquakes in history. Fortunately, the Canadian team of volunteers who were on their way to Haiti to help run the event was waiting for a connecting flight in Florida. It was during the time between flights when Haiti was hit; and our team was just hours from the devastation, yet could do nothing to help. We felt helpless sitting in an airport while our friends were suffering. While stuck at the airport for a day waiting to get a flight back home, we decided that if we could not deliver the race to Haitians in Haiti, then we could provide it back home in honour of the many who lost their lives.

Immediately upon our return, we began organizing what became "Training for Solidarity;"a fundraising training run in Toronto and Hamilton to support the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Just 2 weeks after the earthquake, the Ontario running community banded together for this event and raised over $85,000.00. We were so proud of everyone here at home who came together to make a real difference in the lives of so many.

In May of 2010, our Canadian team of volunteers returned to Haiti and delivered the 2nd annual Courier de la Soliderite. Again the people of Cap Haitian were grateful and pleased to see our return. Months later, Haiti would be struck by more devastation. To date, almost 5000 people have died and over 300,000 have been struck by cholera, a potentially deadly bacterial disease that severely dehydrates infected individuals. The outbreak was thought to have started in the north region of Haiti in close proximity to where we host the annual race. Because people come from all over the country to take part in the 10km competition, we were concerned about the potential spread of the disease if the event took place. Again we were required to postpone the event. This decision was made in December 2010 with only one month until race day.

I am thrilled to inform you that a team of 9 Canadians travelled to Haiti in April of 2011 to: 1) help out with the 3rd annual Courier de la Soliderite, and 2) attend the Grand Opening of the Trade School that was built in part, by the funds collected from the Ontario running community through the 2010 training run. A message was given to me by Ebed Paul, the Haitian director of the new trade school located just outside Cap Haitien: "I wish to thank all the people of Canada who were thinking of my people, who have made a donation and built this badly needed facility. We are eternally grateful and promise to show you results from your generosity. My people will rise from the grip of poverty, but only with the help of brothers and sisters like you "thank-you, thank-you".

This past trip was my seventh in 3.5 years and like every other trip to Haiti, it strengthened my personal resolve to do whatever I possibly can for these people. I would like to tell you the situation in Haiti is getting better, but that wouldn't be entirely true. Yes ,progress is being made, but far too many people still live in tarp tents. Far too many people still go to sleep hungry and far too many people die prematurely from preventable ailments. Our presence in Haiti is making a difference and we could not have done this on our own. The Ontario running community has made its mark in Haiti by delivering joy encouraging community and building confidence. All these traits are essential to the eventual success of Haiti.

We are once again committed to help put on the race in January 2012. If you are interested in coming to Haiti as a volunteer or would like to make a monetary contribution towards the race, the trade school, or any other Running Free initiative for Haiti contact Nick Capra at missionhaiti@runningfree.com.

The following is an excerpt from a note received from a young American aid worker who participated in the race:

"...there was a sense of community between all the finishers. Everyone was excited and in that way it didn't matter that we were foreigners. We had accomplished the same feat as the rest of the group. …holding a race a few months after a terrible earthquake may seem like a waste of money ... it was anything but. With extreme poverty comes an extreme lack of self-confidence, not to mention entertainment options. This event gave school groups and running teams a sense of pride, accomplishment, and encouragement to excel."

Jamie, Kids Meds and Food Aid Worker
posted on: Feb 6, 2010


Together we've raised $80,000 and counting!

THERE'S STILL TIME TO DONATE. MAKE A DONATION TODAY

Haiti Training for Solidarity was an incredibly special day. Over 1200 runners from right across Ontario ran and raised over $80,000.00 for special projects in Haiti. The gang at Running Free and at Runners Den would like to thank all the participants, volunteers, corporate sponsors and media for achieving this impressive milestone. We are still in disbelief on how much was raised for an event that was conceived only a few weeks before it actually happened. We havent been more proud to be a part of the running community than we are today. The Runners and Walkers of Ontario will be directly responsible for creating new businesses, new jobs and providing education for countless children in Haiti. We will keep posting updates here at runningfree.com on the progress of the trade school being built, as well as the micro credit financing project.

To everyone who has contributed to this event in any way, we thank you so much. $80,000.00 will make a huge impact. We will continue to fundraise until all the funds necessary to have these projects run on their own are collected. Our goal is to create projects that do not require continuous funding. These two projects, once fully up and running, will operate on their own.

Gord Pauls of Runners Den will be attempting a triple Ironman in Penticton this year. Gords gaol is to raise $250,000.00 to bring micro credit loans to as many Haitians as possible. To learn more about this incredible challenge and to watch a short video detailing his mission visit www.gordpauls.com. For more information on micro credit financing visit www.empowerglobal.org

Here's what just a few people are saying about the Haiti Training for Solidarity Event

"I heard about this event this morning while watching the news. I will not be able to attend tomorrow. I am sending this email to say Thank you for your efforts. I am of Haitian descent and the devastation in my home country is overwhelming. Every little bit help. Thank you for keeping Haiti in your hearts"

"Were so glad youre back, well and thinking of how to help now. You, the team and most especially our brothers and sisters in Haiti are deeply loved. You are in my prayers and my dreams for the greatest good to come. I have faith that in our most despairing times spirit arises anew."

"Thank you for putting on this great run! It was just lovely to come out and share some time with friends running in solidarity with the people of Haiti."

"Im so glad that this will go far for the programs in Haiti. It was a wonderful event. You pulled it off so well."

"Congratulations on the success of the training for solidarity run!! That is amazing and I am proud that I was able to be a small part of such a wonderful event. Without your leadership and enthusiasm, it would never have been so successful."

"Congrats on organizing such a great event, and doing it so quickly too!"

"what a great event to be a part of. Thank you. Running Free Rocks!"

"and the people of Haiti need us now. It is wonderful you are there for them. I cant be there on Saturday but thank you for doing this"


Above is the architect drawing of the trade school that we will begin building in the next few months. The bottom floor is an existing high school and the upper level is where adult Haitians will be trained in various professions or trades.

THERE'S STILL TIME TO DONATE. MAKE A DONATION TODAY

posted on: Jan 12, 2010


Training For Solidarity - Haiti needs us now more then ever...

You may still donate online even though the event is over! Please click here

On Saturday, January 16th, 2010 a Canadian team of volunteers was to hold the second annual Marathon de la Soliderite road race in Haiti. This unique project was to bring a day of celebration to Cap Haitians in an effort to bolster community pride and awareness back home on the plight of the Haitian people. Hours before our team was to descend on Cap Haitian, the earthquake hit. Communications were spotty at first and we were asked to continue with our journey. As the news worsened we decided we would not fly in. We felt we would only deplete the limited resources available to Haitians by being there. Now is the time when international emergence forces are needed most to deliver immediate needs. Our team has decided to push forward with our long term sustainability projects because now more then ever Haiti needs our help.

Running Free and Runners Den, two independent southern Ontario running shops have decided to unite for our Haitian neighbours. On Saturday, January 30th we both will be holding simultaneous events in Toronto and Hamilton in an effort to raise funds for long term projects in Haiti. We are naming the event after what was to have been the Marathon de la Soliderite. HAITI TRAINING FOR SOLIDARITY will be a day for the running community to come together for an up to 20km training run in support of our friends in Haiti. This will be a pay what you can event. Running Free and Runners Den will provide the venue, commemorative bibs, food and support on the course. Pace bunnies will be available to guide 10- 20km training runs at paces from 4:30/km up to 6:00/km. This will be a great opportunity to enjoy a paced training run and support this very worthwhile cause. Let us show our neighbours to the south we are thinking of them in this time of need.

All donors will receive a commemorative bib #, sponsor goodies, coffee, refreshments and snacks. This is a pay what you can event. Donations can also be made online here. Tax deductible receipts will be issued by mail before the end of 2010 upon request for minimum $20 donations.

Toronto Event

The training run will start and finish at the historic Palais Royal on Torontos waterfront. The Martin Goodman Trail is one of Torontos best running routes. Many Runners already enjoy this trail all year round. If youve never trained on the trail, you are in for a treat!

We will have pace bunnies running 4:30/km up to 6:00/km paces for distances of 10km and 20km. It is your choice to run with a pace bunny or on your own. WALKERS are certainly welcome. The distance you run or walk is entirely up to you. Snacks and refreshments will be ready to serve at the Palais Royal from 10:00am Noon.

WHEN

Saturday January 30, 2010 9:00am registration. Register Online to avoid line-ups on event day Training Runs start at 9:30am

WHERE

  • Palais Royal
  • 1601 Lake Shore Boulevard West
  • Toronto, Ontario, M6K 3C1
  • www.palaisroyale.ca
  • (The Palais Royal has graciously donated their beautiful facility for this event without hesitation - We thank them for this incredibly honourable gesture)

    GRATEFUL THANKS TO THESE COMPANIES FOR THEIR SUPPORT

  • Palais Royale for supplying their excellent facility
  • Sultans Tent & Caf Moroc for the Soup
  • The Bagel Stop for the bagels.
  • The Printing and Promotion Group for the commemorative bib's
  • Race Merchandise for the commemorative t-shirts
  • Canada Food Equipment for helping with Kitchen supplies
  • Gu for suppling Gu Energy Gels and Gu Brew Electrolyte Drink


  • HOW TO GET THERE

    Click on this link for venue location details: Palais Royale in Google Maps

    Parking available on Lake Shore Boulevard to the north and west of the Palais Royal.

    TTC FROM DOWNTOWN - take Queen Street or King Street cars west to Roncesvalles/Queen/King intersection and walk south over footbridge. FROM BLOOR Take the 504 bus from Dundas West subway station to Roncesvalles/Queen/King intersection and walk south over footbridge. (This route has changed because of construction on Roncesvalles but will get you to where you need to be)

    WHERE WE WILL BE RUNNING

    Toronto Route 1
    Toronto Route 2

    VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

    If you are interested in volunteering for this event, please email missionhaiti@runningfree.com.

    WHERE DO THE DONATIONS GO?

    100% of your donation will make its way to the ground in Haiti. Any expense incurred by putting on this event in Toronto will be picked up by Running Free. We are affiliated with an all Haitian organization called MENH (rise up and walk) and backed by OMS International. The focus of our project is micro credit loans. These are small loans (often under $100) and are distributed to individuals after they complete a training program. This approach to aid empowers individual Haitians, creates jobs and builds local economies. All future initiatives will include an element of sustainability. We believe we can address short term needs while building long term sustainable solutions that will not rely on continuous aid.

    WHAT TO EXPECT

    If you register online, please print off your confirmation and bring it with you. You can just pick up your wrist band at the Wrist Band tables which will indicate you are a donor participant for your food, bib, etc. If you register the day of and would like a tax receipt, you will have to fill out a form then receive your wrist band. We are expecting to start running/ walking by 9:30-9:45.

    BAGAGE CHECK WILL BE AVAILABLE

    Baggage check will be available for donor participants free of charge.

    ZERO'ISH FOOTPRINT

    Please bring your waist belt/reusable water bottles for water or GU Brew that will available at the Start/Finish. We will have NO cups for water or GU Brew. Our soup cups will be made of biodegradable containers and no plastic bags will be available for sponsor goodies (please bring your own reusable bag). Please car pool or take public transit. *Remember Bag check will be available for all donors.

    Please email Nick Capra at missionhaiti@runningfree.com for more information.


    THANK-YOU to all the generous individuals, companies and media outlets who have come forward to help make this special day of Solidarity a success.

    You may still donate online even though the event is over! Please click here



    Hamilton Event

    Saturday January 30, 2010 9:00am registration
  • Westdale High School (Main & Longwood)
  • For Hamilton Event information please visit Runnersden.com

  • posted on: Dec 17, 2009


    This holiday season, please consider contributing to this unique and successful Canadian Mission.

    Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest nations in the world and a close neighbor of ours. Our Canadian team has been recognized around the world for delivering a special kind of aid. We have focused on a celebration that allows Haitians to smile and forget their hardships for a day while building community necessary to break out of the grip of poverty.

    Twenty five Canadians will descend into Haiti and personally deliver funds, equipment and goods directly to the people of Cap Haitian, Haiti. The highlight of our mission is to deliver a day of celebration and community building in The Marathon de la Solidarite 10km Road Race. Last year over 20,000 Cap Haitians took part. This year we plan to feed almost 1000 people as well as provide transportation, accommodations and food for over 50 athletes from all over the country. We will provide bib #s, 500 food vouchers for volunteers, t-shirts for participants and volunteers, medals, $3000.00 in cash prizes for top 5 male and female finishers. This kind of event just doesnt happen in this country. It will be televised nationally and broadcast live all over the world through radio 4VEH a well known local French radio station. They (the Haitians) have become extremely proud of this event and without our help and funding, it would be impossible to deliver. Theres so much more. I encourage you to watch a video documenting our 2009 mission that can be accessed on youtube - search for James Harvey - Haiti and youll find it. Extra funds last year were directed towards a complex of facilities including a medical, dental and AIDS clinic.

    Please email Nick Capra at missionhaiti@runningfree.com for more information.

    Family Holiday Donations

    Every year at Christmas my family chooses an area of need and donates a family Christmas gift towards that cause. I know there are other families that do the same. I am asking for your familys help in delivering, amongst other needs, this very special day of celebration and hope to a people whos struggles are a daily routine.

    All donations over $20.00 will receive a tax donation receipt and a great big thank-you from all the Canadian ambassadors heading down to Haiti in 2010.

  • Donations will be accepted until January 10th, 2010.
  • Please make cheques payable to: OMS International. Project # 65327

  • Mail cheques to:
    Running Free Markham
    c/o Mission Haiti
    708 Denison Street
    Markham, Ontario, L3R 1C1

    posted on: December 9, 2009




    In January 2009 Hamilton journalist James Harvey travelled to Cap-Hatien, Haiti to document the first ever road race held in Haiti. This video documents the day of the race in Cap Haitian.

    posted on: February 2, 2009



    Cap Haitien, Haiti Slide Show from James Harvey on Vimeo.

    James Harvey is senior photo editor at the Hamilton Spectator and accompanied the Canadian team in our inaugural mission.

    The soundtrack accompanying the slide show was the music of various Haitian artists recorded in our journey in January 2009.

    posted on: January 21, 2009


    A Race Like No Other A Race Director Recalls

    By Nick Capra, Co-owner, Running Free, Markham

    In January 2009, 15 Canadians traveled to Haiti on a mission of hope and happiness. The following account tells the tale of Haitis first ever La Marathon de la Soliderite 10km Road Race.

    It was 5:50am on the morning of January 10, 2009 and I was waiting anxiously by the iron gates of the Christophe Hotel in Cap Haitian with other members of the Canadian contingent. We were waiting for Wadner, our escort and interpreter, who was to drive us to meet the volunteers for Cap Haitians very first road race. Fifteen minutes later Wadner had not shown, and I began to get nervous. As any race director will tell you, its important that everything goes smoothly on race day. This was not an ideal start. In an attempt to stay positive, I reminded myself Hey, were on Haitian time, but in reality, anxiety was building. On a normal race day, all volunteers know their duties well in advance of the race. However, this race was anything but standard, and we had yet to prepare our volunteers. In the end, we decided to do what is typically unadvised: we headed out into the dark, narrow streets of Caps downtown. With volunteer t-shirts, ball caps, and our route maps all tucked away in a large hockey bag, we ventured towards our meeting place. To any Haitians we met along the way, we must have been a shocking sight. Thankfully we made the short trip without incident and, to our relief, saw that the meeting place was occupied with 40 or 50 eager volunteers. Things were looking up.

    The roads in Cap are generally tight. This meant that even though our 10km route was a 5km double loop, we still needed 160 volunteers to cover every intersection. My plan was to stay with the volunteers until all major areas on the course were accounted for, then head over to the start/finish area to co-ordinate the set up. Time was ticking when Wadner and Olan, another Haitian interpreter, walked calmly through the doors. They had experienced a flat tire en route, something not uncommon in the crater-filled streets of Cap Haitian. We began patiently assigning duties to our volunteers by directing, you are here, and pointing to the route map. We would tell them, you are our 1km mile marker. You must hold this sign up high so the runners can see it as they pass. After a while I looked up and noticed the zig-zag line up of volunteers was getting longer and longer. Apparently word had gotten out that volunteers would get a t-shirt, cap, and food. Eventually I had to leave the task of assigning duties in the hands of Esther Paul, owner of the Runners Den in Hamilton, and a principal player in making this day happen. I later found out that over 200 people showed up to volunteer. Although we ran out of t-shirts and caps, we still gave them a meal.

    The roads in Cap are generally tight. This meant that even though our 10km route was a 5km double loop, we still needed 160 volunteers to cover every intersection. My plan was to stay with the volunteers until all major areas on the course were accounted for, then head over to the start/finish area to co-ordinate the set up. Time was ticking when Wadner and Olan, another Haitian interpreter, walked calmly through the doors. They had experienced a flat tire en route, something not uncommon in the crater-filled streets of Cap Haitian. We began patiently assigning duties to our volunteers by directing, you are here, and pointing to the route map. We would tell them, you are our 1km mile marker. You must hold this sign up high so the runners can see it as they pass. After a while I looked up and noticed the zig-zag line up of volunteers was getting longer and longer. Apparently word had gotten out that volunteers would get a t-shirt, cap, and food. Eventually I had to leave the task of assigning duties in the hands of Esther Paul, owner of the Runners Den in Hamilton, and a principal player in making this day happen. I later found out that over 200 people showed up to volunteer. Although we ran out of t-shirts and caps, we still gave them a meal.

    After I arrived at the finish line (a little late, I might add), I discovered that our second team of Canadians (and all of our registration equipment) had not shown up yet. With only an hour and change before the scheduled start of the race, I conceded that perhaps our eight oclock start time might have to be delayed. However, just as that thought crossed my mind, our big white truck scurried towards the stage that had been set up the day before. Our equipment was here and it was time to jump into action. I was in the middle of directing where the equipment was to be set up when I heard a man with a thick Spanish accent ask, Registration? It was the Chilean UN forces: eleven men and one woman dressed to run. Leanne and Jane, my trusty registration duo, had started registering runners, but our laptop seemed to be on Haitian time too and crashed after fifteen minutes. I tried to reply to the Chilean UN forces, uno problemo signor, we donna have power pour la computer. My Spanish is poor, and without my interpreter it was the best I could do. We waited, somewhat patiently, for the power to be reconnected from another source. Meanwhile, I noticed that 70 or 80 Haitians, from as far as Port au Prince, had arrived. We had pre-registered this group the night before, and they were housed and fed by local nuns in a convent nearby. The convent was 4 to 5km away, and the majority of these racers didnt have a ride to the start, so they walked. They stood behind the caution tape ten or twelve meters behind us, watching with great interest. As I looked across the crowd, I noticed some of them were wearing flip-flops, or just socks. It was our intention after the race to distribute over 130 gently used running shoes we had collected back home at Running Free in Markham. I asked Dr. Rodney, another interpreter, to discreetly write down some of the Haitians shoe sizes, and, with the help of some of the Canadians, suit them up. Like with our volunteers earlier, word spread fast and before we knew it, virtually all the shoes were taken. Though a little hectic, 130 participants would be wearing running shoes for the race.

    By this point it was 7:45am and the power was back up. I made an announcement over our sound system that registration was just about complete, and that the start of the race would be slightly delayed. Our lead vehicle arrived and I saw it was comprised of two Cap officers on a motor bike. It would have to do. I asked Dr. Rodney to tell them our lead runners would be moving fast, so they would need to be prepared. I also needed them to stay well in front, so our runners would not be swallowing exhaust fumes. Soon after, a cavalry of Haitian boy scouts arrived. This was perfect timing as the intersection closest to the start line was getting crowded with spectators, and the two volunteers posted there needed help keeping the roads clear. Not thirty seconds later, three bright white UN vehicles descended across the start line. The front two vehicles were jeeps, and the third was a larger personnel carrier. A canvas flap opened up and several heavily armed soldiers with trademark blue helmets jumped out. The big personnel vehicle and one of the jeeps rushed off, while the second jeep stayed put. It was the perfect second lead vehicle. There were only two minutes to the start, but it was all coming together.

    Thousands of Cap Haitians had descended in and around the square. With the radio announcers voice booming loudly through the air, and the sounds of the brass Haitian band rambling along in unison, the runners lined up at the start. The front of the pack looked far from nervous or anxious. They were dancing to the Creole hum of the band. The national anthem played and we were ready to go. By now, the twenty by ten foot stage was crammed with Haitian dignitaries, radio people, and press from all over Haiti. I was just figuring out who would sound the starting horn, when Dr. Rodney told me some of the Haitians wanted to say a few words first. At this point we were ten minutes late, so I figured two more minutes wouldnt hurt. Half an hour and one false start later, the runners were off.

    I now turned my attention to the finish line preparations. Since the race was a double loop, we knew the runners would be spaced out enough that we could set up the finish chute. Chip timing was not an option, so we lugged down an old school contraption that required tear off bibs and a chute to corral the finishers. Most of the Canadian contingent wanted to run the race and take in the experience, so I decided to ask our Haitian volunteers to work the finish. I drew a diagram and repeated the drill several times to make sure things went smoothly. Some volunteers were assigned to award medals, while others would direct finishers through the chute. I had to organize this quickly as the lead group of runners ran through their first lap in great time. The sirens of the lead vehicles were blaring and the announcer read the names of runners passing through. This set up a really exciting atmosphere. Then, across the square, I heard the sirens for the second time. The first place finisher was seconds from the finish line. He crossed and pandemonium ensued. Down came the caution tape barricade. The chute filled with bodies, and spectators poured into the street. I panicked and tried desperately to clear the finish area, but with no success. We managed to get the first twelve finishing times and the top five women with a stopwatch and that was it. There were thousands of people everywhere and all I could do was watch them celebrate. As I said, this was a race like no other. Truth be told, it was incredibly exciting! Minutes after the fifth woman crossed the finish, we were handing out official times of the top finishers to the press. The top finish time was a very respectable 32:36 and the top eight all under 34:00.

    We had decided not to announce the prize money before the race, so the runners had no idea what they were in for. The first place male and female winners received $500.00US. That was more than the average annual income of a Haitian. Second place winners received $300.00US, $200.00 for third, $100.00 for fourth, and $50.00 for fifth. All winners were given a chance to speak to the large crowd gathered around the stage. It was a nice tribute to a job well done.

    This race will go down in my books as the most chaotic, happy, spontaneous and memorable event I have ever participated in. Our UN observers estimated that over 20,000 spectators lined the route, and crowds were over ten deep in sections. The entire Canadian team worked hard for the whole mission in both Haiti and Canada. Back home, we raised most of the money that provided prizing and giveaways, as well as other expenses related to putting on the race. Because of the generous support back home, we were also able to help fund a new generator for a facilities complex, including an Aids, medical and dental clinic. It was worth every bit of energy when a Haitian man took the hand of one of the Canadians and said, We have so much to feel down about. This gives us hope and makes us smile. Thank-you, come back.

    We will be back, monsieur. Merci beaucoup pour lexprience et la joie que vous nous avez donns.

    The Canadian Team: Esther Pauls, Art Duerksen, Joan Turnbull, Lindsay Shields, Jane Garner, Janine Hewitt, Leanne Gosse, Debbie Bevaart, James Harvey, Suzanne Bourret, Yvet Ojero, Gail Batchelor, Henny Spoelstra, Buffy Spoelstra, and Nick Capra.
    posted on: December 19, 2008


    A Canadian Mission for Haiti

    by Nick Capra

    I arrived in Cap Haitien, Haitis second largest city for a short three-day excursion on Monday November 17, 2008. The intent was to shore up some loose ends on the Caps first ever 10km road race. It was my first time visiting Haiti and I must admit it was quite difficult trying to stay focused on the task at hand. Although I had been aware of the deep poverty, lack of basic infrastructure and the devastation in the wake of the most recent hurricane season, nothing can prepare you for what can only be described as heart breaking. Several months earlier Art Duerksen, a great giver and inspiration to everyone blessed to meet him, asked me to help as technical advisor on the Caps first road race. Art is co-director of Men for Missions International - Canada, a faith-based organization that works with OMS International and other NGOs around the world. They are responsible for delivering everything from wells to schools, medical clinics, orphanages, churches, micro-loans and more in countries in Africa, South East Asia, South America and of course Haiti. Knowing the hope that Art has delivered all around the world I couldnt say no to his request, and so off I went. I spent almost all of my time in Haiti working on the race, out on the streets, meeting Haitians, including Joseph Fritz, one of the three mayors of Cap Haitien, who has committed to the race with full support. Through every turn and down every alley, I couldt stop looking - looking at everything that comes with an 80% unemployment rate. The burning of garbage on the streets, the burning of coal as fuel to cook food, the milling of wood using a hand saw for the construction of shelters, the prying of a tire from a rim with just the use of a stick in hand, the goats and sheep and hens scavenging amongst the populace. I found there was so much to take in at every turn that it was not until I was alone reflecting on the day that my emotions matched the thoughts of what I had seen. I am more determined now to see this race through. I am more determined because I know this day will be a day the Haitians in Cap will be proud of. It will bring joy and purpose to a day that might have just passed as every other. In all the turbulence of what are the streets of Cap Haitien, I could not help but notice that although most are just surviving, the Haitians were seemingly content. I do not recall witnessing any anger - quit the contrary in fact. On the second day of my visit, Art had to stop in on an orphanage built by OMS and the Joy and Hope of Haiti volunteer group . While he inspected the maintenance and upkeep of the facility, I had a chance to meet some smiling kids and generous caregivers, greeting me as if I were some distinguished guest. Outside the gated compound were dozens of children, gathered around us, so excited to see themselves in an image caught on our digital camera. Something so little brought so much joy.

    The idea of having a race in Haiti was the brainchild of Ester Pauls, the spirited owner of Hamiltons Runners Den. Ester and her husband Gord have been responsible for raising literally hundreds of thousands of dollars for projects in Haiti through various events including the Hamilton Marathon. This race would be yet another opportunity to deliver hope to people in need. In January, 15 Canadian runners, including myself, will descend on Haiti, bringing down badly needed funds and support. As a group, we have committed to raise $30,000.00 to put on the race, to purchase a generator for a dental and medical clinic and fund a local radio station that focuses on basic education. The Marathon de la Solidarit will see over 250 Haitians, several Dominicans and 15 Canadians take to the streets for the first time in a 10km road race. Our goal of raising these funds in such a short period is bold but certainly attainable.