This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.09/28/2022 08:30 AM
Suppose you had to walk 10 minutes to the well for drinkable water; 12 minutes to the river to wash clothes; two hours to the regional market.
This is not a story about wagon-train pioneers settling the American West.
It is a story about rural Haiti today. The walking times, according to Siobhan McAndrew, reflect what it would take residents of the Haitian town of Deschapelles, to conduct their daily lives.
Along with Hope Proctor, Siobhan is chairing Hike for Haiti, sponsored by Sister Cities Essex Haiti (SCEH) on Sunday, Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The hike, to be held at Cross Lots in Essex, turns those walk times in Deschapelles into lived experience for members of the shoreline community. There will be signs to show how long a participant would need to hike the 1.75-mile Cross Lots trail to get to different locations if they were residents in the Haitian community.
“You don’t have to walk the whole distance but it gives people an idea of what people in Deschapelles have to do,” says Siobhan.
Cross Lots is one of the properties of the Essex Land Trust and SCEH is grateful for the cooperation of that organization.
“We appreciate how supportive the Land Trust has been,” says Kathleen Maher, a board member and one of the founders of SCEH. The entrance to Cross Lots is on West Street diagonally across from the Essex Library.
Deschapelles is the community in Haiti where a library has been built with significant contributions from SCEH. The original link between Essex and Deschapelles, 1,600 miles apart, developed from Hospital Albert Schweitzer, founded in Deschapelles in 1956 by the stepfather and mother of Essex resident Jenifer Grant.
There is, Siobhan says, motorized transportation In Deschapelles, motor scooters that sometimes carry an entire family and gaily painted vans called tap-taps that function like private busses, but people to cannot necessarily afford to take them regularly.
She points out that school is not free in Haiti and people saving for tuition often do not have money for any other extras. As it is, she says, often if there is enough money for tuition, it will only pay for one child, usually the eldest.
That, Siobhan adds, is one of the benefits of the library in Deschapelles.
“Because of the library, even children who cannot go to school, can learn to read,” she says. “It gives a child a chance for a different future.”
Siobhan’s interest in Haiti grew as she learned more from Maher and other friends associated with SCEH about the country’s bleak economic situation. According to World Bank statistics, Haiti is the poorest country in the Caribbean region and one of the poorest countries in the world. The World Bank’s report added that on the United Nations Human Development Index, a measure of the standard of living, Haiti ranked 170 out of 189 countries in 2020.
Haiti’s economy was further disrupted by the massive earthquake in 2010 and another significant earthquake in 2021. In addition, the country has been plagued by ongoing government instability.
Still, Maher, who has travelled to Deschapelles a number of times, says emphasizing ongoing political troubles does not give the whole story of Haiti.
“The media focuses on the chaos, but there is so much more to Haiti than chaos,” she says. “The people in Deschapelles, they are good people, hard workers, very proud of their country and its history,” she says.
Siobhan, named, she says, because her father liked Irish actress Siobhan McKenna, grew up in Madison. At Daniel Hand High School, she was the top-rated female tennis player along the shoreline and statewide was ranked number two. She continued to play tennis at St. Lawrence College and later got a Master’s degree in exercise physiology.
For a while she ran her own fitness business based in Fairfield and Westchester counties training private clients. She also worked as a director of adult fitness for the YMCA in New Canaan and in sports marketing. In that job, she was involved in running a nationwide tennis tournament that went from local to state to national playoffs and with the Milrose Games, a well-known indoor track event.
Siobhan still plays tennis regularly. She also walks, does yoga, and rides her bike. When she was 28, she started horseback riding. She says it was something she had always wanted to do but in a family of five children, she says it wasn’t possible.
“With five of us, it was like drop you all off at the skill hill at 8:30 and we’ll pick you up at 4:30,” she recalls.
Some years ago, Siobhan also had a short career modeling. She recalls that a friend of a friend saw her picture and suggested it. She did print modeling for an agency in Ridgefield but with her now-adult son two years old at the time and a second child on the way, she gave it up.
The Hike for Haiti is a fundraiser with different suggested contributions for individual walkers, families, and children from 6 to 18. Children under 5 are free.
Siobhan is eager for the event to not only raise money but raise awareness of the work SCEH does in Haiti.
And, of course, there is one more thing: she wants people to have fun.
Hike for Haiti
Sunday, Oct. 16, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Cross Lots, a property of the Essex Land Trust
40 West Avenue, diagonally across from the Essex Library
Tickets: Day of the Event or at SCEH website: www:sistercitiesessexhaiti.org