Wednesday, October 19, 2011

      I must admit that sitting in my house writing about Haiti is, on my best days, very difficult. Attempting to paint a picture with words that can hardly describe the heartache of a nation and the devastation of community after community is not something of which I am capable. I could show you pictures…and a few of them might pull at your heart.
 But it is bigger than that.  For decades Haiti has languished in poverty, oppressed by leaders who have not had the best interest of their people at heart. But the earthquake of 2010 was a game changer.  Haiti is a beautiful country, with equally beautiful people. Though the eyes of her children are huge and striking, they are also often empty and searching. Beauty contrasted with chaos. There is daily activity that serves only to get through the day. Children forfeited by parents because they cannot afford to feed them. Prostitution is high. Human trafficking of children and young women is a forgone conclusion.
Haiti was a great experience for me in the sense that it opened my eyes to another world.  The pictures and television reports don’t convey the life that the Haitians are forced to deal with day in and day out.  You really have to experience it first hand in order to get a sense of what living is in a third world country is all about. 
       The flights down to Haiti were uneventful, no delays, smooth plane rides, no crying children, etc…  We left at 6:00 am Fort Wayne time and landed in Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-Au-Prince Haiti approximately 8 hours later after changing planes twice, (Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami).  After landing in Port-Au-Prince (PAP), you could immediately see the remnants on the Earthquake still evident 21 months after it devastated several facets of the country.  
 Our group of 19 from Fort Wayne consisted of several medical personnel and the rest of us were there for construction and/or wherever the Mission of Hope (MOH) needed us most.  As I left the airport, I was very apprehensive. I was out of my comfort zone and it probably showed.  The first thing that hit me as we left the airport terminal/warehouse was the smell.  A mixture of burning tires, garbage and something bordering on urine filled your nostrils.  And this smell was almost everywhere you went on the island.  Military personnel and Haitians were everywhere outside the airport and as an outsider, I was very happy to follow our group leader and make our way to the MOH bus where I felt a little more “protected”.  As we made our way through PAP, there were tens of thousands; maybe hundreds of thousands of tents, tarps, sheds basically anything that a Haitian could use as shelter from the elements constructed around the city. 
  The earthquake displaced all these people from there homes and this is where they’ve been living since. The drive from PAP to the MOH is about an hour long ride.  The roads leaving the city are ok in a sense that they are mostly paved. Once out of PAP the roads become a mixture of rocks and potholes with a little blacktop thrown in there for good measure.  Lining the road are little stands set up selling anything from sugar cane and plantains to gasoline and ice and almost everything in between.
 Once out of the city, you make a left hand turn and head north/north west toward the MOH. After about 2-3 miles the roads get much better as some time ago, the Dominican Republic came in and paved some of the roads leading out of the city.  There is only one road leading out of PAP and you pass through all the villages on your way out. It’s a jumble of markets, broken down makeshift houses (some still in ruins from the quake), and a lot of construction trying to rebuild what was once a house for some.  They don’t have cement mixers or scaffolding or other amenities that builders use to construct housing.  They use hammers to crush the rock they use for the cement, they mix the cement on the ground in a hole with a stick or if they’re luck they have a shovel.  On the way out to the MOH we passed St. Christophe, a mass burial site for over 100,000 victims of the earthquake. This was a very solemn moment for me as we drove by. The rest of the drive toward the mission was a blur as we passed village after village of makeshift huts and houses with Haitians doing everything from walking along the road from village to village, they use the rivers for all washing and sanitary needs, so that people downstream are washing in the upstream sewage.

 Almost every hut or house had a pile of something burning of who knows what… Another thing about Haiti is that it’s impossible to walk one foot without stepping on or close to some type of garbage. It is literally everywhere. They have no garbage trucks so everything is dumped, burned or left as it’s used.  We soon arrived at the mission and picked up some interns that are working at the mission and some Haitian interpreters and made our way out to a couple of tracts of land that the mission owns and are building on.  First stop was a place called Bercy (pronounced, Bear-see).  It’s a plot of land approximately 55 acres that the mission has big plans for.  Already there are two school buildings constructed (buildings E2 and E3) and have active students attending.

We then took a short walk down to the “beach” to look at where some more of the buildings are planned to be constructed.

 Then back on the bus for another trip down the road to Leveque.  Here the MOH has an undermined amount of land that the government has given them.  Currently they have approximately 155 acres and when they run out of room, the government is just letting them continue to use up the surrounding land. Leveque is a community of people that had there homes destroyed by the earthquake and had no where else to live.

There are certain restrictions and guidelines that one must meet in order to be awarded a house. The families will receive their homes free of charge; however, each family will be required to pay a marginal monthly community fee ($50 Haitian/$6.25 U.S.) for a period of five years. These fees are designed to create a vested interest by the families throughout the process. After the five year period, each family will receive a deed for their home and land, and will have 100% ownership. The houses are 16’ x 19’ three room block homes.  I know that sounds pretty small to us, but they mean everything to them. There are around 100 homes that are currently built and have families living in them, with more being built everyday the mission can get people out there. After a tour of the property it was back on the bus and out to the Wahoo Bay Beach Club & Resort where we would be staying for the duration. I hesitate to call it a resort, but to a Haitian, it’s a 5 star hotel; maybe a star and a half in the US. For Sunday through Wednesday I worked out at Leveque painting the inside and outside of the houses.  The Haitians are very grateful and really show it.  But sometimes it’s sad to see some of them and the meager possessions they have.  Some children run around with no clothes, some only have a t-shirt.  On Thursday I installed what we called hurricane clips.  They are metal brackets that hold the roof to the frame of the house more securely. On Friday I worked in the clinic on the MOH campus for the first part of the day helping the doctors immunize some of the students for typhoid, and then went mobile to a small village to do the same for some more school children.  Then back to the MOH to immunize more. 

In total we gave almost 700 shots that day. Saturday was travel day and we were up early to catch our flight out of PAP at 9:05am.  Another uneventful flight home other than we almost missed our connecting flight in DFW.
       I know it sounds like Haiti is this awful dirty place, but in the midst of all this decay and devastation, there is beauty and hope.  The Haitian landscape is some of the most country I’ve ever seen. 
 Lush green mountains, sugar cane, bananas, plantains, mangoes and corn are planted everywhere.  Even though they are stricken with poverty, they have hope and live everyday as if it was there last.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit, whether on vacation or another reason, DO IT! It will certainly make you appreciate all the possessions you have and maybe make you realize that there are more things to life than money and “things”.


Brandon Fuller said...

Cool of you to do that.

Rick said...

You're awesome. I bet you hear Thank-you all day. Well Done!

Ward said...

thx guys.. A trip like this really gets your head screwed on right.

FatDad said...

in the midst of a job change and house hunt, those are grounding words and images. thanks.