Habitat for Humanity Global Village Trip to Léogâne , Haiti August 27-September 3, 2011 One person’s impression
A note about the photos, especially for my photography teacher and mentor (you know who you are): I took many but not all of these photos using the camera in my iPhone. All of the street scenes and most of the landscape scenes were taken from a moving bus, as we were not able to explore beyond the walls of our residence or the fences of our worksite. My fellow team members have generously shared their photos, and I’ve used some of them here.
Scenes like this, of so many still living tents, hit you right away when you leave the Port-au-Prince Airport. Our group which had been chatting cheerfully, fell into a stunned silence as we tried to take it all in.
Still, Port-au-Prince is a bustling city with la commerce underway everywhere.
Dougoudou <ul><li>7.0 Magnitude </li></ul><ul><li>3,500,000 affected </li></ul><ul><li>220,000 died </li></ul><ul><li>300,000+ injured </li></ul><ul><li>Over 180,000 homes damaged or destroyed </li></ul><ul><li>1.5m became homeless </li></ul><ul><li>4,000 schools damaged or destroyed </li></ul><ul><li>25% of civil servants in Port au Prince died </li></ul><ul><li>At its peak, one and a half million people were living in camps </li></ul><ul><li>4,000+ killed by cholera, 216,000 infected </li></ul>
Evidence of the earthquake was everywhere. Although the magnitude of the quake certainly matters, the lack of building codes was also a main factor in the extent of the destruction.
On the grounds of Christianville where we stayed, we explored the ruins of a bible college that collapsed during the quake. No one was there at the time.
Despite its once abundant natural resources—mountains, forests, white sand beaches—Haiti is an environmental disaster. 98% of the land is deforested and erosion is taking its toll. Such is not the case in neighboring DR where the government subsidized propane fuel for cooking, thus preserving its forests.
Given the current debate in this country, one thing I keep thinking about is the role that government plays in our lives. I think about what Obama said in his 9/8 speech: “…this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own -- that’s not who we are.... But there’s always been another thread running throughout our history... that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation." I know there are many complex factors at play in Haiti. But when I see what a country without a functioning government looks like, I wonder what it is we’re aiming for. Ok. That’s it for the soap box.
Few of us were prepared for the level of security we would require, but there were reports of recent kidnappings so Habitat for Humanity (HFH) took every precaution to ensure our safety. We had friendly guards (also excellent musicians and card players) with us 24 hours a day, and some more serious fellows (left) at the worksite. We were not permitted to leave the worksite or our residence except when we travelled as a group with the guards.
Our accommodations at Christianville were basic. We slept in bunks, the women on one side of the hall and the men on the other. We had flush toilets, “bracing” showers, and intermittent electricity. There was a nice patio for relaxing after a long, hot day.
The Christianville staff prepared a filling and tasty breakfast and dinner for us—rice & beans, spaghetti, eggs, soup, bread. For lunch, we followed a Spartan diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As our residence was essentially an open-air pavilion, we had lots of visitors from the outside—frogs, gekkos, ravet , and yes, tarantulas or in creole, baba crabs . These were the main threat from which our security guards protected us.
Funded primarily by the American Red Cross, the ultimate goal of HFH’s Santo Project is not only to build 500 permanent homes, but also to create a community infrastructure and cultivate local resources that will support the people living there. HFH is partnering with several international aid organizations, each with its own expertise, to accomplish this. My urban planning/design/community development/architect/solar/ engineering friends will have no end of fun reading all the detailed plans and documents at http://architectureforhumanity.org/node/2093
Through a thorough, lengthy and sometimes contentious community engagement process, a consensus plan has emerged that includes a method for selecting which families will occupy the new homes and a design for the community that includes a school, clinic, recreation center, market and agricultural space.
One afternoon we met with members of the community who sang for us, shared their hopes for the new development …
Our work days started at 7:30 and ended at 3:30. (Okay, sometimes a little later, sometimes a little earlier.) It was hot. Very hot, sunny and humid. For the first few days one group finished a roof, another cleaned tarps, and a third backfilled foundations. tap tamp tarp
We did encounter some trouble on the site, which meant that we had to stop working for a while on one day and weren’t sure if we would be able to return to the site the next. It seems like there were a few reasons for the unrest. One is that the project had entered a phase where fewer unskilled workers were needed and so there was increased competition for the paid jobs. (Each house provides a livelihood for six people.) Another is that there is a dispute over the rights to the land, and various factions are stirring up trouble. Of course, it’s way more complicated than I can explain here, if I can explain it at all.
For the last few days we dug trenches for foundations. Yes, my bad joke came true: I got in touch with my Irish, ditch-digging roots.
On the last day we worked with Haitian crews, and I was lucky enough to get assigned to Team Zimbabrey: Buta, Oberto, Jesus, Milo and Bolivar.
Your bad high school French won’t get you too far in Haiti. You’ll be able to pick out or express a vocabulary word here or there, but conversations are a different story. Lucky for me, Bolivar speaks French and I pretend to. He joined me at lunch and we spent the better part of an hour trying our best to communicate. He told me about his experience during the earthquake, his hopes for the future, and how much he is in love with one of the younger members of our team. Typical little brother.
After lunch we finished our trench (the fellas were really working me) then horsed around for more pictures before Team Zimbabrey moved on to start another trench and the blancs called it a day. What a day.
It was a great privilege to serve with the team that traveled to Haiti with me. We ranged in age from 22-76, and were from all parts of the U.S. and Canada. We were architects, teachers, marketers, computer engineers, students and administrators. We worked hard…
… and laughed harder, playing cards (s#$%head), and enjoying our one cold beer of the day on the bus, the only place we were allowed to drink them.
On the last night, some local singers, Troubadou Creole, entertained us at our residence. Here’s what they sounded like. (It’s worth listening for the mouth trumpet at the beginning…sounds like a violin.)
I don’t really know how to answer the question, “how was Haiti?” I hope this gives you a small glimpse. All I know is there is so much that wants to grow.
http://www.habitat.org/cd/gv/participant/participant.aspx?pid=93539522 … in case you have more to give…