Thursday, March 31, 2011
Back from Haiti
I arrived in Port au Prince and met other team members at the airport. We learned there was a team of engineers going to the same project so we waited outside the airport with them for the rest of our team and to be picked up by Grace International representatives. I learned fast why I was told to wait inside the airport. There were “porters” anxiously waiting for a tip by “helping” us with our bags – whether or not we wanted their help. After a rather long, hot wait and much confusion, our guide and guards arrived with our transport, which we later referred to as “the cage,” picked up 15 members of my team along with 16 members of the other team and our luggage and took us to Carrefour: an hour and a half ride only about 10 miles away.
We pulled up to a locked, metal gate, honked the horn at which the gate was opened and we drove in to see our home: a hospital, still under construction. We stayed on the second floor. I shared a room with the 7 other women on my team.
The view from our window was of the tent city which was non-existent before the earthquake. It’s hard to imagine 15,000 people living in an area of less than 10 acres in size. I don’t have to imagine it, I have seen it. I do still find it hard to believe.
Grace International is an impressive organization. They have accomplished much, especially when you consider all the obstacles they face being in Haiti. (You may check it out and see for yourself by going to http://www.graceintl.org) Our guide and security guards brought us through the tent city at Grace. Tents? Most were tarps (stamped with the organizations that had donated them: USAID, Samaritan’s Purse, UNICEF, etc….) folded over wooden frames. They are quite well organized: there is a “council” which sets the rules for the “city” and deals with infractions of the rules. There are designated areas for showers, toilets, gathering water, washing clothes, and emptying garbage. This all helps with keeping things clean and disease free. This particular tent city has walls all around it and one has to show an ID to the security guard to enter. This has helped with safety in the “city.
On Mon. we started work. We were loaded into “the cage” along with our tools, and security guards, 2 of them armed, and drove to the site: a 7 acre plot which will have duplex homes for 70 families. Our first task was to move dirt from where a truck had dumped it (in a dry area) through the mud and close to the house. We learned to work as a team right away. We set up a line, some shoveled dirt into the buckets, others passed them to those in line and the person at the end emptied them. Sounds easy right? Did I mention that dirt is heavy and we had to pass through thick mud? Just to give everyone a chance at each task, we had a system to move the line and switch every 15 minutes. Rotate has whole new meaning. Thank goodness we had translators to explain to the Haitian volunteers what we were doing. My stomach muscles should be lots stronger from lifting and laughing.
Moving dirt seemed to be a constant need during the week. We did use wheelbarrows when the mud level decreased so we could put down some boards to walk on. We put fill in the house to level the floor and spread gravel that had been dumped on the “road” so the truck could get closer to the house. (It got stuck during one unloading.)
Yes, some of us got to use our carpenter skills. When the supervisor found out we had a “carpenter” on the team, he was put to work making a template for the trusses. That would probably be a straight forward task in the US. In Haiti, it’s a bit more challenging. No electricity, no power tools and no wood. Through a lot of negotiating, Jonny, our coordinating contractor found some plywood and enough 2 x 4’s to make a “table” and one truss. It took all day to measure and cut the wood. We only bent a few saws. It is a great accomplishment when one actually gets through that wood. On Wed. the team put up the first truss. HURRAY!!! That evening we found there were skill saws and a generator that another volunteer team had in storage. We must have looked pathetic after working, as they were very generous and let us borrow them. Boy did that speed up the process. I think we had 8 trusses finished by Fri. (Each home needs 20 so the next team will have plenty of work to do.)
I mentioned we had guards with us everywhere we went. At first this was unnerving, but as we got to know them, and realized they were there to keep an eye on us and to keep us safe, we relaxed and enjoyed getting to know them. Because Haitians are so poor and we have so much, it is easy for people to want what we have … this would include our tools, our water bottles, our cameras, our food and anything else we might bring to the work site. With our guards looking after us, we never worried.
Because the new community is a distance from “Grace Village” and no one lives there yet, we didn’t have much interaction with the future residents. Our homeowners Antonio & Cynthia and Rigaud & Jennette worked with us every day. This meant they were at “the cage” ready to go in the morning as they lived in tent city and were transported with us. Knowing they were working hard to create a new home for their families certainly gave us inspiration to work through the heat of the day.
Our team also was there one day for “The Lord’s Kitchen,” the feeding program where rice and beans are cooked outside in huge pots and over 800 children come with a container and wait patiently to be served their 2 scoops of mixture to take back to their families. For many, this is their only meal of the day. It is not easy to watch the responsibility of a toddler prodded by an older child (of maybe 6 or 8) stand in line so their family may eat.
I had an absolutely wonderful team. We came from all over the US and Canada and ranged in age from 20 to 72. We worked well together and enjoyed each other. Everyone pitched in and did what was needed. Laughter could be heard much of the time. It is amazing that one can work hard, live in conditions with minimal comfort and feel good about it. Of course, it helps put things in perspective when one looks out and sees how much better we had it than the people who live there. It made it difficult to complain about the lack of water or pressure in the shower when one only had to look out and see “tent city.” In comparison, we lived in a palace and ate like royalty. I feel so fortunate for the opportunities I have had to go to other countries and experience all I have. I am already thinking about a trip to Haiti next year to see the progress. My hope is that the people there will have some hope for the future.
For more information about the Fuller Center check out http://www.fullercenter.org/global-builders/haiti My team is in the pictures. If you look very closely (probably using a magnifying glass) you can see me sawing a board.