I was able to spend a week in Haiti — a continuation of my earlier efforts to rebuild a school/ church post earthquake. I have addressed this in previous blogs so here is this year’s update on Haiti. My efforts are in Delmar/Port-au-Prince, the capitol. My church has been building a multi-story school for nine years. The rebuild started in April 2010 and we are making progress.
So how is Haiti and how are the Haitians doing? In both cases, there are some tremendous improvements.
– There is a new terminal at the airport. My first year, we were swarmed by people asking for one dollar, now you arrive much as you do at any city and are able to get bags and move around comfortably.
– We have gone from rubble to new construction. For the first time, I am seeing Caterpillar earth movers. Prior to this people were dismantling buildings by hand. Now, we are seeing concrete construction. There are supermarkets, hardware stores and normal commerce.
– Road and traffic is nothing like it is in Maine (maybe anywhere else) but there is some modest roadwork being done. People fly by in Tap Taps, motorcycles, pickup trucks and earth movers. 3,000,000 people are moving at a frantic pace. There is a purpose to life.
– Raw sewage is no longer evident.
During my stay, I had a delightful visit with our U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, who is a native of Auburn, Maine. It was comforting to hear about the US efforts to help Haiti. She is a 35-year state department veteran who has tremendous organizational skills and expertise in handling US projects in many poor countries. She is relatively new to Haiti, but very much in control of the U.S. presence there.
I am still not certain what the UN does. Troops in full battle fatigues ride in trucks, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of others drive around the streets with one person in each vehicle. Regrettably, they don’t report to me, and I just haven’t seen the benefit of their presence. It may have been law and order initially, but now …? I think I read it is a $500+ million expenditure.
Haiti will most certainly remain a poverty stricken country until the infrastructure changes. Water, roads, and power have to be upgraded and this is everywhere in the country. Education has to be core to every person. Currently, many only go to school for six years.
The greatest gift we get from Haitians is their positive and passion for life. Through all the hardships – and there are still tents cities dotting the landscape – they remain happy and engaged in their lives. Even with the lack of comforts, they have great faith, and that is comforting to me.
The one thing I have trouble with is sleep or lack thereof. For most of my life, I have happily existed on four hours of sleep a night. In recent years I am going on binges. I can go two weeks averaging an hour or two per night, then get two to three nights of good sleep. So, when I got to Haiti I started with an hour of sleep the first night. I soon realized that power was spotty, and that I could never have a fan on me unless I took drastic measures. So, on day two, I went to a hardware store and got a generator for the home of our host, Pastor Nathan, all so I could sleep. It worked — the next night was pure heaven. Good thing, because we did not have any electricity for the next three days. For those of us who flip a switch, living in the dark with no refrigeration is tough to take.
I am fortunate. I know that the money I donate through the South Lewiston Baptist Church goes directly to Pastor Nathan. Having spent time in Haiti, I encourage anyone who has a church or organization doing direct work in Haiti to be supportive. It is the right thing to do, and the benefit and gratitude is like nothing else.
Here are a few pictures that offer a look at improvements.