Sunday, February 28, 2010


I realized recently that I have done a poor job of introducing the characters of this story. I have mentioned people here and there, but I have not taken the time to tell about them. First there's Joel. Joel's official title is Director of Haiti Operations for Esperanza, a broad title for a broad job. He does so many things, he is constantly on the phone or computer coordinating people. Joel is in charge of all the food distributions, donations and Haitian Operations. He grew up in Port-au-Prince then moved to the Dominican Republic for college and work, he moved back here when he took his current position. Joel is fluent in French, Spanish, Creole, and English, though his English slang needs some work, his efforts are entertaining.

The owner of the house we are staying in is Dr. Elly, but we just call him Doctor. He sent his family to live with relatives in Canada after the earthquake, he chose to stay and help. He's a busy man and we don't see him much, most of the work he has been doing lately is all volunteer. One of the first days we were here we were driving with the Dr. and we went to a second house he owned and rented out. It was the first time he'd seen the place since Jan 12th and it was completely destroyed. He walked around assessing the damage and taking a few photos, then he got back in the car and just laughed. I asked how he could laugh at something like that and he said, "Well, I can't cry, I still have my family."

Then there's "the driver", or at least that's what we called him until recently because we couldn't understand him when he said his name. It's Jaw Marie, apparently a common name in Haiti. He is the father of the three little boys we live with. He practices his English all day when he's not driving, just reading straight out of the dictionary. It's really impressive, I think he's learned more English since we've been here than I have Creole, and I think I've made good progress.

The three boys are Samuel, Uro, and Benjiang (I'm sure they'll forgive my spelling), and they are 4, 6, and 8. They are the funniest little boys, and I think they're my favorite part of Haiti, they're always ready to play when we get home. It's amazing how well we've gotten to know each even though we can't speak each other's language. Their mother we call momma partly because we can't understand her name and partly because she likes it. And she really is our Haitian mom, making sure we eat enough and drink lots of water. She always goes on and on to us in Creole, which I like, it's a needed reminder that we're in their country and their culture and we need to learn the language. Momma also has an older son, he's 18 and I'm ashamed to say I don't know his name. I've asked him a hundred times, but it's too hard to understand and now I've been here so long it'd be embarrassing to ask, but we're still friends.

There's another family that lives on the property here in a separate house. All the locals that were here for the initial earthquake sleep outside, except the Dr., but he doesn't really sleep. A couple other people have come to live with us, Jack who we're working with installing water filters, and Joel's sister, Katie. People come and go regularly, it's like living in a hostel. I thought this would be uncomfortable, but I actually love it. It's a beautiful thing when people from different cultures, nationalities, ages and races live in the same house, sharing meals and bathrooms and living spaces. Not only do I not mind, I prefer it, I think people should live together and share their lives.

The past few days we have done quite a bit of work, installing a water filter at Port-au-Prince General Hospital and preparing to install five more over the next five days. On Friday we hung out with kids at Child Hope. We were supposed to be leading activities, but the kids sensed our weakness and chaos ensued. Kids were marking the cement with chalk, but that quickly turned into face paint. Before long kids were running around with faces colored, shirts coming off. I'm not much of a disciplinarian so I just let it go and broke up fights, I think it's good to go crazy sometimes. I feel really good about finally having a busy schedule and forming some resemblance of a routine. Routine is comfortable, but I don't know that it is always a good thing. I hope that I never grow comfortable seeing refugee camps or homeless people. I hope that Haitians don't either. It's so tempting to look at the situation here and become hopeless, but the individuals that I have already gotten to know so well restore my hope in people.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I can't think of one

Today, I got peed on by a four year old and was in a car that hit a 107 year old man... today was a great day.
Hitting the guy was really scary at first, but ended up somewhat funny. Pedestrians do not have the right of way in this country and there are no stop signs or stop lights, so it's actually surprising this doesn't happen more. Anyway, we were driving along and this old man with a cane started crossing the road. Our driver slammed on the brakes and was almost stopped then hit the guy, when he went down I thought he was dead (I didn't see it well because I was in the backseat), people around started telling us to back up so we did. I was so scared he was stuck under us or something. The next thing I know the guy is up walking in front of the car, then he got in with us! There was lots of yelling in Creole that I didn't understand and this guy just got up from the dead so I was trying not to laugh, plus he looked like a black Yoda. We drove around to a couple health clinics until someone could see him, they said he was fine, but gave him pain medicine just in case, which our driver paid for. While they were checking him out he said he was 107! I think maybe he didn't know and 107 was his best guess. We dropped him off at his house and he got out and walked away just fine. We drove around stunned that we had just hit a guy.

The rest of the day we moved a Sunspring water filter to the site we will be installing it tomorrow at Port-au-Prince Hospital. Afterward, we checked out a future sight for one of the units. The second will be installed at a sports camp where kids go to play sports and get counseling. Most of the kids who go there are living in refugee camps.

Yesterday (Wednesday), I spent most of the day working at Child Hope, the orphanage near our house. I built a small lean-to for some teachers who lost their homes in the earthquake then led activities with some of the kids. It was great to be able to help over there, they have a very well-run facility.

Well, that's all for now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two weeks in

We had our first near death experience since we arrived, or I should say Luke did. Saturday we were driving across town and I was sitting in the back seat and Luke was in the middle beside me. I was staring out of the window not paying attention and I heard a scream of shear terror. I looked thinking we were about to be in a head on collision. We pulled over and Luke and Joel jumped out of the car, I was still oblivious. It turns out a spider had landed on Luke's leg...

Last night I experienced an earthquake for the first time. I am told that there has been a few in the two weeks since we arrived, but this was the first one that I didn't sleep through. It's a strange and awful feeling awaking to a shaking house. There was two within about an hour of each other. In the morning I was told it was a 4.0 magnitude. I can't say whether there was further damage in the city, there didn't appear to be as we drove around today. I think that there's been so many aftershocks since the initial earthquake that what is still standing is strong enough to withstand the smaller shakes. I really cannot imagine how traumatizing the earthquakes must be to those who have experienced all of them.

Yesterday, Luke and I were able to be a part of some really exciting work. We helped install a water filtration system called a Sunspring that will provide 5000 gallons of clean water a day, and it is designed to last for years. The Sunspring has a solar powered battery that filters water from any raw water source through two filters. The inventor of the technology is staying in the same house we are for the next two weeks while he installs more of the systems. We will help him and learn the set up process so that, hopefully, when he leaves we'll be able to assemble the filters. The Sunspring we installed yesterday was for an orphanage that is home to 600 kids, and will be growing to over 1000 in the near future. As we built the system people started bringing the 5 gallon containers and the moment it was ready the machine was put to use. I am so thankful I got to be a part of that.

Later in the day we had the opportunity to play basketball at the orphanage near where we are staying. On Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays we'll be leading activities for the kids in afternoon. Also, we will be filling in as teachers when needed. Tomorrow, I'm teaching an English class to 3rd and 4th graders, that should be an adventure.

Today we were supposed to install another water purification unit, this one at University of Miami Hospital, but the site was not ready so we must go back tomorrow. The hospital is a few tents set up on airport property, but they are seeing hundreds of patients a day. The big tents are the hospitals and surrounding smaller tents are the temporary homes of doctors and nurses. One tent serves as a morgue.

Sunday night I had the opportunity/misfortune of having a conversation with an assistant to the Prime Minister of Haiti. The other night he was over at the house that we are living in with Joel's sister. When he left Luke mentioned that he would like to speak with him, implying an informal conversation. Joel's sister's English isn't great and she took this to mean he wanted an appointment, so she set it up. Luke and I were both surprised when she came and told us he was here so see us. We stumbled at first trying to explain that we hadn't intended for him to come over just for us (this through Joel's interpretation because the assistant speaks French). Finally, we decided that it would be better to pretend we weren't wasting his time than send him away so we told him we wanted to interview him.

So here are two Americans dirty and in T-shirts and shorts faking an interview with an important political figure. We asked hard questions and I think we may have offended him, it's tough to say with the language barrier. We did learn alot though. He claimed that 70% of all aid money sent from America ends up paying staff and other costs and that only the 30% remaining go to help Haitians. He also said that before the earthquake there were 4000 NGOs in Haiti and only 400 had the governments approval. He recognized that Americans do a lot in helping Haitians, but that America is also a major cause to Haiti's problems because over half of Haiti's GDP is given to the US in loan repayment. I can not say whether his claims are true, but he certainly gave me a new perspective on the problems in this country.

We are still working on our old water project of making chlorine. Eventually we'll be attending meetings at the UN to coordinate with other NGOs (non governmental organizations). We will also be helping with more food pack distribution, as well as some of the organizational end of things. We are finding more and more exciting ways to serve, hopefully we'll be able to maximize our time here.

Thank you for all of your thoughts, prayers and words of encouragement, it means so much.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The UN

Yesterday, Luke and I went to the United Nations logistics base near the airport. We were supposed to be attending a meeting between NGOs to coordinate efforts and hopefully pick up resources for Esperanza. Right now we have reached the capacity of food packs we are able to give out and some organizations at the UN have the necessary supplies. Unfortunately, the meeting was cancelled. We spent our time walking around the UN instead. All over the base were hundreds of people not really doing anything. There were troops representing countries from the US, Brazil, Israel, Canada, and others. We also saw a storehouse full of clean water, I'm not sure why that was being stored rather than handed out. The sights at the UN summed up our view of the disaster response so far, including our end, there's so much being done, but if there were more organization it could go much further.

Just outside the airport and UN is the largest tent city I have seen so far. I won't try to guess at how many were living there because it would be just that, a guess. The night before was the most substantial rain since the earthquake, so we're told, and it did quite a toll. Most of the tents we saw had no floor, so people were forced to sleep in inches of mud. A medical tent that had been set up in the tent city is now a foot in water. At a gas station in the city we saw three huge hummers carrying US troops and they were filled top to bottom with tents. So while it's great that America is sending its soldiers and donating these tents why did it take a large rain before they were handed out?

Today we went back to the UN to try and go to a different meeting, this time however we sat in traffic a couple miles from the base for an hour until we eventually gave up. There's NGO meetings nearly everyday so I hope we'll make one eventually. For now, we learn a lesson in patience.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One week

Hello, first of all thank you to everyone for reading this thing. Well we have a been here a week and it has been quite an emotional ride. Friday, our first full day in Port-au-Prince was spent mostly driving around the city. We had plans for some work that needed done but there was a national holiday so streets were closed off and stores were shut down. Driving around the wreckage was very depressing, it seemed that no one was making any attempt to improve their situation. As we drove through the city, on the roads that were open, it was mostly one-way streets, the other half of the street was lined with tents in which people were now living. In many places rubble spilled into the roads as well. Friday afternoon we were able to accompany a doctor (who's house we're living at) to an orphanage. The kids there were so joyful and just wanted to play with us. We were told that the home had grown from 60 to 150 children since the earthquake.

A little on our living situation. We are living in the house of a Haitian doctor, his family went to stay in Canada with family after the earthquake, he chose to stay here. Another Haitian family has moved in because they lost their home and two year old daughter in the disaster. Also, Joel lives here, he works for Esperanza and is who we work with closely. The Haitian family has four boys of their own and a daughter they have been looking after since the earthquake. The boys are age 5, 8, and 9, and you would never know they had been through such a great tragedy. They are full of energy and love to play, they love to climb on Luke and I the moment we get home. The boys are my role models, I hope to live as care free and happy as them some day.

The living conditions are much better than we prepared for. We have a toilet, but we have to flush it by dumping water in the back. There is electricity a few hours a day whenever the generator is on. Internet is hit or miss, and we're sharing a computer so it is limited. We are living like kings compared to most Haitians, I try to constantly remind myself of this. We eat with the family for most meals and our house mom always prepares the food. She is so kind, she is always offering us something.

Last Saturday we got to learn a little more about the work we will be doing. Right now Joel is working closely with his brother, Tony, whose a Pastor of a church. Together they are organizing with local pastors to get food to their congregations. They have also been working with a company called the Pure Water Foundation, who has developed a system to make chlorine which is used to make clean water. We have spent quite a bit of our time making chlorine. Basically the process is add salt to nonpotable water then send this through a charge from a battery which is solar powered. Then by some sort of magic chlorine is made. 1 Liter of chlorine will make 500 gallons of drinkable water.

In the morning on Saturday we stumbled upon quite the celebration, I guess part of the holiday that was going on. We were driving near the capitol and we saw masses of people so we went to check it out. People in every direction were singing and dancing in Creole. There is a large monument near the capitol so Luke and I made our way to the top, pushing our way up the stairs. From there we could see people in every direction singing and dancing, it was more people in one location than I think I have ever seen. I got a video just to show the amount, but I could not figure out how to post it on here (i'm just not that tech savvy yet), it's the last picture under the Haiti file on my picasaweb, there's a link on the right hand side.

It has been a very surreal feeling being here and seeing all the damage, it's difficult to imagine the city being rebuilt. In some places there are more houses ruined than intact. Every where we go there is people walking and standing around, few have anything to do with schools being closed and so many businesses no longer standing. We have passed a few food distribution lines and they stretch farther than we can see, I can't imagine how long it takes to get the food. I am told that doctors are still mainly focused on life-threatening cases so many who need medical treatment are being turned away. The need is endless and it's important to reming myself to focus on the small things I can do.

Yesterday Luke and I were walking through our neighborhood and we met a few people. Come to find out just a few houses down is an orphanage, called Child Hope. We were able to play basketball with some of the kids, which will hopefully become a regular thing. Talking with some of the staff we were told that they are trying to get some classes going for the kids since their schools were ruined and many of their teachers were killed. They asked us if we would be interested in teach a couple classes a day. I am very excited about the possibility, but nothing is for sure yet. It would be possible because most of the work we're doing with Esperanza is flexible and can be done anytime.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to post shorter and more frequent messages.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Recently, I decided to take a trip to Port-Au-Prince. A friend of mine, Luke, and I wanted to go and assist with the earthquake relief in any way possible. We began sending out e-mails to places that might put us to work. We received a good response from a few different places. One of those included an organization called "Esperanza International", a non-profit specializing in micro finance ( Luke connected with the founder and spoke with him about our trip, he in turn set us up with their people on the ground in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. They arranged to pick us up at the airport and put us to work in Port-Au-Prince.
I am writing from Port-Au-Prince now. Luke and I arrived a few hours ago after an eight hour bus ride from Santo Domingo. I arrived in Santo Domingo on Tuesday just before midnight. I was greeted by two men who were arranged to pick me up, neither of them spoke English so I was able to put my Spanish to the test. It was a quiet car ride. They took me to the hotel where I met up with Luke. On Wednesday I went to the office of Esperanza (Esperanza is Spanish for hope). While looking for the office I got lost and had to stop and ask for directions. "Donde es la Esperanza?", or "Where is the hope?", I asked the man, thinking I was making sense. The man seemed confused and directed me to a building a couple blocks away, but I knew that wasn't it so I kept looking. I came to another man and again asked, "Donde es la Esperanza?" He directed me to the same place as the first man had done so I went to see the place. It was the U.S. embassy.
Eventually, I found the office where I met a few of Esperanza's employees, learned about the company and then filled out some paper work. Esperanza works primarily in the Dominican Republic, but they also do some work in Haiti. Since the earthquake they have partnered with other organizations to distribute food, tents, and water, as well as set up temporary hospitals. At the time they only have one person working for them in Port-Au-Prince, that's who we'll be working with.
Later Wednesday afternoon we explored Santo Domingo, a beautiful city, rich in history. We visited the first church in the new world, as well as Christopher Columbus' house. The rest of the day we just relaxed and went to dinner with a few of the employees from Esperanza.
This morning we went to the bus stop at 10:30 to catch our bus to Haiti. The ride was beautiful as we watched the green hills roll by. People sat at the edge of the road watching the cars go by, and many of them would wave when they caught our eye. After a long wait at the border we came into Haiti near sunset. The sky was picturesque, the air cool and peaceful, it was difficult to prepare ourselves for what lie at our destination.
As we came nearer to the city we could see the effects of the earthquake, first in the people then in the buildings. Sidewalks were filled with people just wandering around or sitting in plastic chairs or on the ground, all of them wearing hopelessly blank faces. Traffic was packed and crawling in the opposite direction. The roads were lawless as people drove wherever they pleased. We passed buses and trucks filled past capacity with people, I can only assume trying to leave the city. Then we started to see structural damage as brick walls and houses were collapsed. Buildings that stood leaned and threatened to tumble. More and more people milled about on the sidewalks and in the streets, seemingly aimlessly. We passed a tent city, with make shift homes as far as we could see.
We met with Joel, the man we'd be working with, at the bus station and he drove us from there. Joel is from Haiti, but he's been living in Santo Domingo the past few years. He speaks French, Creole, Spanish and English fluently. He told us a bit about the work he had been doing and how we would be assisting him. Distributing food is a challenge because of the security problem so he has been meeting with pastors of churches who find what their members need, maybe food, water, shelter, counseling, medicine, etc., then the pastors tell Joel who tries to get them what they need. We will be helping Joel organize supplies so that they get in the right hands. The need is so great that it is impossible to just take a truck into the city and start handing out goods, a riot would break out. Also, Joel is working to set up water purifiers that can provide water for 5,000 people a day.
A lot of the details of the work we will doing is unclear because of the lack of organization. Eventually, Joel would like to do the work that Esperanza does best and help people to start small businesses and become self-sustained. But for now it is just about getting by.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I am now a blogger, some how making me more nerdy and more hip at the same time.