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 (Esperanza.org). 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.