A very brief update..

Things have been busy since I returned home from Haiti. I finished my dissertation, which can be viewed here: dissertation!. This was the final paper of my masters degree. I receive my marks in about a week and I will be (hopefully, if I can get the money together) flying back to the UK to attend my graduation somewhere around May next year.

I have since been working as a Site Supervisor for All Hands Volunteers in Staten Island, NY. This is the same organization I traveled twice to Haiti with as a volunteer. I am now doing Hurricane Sandy recovery work. I lead volunteers in the field repairing and rebuilding hurricane damaged homes. Here is a little bit about Project Staten Island and some information on how to come volunteer with us: click here. 

A few pictures:

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More updates when I have some free time – perhaps around Christmas.

Categories: New York City | 1 Comment

“If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go there is a staying in my going.”

Already back home in CT and haven’t had a minute since my last post to update. Once I finished my research I did a lot of hanging out, visiting with friends, and traveling. This post will mostly be a series of photos with a few stories throughout.

James and I headed to Jacmel Friday afternoon. Jameson joined us on Saturday afternoon and the three of us had a lovely weekend on the beach. My friend Tom (who I worked with in Haiti in 2010 and 2011) currently works for an NGO in Jacmel. I sent him my number so we could meet up while I was there, but I accidently gave him the wrong number so he couldn’t get a hold of me. But on Sunday afternoon I was sitting on the beach and he just happens to come by with a bunch of his coworkers for an afternoon at the beach. It was quite the coincidence and really great to catch up with him. In other news, there just happened to be some arts festival going in town so we went. It ended up being a bit weird, but the Haitians seemed to love it. There were traditional dancing teams from like 10 different countries – it reminded me of something you might see at a fair in the US. Here are some very exciting photos from the trip to Jacmel:

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Day up in the mountains with BGF

Building Goodness Foundation (BGF) is an NGO that does a variety of construction projects in Haiti. Some of their staff lives at Klinik Kominote, where I lived, so when I finished my research I asked if I could join them up in the mountains for a day to help with their current project, the construction of a depot. My friend Michael works for BGF and, since he started with BGF over a year ago, has built a school, church, and is currently finishing up the depot (a place for farmers to package their goods;  e.g., coffee). I had a lovely day pouring concrete alongside local employees and community members. Here are some photos of BGF’s construction:

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Above Left: School built by BGF /// Above Right: Pretty view of the mountains

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Above Left: Catholic church built by BGF /// Above Right: depot I was helping build – it’s almost done.

My friend Junior and I headed out Thursday morning to Gonaives (Google map it) to visit our friend Cherilus and his family. In 2011, when I was in Haiti with All Hands, Junior, Cherilus and I became really good friends – like the three amigos. We were always together and always laughing. We even took a trip to visit his family in Gonaives in 2011. Now Cherilus is back living in Gonaives with his girlfriend and new baby boy, Sonle Anderson Chery, so we went to visit. We took a bus to PAP, tap tap to the Gonaives bus station, bus to Gonaives, then moto into the village where Cherilus lives. We left at 6am and got there around 11am – not bad!

It was so wonderful to see Cherilus again and I am so in love with his little boy, Sonle. They call him Lele for short! I’ve never seen a father more in love with his son – Cherilus absolutely adores Lele and he is so sweet with him. On Thursday evening Cherilus took us to a spring/water pump type place in the village for a shower. Someone from the community came and turned on the pump and water came spurting out and filled the initial pool and the concrete canals channeling the water. There were people around bathing and doing laundry in the channel bits, but Cherilus brought us straight to the pool, we all stripped down and hoped in. It was kind of awesome. Although I did sort of draw a crowd because mostly naked bathing white girl aren’t exactly common in a rural village.

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That night we went to a little store and drank Prestige and chatted. Then Cherilus brought us to a Vodou ceremony. He brought me into a little mud house where people were dressed in all white, singing, and doing some sort of ritual thing. Then we went back outside and chatted with some other young people. When the people in the mud house came out, all these women in white started dancing and singing. People gathered around and watched, but Cherilus decided to drag me into the center with the women and make me dance with them. I was surprised how unphased people were with not only my presence, but then fact that I was randomly dancing and potentially interrupting (although nobody seemed to view it that way, but me) their ceremony. I don’t really get vodou, but I am always trying to understand it more. The trouble is that when I ask Cherilus questions, he never really answers them. IMG_4333 IMG_4373 IMG_4375 IMG_4379 IMG_4387 IMG_4399 IMG_4400 IMG_4421

On Friday the three of us went into town to visit our friend Robinson who runs a computer and English school in the city. I dropped off some donations that people mailed to me to give to him and we visited with him for a bit. Then the three of us drove around Gonaives a bit on the moto and went to the market and did a lot of food shopping. We ate delicious food that Cherilus’ girlfriend, Jeanette, made and played with Lele.

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Cap Haitien
Saturday morning we got up early and headed to Cap Hatiien. It is about a two hour tap tap journey over the mountains. I’ve heard it was a really cool place and have wanted to go so…we went! The three of us shared a hotel room and just checked out the city. It is a lot different than the rest of Haiti. Similar to Jacmel with the cool architecture, but it wasn’t as affected by the earthquake as Jacmel was so the buildings are more intact. We explored the city, chilled in the hotel room, went out to dinner and then went out for a night on the town. I think the best moment of the trip was when Junior reached into his pocket and pulled out a handle of trash. He said, “Look at this! I’ve been carrying this around for hours! I can’t just throw it on the streets because they are too nice!” He waited until we found a trash can and threw away the trash. It is amazing that when a city is properly maintained, people will respect that and work to keep it that way. Normally, Junior would have just thrown his trash on the road, because that’s what everyone does.

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Sunday morning we were back on a tap-tap back to Gonavies. It was a short trip to Cap Haitien, but I am so glad we went. We had such a fun time and it was great to see the city. I will definitely be back for a longer visit in the future. We said goodbye to Cherilus in Gonavies and went on to Port au Prince for Karnival de Fluers.


Port au Prince & Karnival de Fluers
Junior and I have a friend named Hermann who lives in Leogane, but works in PAP as the private security for President Martelly. He is one of 30 elite police officers who do this. Pretty much, he is a badass. When we got to PAP we met up with him and he brought us to his friend’s house so we could take a shower. We brought our backpacks to Junior’s cousin’s house which was right down the road and then went to see the parade. Around 6pm we went back to his cousins house because it started raining, but we went back out with his cousin and friends around 9/10. The parade basically turned into a giant party. They had these massive floats with singers and people on top and blasted music and people danced and sang all around the floats until it passed and then waited for the next float. The crowds were really big so we kept towards the outskirts so we didn’t get smushed.

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When Hermann was off duty we went and met up with him and he brought us threw the crowds to where all of the police officers were watching the parade from, in an area secured by a wall of badass police officers. They were securing the entrance to the stands where Martelly was watching from. We saw his wife and hung out with other police officers and enjoyed the parade and music. Then the crowd started to push the wall of police officers back, so Hermann moved us back more. Then when they kept pushing, he decided we better leave. Even though Hermann was off duty, he is so badass and has so much respect that all he had to do was point to three on duty police officers and say “You, you, and you – let’s go. We need security.’ The first guy had a HUGE gun and stuck it straight out, then there was another guy behind him, then the third guy who told me to hold onto the back of his shirt. Junior held onto me and then Hermann was behind him.

We went straight into the mob of people and down the parade route. As I held the policeman’s shirt in front of me I could feel the gun on his back. The experience was both terrifying and epic. We pushed through the crowd, which parted once they noticed the gun. People put their hands up as we passed and backed away sort of, but mostly it was so dense there was nowhere to back away to. It was dangerous in that crowds are dangerous and I could have been trampled at any time, but I was also probably safer than anyone else there because I was under the protection of four badass Haitian police officers. If they are fit to protect the president, I’m pretty sure they can protect me as I attract a lot less interest. It’s too bad my camera died about an hour in to us arriving in PAP.

When we got through the parade route we went and hung out outside the palace compound with some on duty police officers. They were just hanging out and drinking moonshine while on duty. I had to use the bathroom so I went to go use a port-a-potty thing and my friend Jonnie was just like, no no..come with me. He brought me into the Presidential Palace compound to use the bathroom. The presidential palace was destroyed and cleared away, but there are some temporary buildings and some remains of the palace still there. It was pretty cool.

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We slept at Junior’s cousin’s house, but didn’t go to bed until around 2-3am. We woke up around 8:30-9 and took the bus back to Leogane. BUT, we returned for the third and last day of Karnival and had another amazing night! It was pretty much the same parade and massive party, three days in a row, but it was still fun to do it again! This time we hung out with Junior’s sister most of the time. She was there with the Haitian Red Cross because she is a nurse. She marched with them early on and worked a bit, but she didn’t have to work the whole night.  Karnival was an awesome experience – I hope I can go back to Haiti for Rara in March.


Misc. nights out in Leogane:
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Above: My friends George and Onel took me out, but we ran into Junior and Emmanuel at Maritas’ bar so they joined us. Not long after, Maritas ran out of Prestige, so we went to another bar (pictured), but I forget the name. Great night with a bunch of really great guys!

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Above: Junior told me we were going to a soccer match, but we ended up being late and by the time we got there it was just a big DJ party, but that was just as fun!

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Above: Jolinda and I took Tony Mix, Junior, Emmanuel, and Jameson out for some beers and french fries.

My last night in Haiti – it couldn’t have been more perfect:

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My flight was in the afternoon, but Junior and I took the bus into Port au Prince in the morning so we could visit the National Museum – it was really cool and definitely worth going to. When we got to the airport, who do we see, but my friend Tom (who I also randomly bumped into in Jacmel) – turns out we were on the same flight! He had actually told me he was flying out that day,  but had completely forgotten when booking my flight.

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Anyway, back home in CT now, working on my dissertation and planning my next move. Will keep ya’ll posted.


Title quote: Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Categories: Haiti | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kay piti, ou prann nat ou anba bra ou. – [When] the house is small, you hold your bedding under your arm.

Been having a lot of trouble adding in photos so I kept putting off posting this, but it’s taking ages so I’ll just post this and keep trying to add in photos later. Written: 7/17/2013. Another update coming soon.

I spent one and a half days doing all thirty interviews for NGO B. This is a very large, Christian NGO that provided a wooden framed, tarp-walled structure. The t-shelter was tied down into the ground in concrete holes, but there was not a concrete slab foundation unless the homeowners did it themselves after the shelter was built. 22 of the 31 beneficiaries I interviewed poured a foundation for the t-shelter shortly after NGO B built it. Most beneficiaries told me that NGO B gave a few bags of cement for them to do this.  Those who didn’t do it, really couldn’t afford to, otherwise they would have. The tin roof provided, according to NGO B, was of very high quality. The thought behind investing in high-quality tin roofing was that it was the bit of the shelter most likely to be reused over and over for many years to come. Despite its high quality, many beneficiaries complained of leaky roofs. One beneficiary attributed this to poor construction – for example, nailing the roof in, then taking the nail out and putting it elsewhere, creating a hole. In the areas where there was a bit more land available, these t-shelters were built with porches (although they only had foundations if beneficiaries poured them themselves) and where there was less available space, like in the center of Leogane, porches were omitted from the design.

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Changes & Security
The biggest issue people had with this t-shelter design was the lack of security. Tarps don’t provide security – anyone can cut it open with a knife and steal, as many beneficiaries claimed happened to them. Additionally, the tarps are very hot during the day and cold at night. The majority of beneficiaries claimed that NGO B said they would be returning to replace the tarp with plywood, but never did. 23 out of the 31 t-shelters still had tarp. Security seemed to be people’s number one concern after pouring the foundation (although that provides security in another sense) and over two years later they still do not have the means to upgrade. Those who were able to do this did it immediately because they felt they absolutely had to. If they do not have the means to upgrade something so basic and necessary to their security, I can’t imagine them being able to sell their last, very minimal bit of security, the t-shelter itself, for anything.

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Safe Reconstruction
Among the few people that had started building with blocks, only one of them had constructed it with rebar throughout. A few had only put rebar in the main columns and one family didn’t put any rebar in at all. No information (as far as I know right now) was provided on safe reconstruction. Perhaps NGOs are providing safe shelters in the interim period, however when beneficiaries go to upgrade and transition these shelters, if they are not educated on safe reconstruction, they are likely to build similar poor, unsafe structures as those which existed before the earthquake. It is unclear to me if people knew how unsafe it was to rebuild without rebar or if they knew, but did it anyway because they simply could not afford rebar. If I were to speculate, I would assume people would not reconstruct without rebar if they knew how unsafe it was. People have been terrified of unsafe structures since the earthquake and based on conversations with t-shelter beneficiaries with partially standing structures, that hasn’t changed.

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Land Security
Land security was another big issue I ran into. A large number of people, particularly in the Santo community of Leogane, do not own their land. They were IDPs on that land following the earthquake and when NGO B came and said they could get a shelter if they got permission from the land owner to live there, they did. However, that land owner just happened to be the government. Most people said that the government gave them permission to live there and that they paid every few years. However, when I inquired about the long term, they just said that if the government wanted them off of the land, they would just have to take apart the t-shelter and leave. When I asked if this would prevent them from upgrading and improving the shelter, they said no, however most of them hadn’t made any changes other than pouring the foundation (but perhaps that is because they don’t have money too, as they said). One woman said that the government doesn’t think the tarps will last very long, meaning the probably think people will eventually move or build elsewhere, however that is not always how transitional shelter works and certainly not going to be the case here; nobody is going to move unless you make them or they have a really good reason to. I wonder if the government thinks that people will eventually move away once the shelters and tarps begin to degrade instead of upgrading and improving the shelters. I hope to interview someone at the mayor’s office in Leogane and ask about this.

A few interesting stories:

  1. This is an amazing story of one of the two t-shelters provided by NGO B that actually transitioned the way it was meant to. This young guy I interviewed told me he had a house that was destroyed in the earthquake and in 2011 he received a t-shelter from NGO B to put on his land. He and his girlfriend have been living here since then, but have had to replace the tarp with plywood because people came and stole his things during RaRa (Haitian festival). His mother and her 4 other children also received a t-shelter from NGO B and put it next to his on this same property. His mom and siblings lived in their t-shelter for 1.5 years and then sold it so that the money could send the kids to school and so that she could invest some of the money into building a small concrete structure with her oldest son (who had his own t-shelter) on that same property. She moved into town and rented a place while they started to build a little boutique. Not long after, his aunt, who lived in Darbonne (neighboring community), was eligible for a t-shelter from a different organization (HELP – I think they are German), but didn’t have any place to put it. He moved his t-shelter on top of the new store building they constructed out of concrete so that his aunt’s new HELP shelter could be built on his property too. Since then, he has upgraded his t-shelter (now located on top of the store – so like a second story) by adding concrete block a third of the way up the walls and putting new, treated plywood for the rest. He will not continue with more concrete blocks, but just replace the plywood after about 10 years when it is no longer good. He also painted the plywood to help protect it. Additionally, he wants to rebuild where his old house was and is trying to get a loan from BNC (I forget what it stands for). Once he rebuilds, the people who used to rent it will come back.                                                                                                                    IMG_3839  IMG_3837  IMG_3835  IMG_3837
  2. One man received a NGO B shelter which he lived in for 1 year and then he sold it for parts and kept the tarp. He is now renting and IRD t-shelter from someone else so he can rebuild where the NGO B shelter was on his property. He has started making blocks.           IMG_3842
  3. About 4 families only lived in the t-shelter for a few months before deciding it was uninhabitable and that they needed to find another place to live. All 4 families found places to rent or family to stay with and their shelters are just sitting there (none with foundations) and worsening tarps. When I spoke with them, they all said they do not want to sell them because eventually they will try and put foundations and make them better to live in, but right now they don’t have the money. I wonder how long those shelters will be sitting there until they have the money.                                                         IMG_3877 IMG_3856
  4. A few families have put bits of tin along as much as the outside as they could in what seems to be an act of desperation. They can’t afford plywood or blocks, but they don’t feel safe in the tarps, and you can’t really blame them. IMG_3847
  5. Some families have attached their businesses to the t-shelters  or operate their business out of the t-shelter.IMG_3867  IMG_3869
  6. One woman bought two shelters from two different people who received them from NGB B after the earthquake. One of the original recipients sold the shelter because someone died and they needed to pay for the funeral. The other original recipient didn’t have land so a friend let them put the t-shelter on their land temporarily until they could sell it (this seems to be popular). These two t-shelters were put together to make one big shelter. They put a new roof on and blocks up half of it. There is no rebar in the blocks except for the front columns. There are only two people living here. The reason they bought two t-shelters is because a few months after the earthquake her father died and they needed a place for people to sleep/stay when they came from all over for the funeral.   IMG_3880 IMG_3878

There are a lot more interesting stories, but those were the ones that stuck out.

As a part of my research methodology, the last question I asked every beneficiary was whether or not they knew anyone who had transitioned their house such as through selling it, upgrading it, renting it, rebuilding, etc. The reason I asked this was because otherwise I might overlook these beneficiaries because I cannot always see or identify what they have done with the shelter they initially received while walking through a community. Without inquiring about these people, I might be overlooking many who have actually transitioned and therefore, not getting an accurate sample of the t-shelter beneficiary population.  However, I ran into a bit of trouble with this methodology. Most Haitians I asked this question to would either evade the question, say that they didn’t know anyone who had done this, or say maybe, but they do not know them.  Occasionally, someone would tell me that yes, people sell and rent the t-shelters, but they will not tell me. It is unclear to me whether or not this is because of embarrassment or because they think they might be doing something wrong, or perhaps because they seem to think that they won’t receive any additional assistance if the NGOs find out. In my opinion, selling and renting t-shelters are not necessarily bad. If the ultimate goal is to safely house people, than both of these things are usually achieving it, one way or another. One woman said she didn’t want to tell us who rents because the attitude in Haiti is “If you want to know about me, ask me – don’t ask others”. Which is fair enough, but a problem for me in that it is more difficult to find the people who have transitioned, if they exist. I suppose I’ll have to pop that into my limitations section. Someone else said, “Lots of people sold their house because they were hungry” and another said “some people who were not in need got a shelter and sold it”.

In other news:
Berlyne and I got in a minor moto accident the other day. I was sitting second (of 3) on the moto and holding onto my backpack on the side with one arm, as I always do. My moto driver drove too close to another moto going around a corner and the other handle of my bag caught onto the other moto and started pulling me back and pulling the other moto over. I pulled my arm out quick, but it was too late for the other moto and he fell over. He was fine and came running after our moto driver yelling at him and we had to make our moto driver stop (if my bag hadn’t fell I think he would have kept going) and then the yelling moto driver who we tipped over took our moto drivers keys so he couldn’t go anywhere. Then the police were called. Pretty much everyone that saw it happened (30+ people) followed the police to the station to argue about what happened at length. We just paid our moto driver and took another moto home. It wasn’t a big deal – nobody was hurt and his moto was fine I think. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I mean, he shouldn’t have been that close to the other moto, but it was an accident – I don’ t think he was a bad moto driver

Besides working on my research, I’ve found plenty of time to beach it up this weekend. Jameson, Junior, James and I took a half day on Friday and went to Jacksonville Beach. James managed to lock the keys in the car (if he reads this he is going to claim it wasn’t him) so we (read: our crafty Haitian friends) had to break back in it to get them, but other than that it was a delightful afternoon. On Saturday, Jameson, James, and I tap-taped it up to Grand Goave to enjoy the even more beautiful beaches there. We spent the night at a hotel. James got his entire body attacked by mosquitos and somehow Jameson and I managed to wake up unscathed. #win. Not sure what adventures are in store for this coming weekend, but I’m sure it’ll include some quality beach time.

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This week I did all 30 interviews for NGO C in one day!  I know, I’m impressed with me too. I have finished all of the interviews I have set out to do (30 beneficiary interviews for each NGO), not including interviews with NGO staff, however I’d like to beef up my research by doing more interviews. Specifically, I’d like to interview 10% of the t-shelter beneficiaries. This would mean 95 more interviews for NGO B and I think almost 200 for NGO C, but I am not sure. NGO A only provided 300 t-shelters so the 30 interviews I already did is enough. Whether or not I will be able to do this will depend on 2 big things: 1. Whether or not I get the IOM shelter sector internship I just applied for and 2. Whether or not I have enough money to keep paying a translator. I know you’re all on the edge of your seats just desperately wanting to find out what happens so, I’ll keep ya’ll posted.

NGO C Interviews in Brache, Leogane.
This week I tackled the interviews for my last NGO. NGO C provided 3617 t-shelters in the Leogane Commune. After the initial assessment, NBC C came in 2011 and gave tarp walled, steel framed, raised shelter structures to selected beneficiaries. A year later, NGO C came back and put up chain link fence and rendered walls. Many beneficiaries claimed NGO C said they would come back to do blocks, but never did. NBO C also provided three small buckets of paint for the beneficiaries to paint it themselves. About half never painted it – when I inquired they either said it wasn’t enough paint or they just hadn’t done it yet – I sort of get the feeling some may have sold the paint, but I can’t say that with any certainty. NGO C only dug and poured cement on the corners where the t-shelter was tied into the ground. While a foundation was not provided for the beneficiary, most families sold their plywood floors so they could pay to lay a foundation. A few families reused the plywood for things like porch constructions and shelves, and some still haven’t been able to afford to lay the foundation so they still have the raised plywood floors. Most people didn’t like them because they were noisy, water flooded underneath and ruined them, if they weren’t high enough up, people could steal stuff by crawling under and removing the boards, or they didn’t like animals sleeping underneath them.

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In the original tarp design, there was only one door on the t-shelter. When NGO C came back to chain link fence and render the structure, all of the beneficiaries asked for them to leave a second door opening. The majority of the time the workers were happy to do it and left the space where the beneficiaries asked and later on the beneficiary got a door for it themselves. A few beneficiaries said they had to argue a bit with the workers before they listened, but overall it wasn’t a problem. Most people also found a way to divide the shelter into two rooms, either by using blocks (without rebar), plywood, or most commonly, just a bed sheet.


Families with more than 6 people were meant to get two shelters. While some very large families did get two shelters, a few families interviewed that had 6-8 people, although they had signed for two shelters, did not receive them. According to the families, the workers made them sign for the shelters before they received them and then they only brought one. Often, they claimed they ran out of materials, but the beneficiaries seem to think they just sold the materials for themselves, which seems likely. Another problem with the shelters was that the roofs were very bad. Almost everyone complained of rain coming in when it rained. The tin roofs did not extend far enough out over the edges of the shelter. Some people boarded up windows so it wouldn’t come in.

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Despite these few issues, NGO C shelters seemed to be the best quality. I am wondering how transitional they really are though. I mean, only one person I interviewed actually moved their shelter and she probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of someone who knew how to put together the shelter. Additionally, the t-shelter may have transitioned from a tarped structure to a rendered concrete like walls, but the NGO did that FOR beneficiaries – so people aren’t really transitioning on their own. The only thing about this shelter design that people are upgrading are the floors/foundation. But to be fair, they don’t really need to upgrade much more except for the size of the shelter, which I don’t think many people will be able to afford for many years. When I asked if people wanted to do anything to upgrade or improve the shelter, pretty much everyone said no unless they hadn’t yet poured a foundation or unless they wanted to expand (which most did). The majority of people probably won’t rebuild their own homes – they will likely just add onto it or build another structure next to it, unless the t-shelter is not built where the old foundation was and they have the means to rebuild.

A few interesting stories:

  1. This woman rented land across the river and received a tarped t-shelter. Then the owner wanted her to move so one of the workers who put together her t-shelter in the first place (presumably a family friend) helped her take down the structure and put it back up on the other side of the river on new land that she rents. Even though she told NGO C that she was moving, when they came back to render other people’s homes they wouldn’t do hers. Eventually she upgraded to plywood sides. She also poured a foundation and added a tin walled porch. I am very impressed that she was able to move this t-shelter as the frame is welded steel and probably very difficult to take apart and move. I doubt she would have been able to do it without the help of one of the workers who put it together in the first place.                                                                                                               IMG_4076 IMG_4075
  2. After the earthquake this guy built a wooden tin building with a porch on top of his old foundation. Then he received a t-shelter from NGO B and put it next to the other shelter he built. Recently, he built a third building out of plywood next to the t-shelter. So now his family has three houses in a row on the old foundation. While they are using all of the shelters, they do want to eventually rebuild a real house. He said it feels like he is living on an IDP site because everyone has the same kind of shelter. IMG_4080
  3. I noticed that this guy had steel poles on his porch that looked similar to the steel poles used for the frame on the NGO C shelters (like the one he has). When I asked about it he said that someone took a part their shelter and sold it for parts so they bought some steel poles and used them for the construction of his new porch.                                        IMG_4082
  4. One of the last guys I interviewed had a large family so was given two t-shelters put together. He then added a porch and a new kitchen is currently being constructed to the right. He is actually transitioning his transitional shelter! The owner was a really lovely guy – such fun to chat with. I don’t usually inquire about what people do for a living, but I asked this guy because I wanted to know how he could afford all of this while other people couldn’t. He just told me he was a professional of everything- he just does every type of job. The only part I was a little annoyed about was that he kept saying that he wanted more NGOs to come and help him with all the other stuff he wanted to do, like put in a flush toilet.                                     IMG_4112

I’m going to go ahead and end this post with a little puppy love from Pop-Pop, Leo, and Lily, the Klinik Kominote dogs:

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That’s all for now –


Categories: Haiti | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kay koule twompe soley soley men li pa twompe lapil – A leaky house can fool the sun, but it can’t fool the rain.

On Monday, Berlyne and I headed back into the mountains to a village called Cormier. NGO A built 60 t-shelters there and repaired 40 homes. We took a tap-tap to Dufort and a moto to the village. The first person we asked about the t-shelters ended up showing us around all day and bringing us on his moto up the river to more houses. We kept going farther up the river on the moto and then hiked up the mountain to the houses – it was really beautiful.

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I found much of the same in Comier as I did in Nerette and Marie-Chal. While the majority of people had not made any changes to their shelter, most who did had redone the surface of the shelter floor because the construction workers did a poor job (it also wasn’t in the budget to reinforce the foundation). Most of these people also added color to the floors, which made them look really nice. A few people extended their tin roofs to have a longer overhang to protect the plywood. One man told me that the reason their tin roofs were not hanging over past the wood which supported it from underneath was because NGO A had said they would return to put in a rainwater catchment system that would go over that part; however, not everyone’s tin roof was not long enough so it is difficult to know for sure if that was the case. Out of the 31 t-shelters I saw, only 4 people had painted and only 3 of those people had painted it with oil-based paint (which will help protect the wood). I can’t be sure if that is because they don’t have the means or because the NGO (according to them) said they would come back and paint it (although most had realized by then that they weren’t coming back).

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From what I gathered, if people had money to do so, they would paint the shelters, make the foundation nice, and replace the plywood (at least the bottom half) with cement blocks. Basically, they would upgrade it, which is one of the ways to transition a t-shelter. Although one woman said she won’t upgrade her t-shelter, she will rebuild her old shelter because there are 13 people living in the t-shelter so there is not enough room. Anyway, whether or not these changes will actually happen will depend on people’s ability to afford it. It is difficult to gage whether or not these upgrades are within their means, or if they will eventually be within their means. This is because of what I explained in my last blog – I am skeptical of how honest people were being with me in regards to their ability to afford upgrades and repairs. As I said before, despite a clear explanation that I was not with NGO A and would not be able to assist them in any way, it still seemed as though they were telling me with some inkling of hope that I could get someone to assist them.

On the other hand, based on my observations (and according to a former NGO A employee who I interviewed), for the majority of NGO A t-shelter beneficiaries were better homes than they had to begin with. So I’d imagine that the conditions they will be living in overtime (should they not transition and therefore, as the shelters began to deteriorate), wouldn’t be so far off from how they were living before, not to say that that is okay. One interviewee said to me “I will die before I do anything” – meaning, she’ll die before she is able to improve the shelter because she does not have the money.

I think the repairs they did were really good – the quality of the repaired houses were equivalent to the newly built houses, but materials weren’t unnecessarily given when they could be reused from the damaged homes.

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Berlyne somehow leaves every village we go to with at least something. Everywhere we went people gave her plants. In this visit to Comier she came back with a plant that would apparently help wean her baby son off breastfeeding (dabbing some of the juices on the nipple because it tastes bad so he doesn’t want it), a corn stock, and a heart carved out of a rock and polished. One of the houses we went to a man was carving rocks and Berlyne and I admired them. He only had one finished rock, which he gave to Berlyne and said he was sorry he didn’t have a finished one for me, but then the guy who was taking us around said he had one he would give to me so now I have one too!

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On Tuesday, Junior and I hitched a ride to PAP with Jason (the guy who runs the compound I’m living on) who was being driven to the airport. We got off in Delmas and took a tap-tap up to Petionville for my interview with two staff members from NGO B. The interviews went really well and since I finished pretty early we went to visit Junior’s cousin in the center of PAP before heading back to Leogane. The rest of the afternoon I worked on writing up interviews and prepping my ti kay (little house) for tropical storm Chantal, but it turns out she is going to miss Haiti. Bon bagay! Good thing!

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Oh, and these are the kittens I’m obsessed with. And I’ve sorted my room a bit and put up a better mosquito net.

More updates soon.


Categories: Haiti | Leave a comment

“Long after the news crews with their cameras and their lights and their well-coiffed anchors…”

“Long after the news crews with their cameras and their lights and their well-coiffed anchors head to the next disaster; long after the first wave of deployed NGO expats rotates out; and long after the long-timers (the UN staff and some INGO gluttons for punishment) lose interest in the place and retreat to the relative solitude and well-stocked refrigerators of their team houses, it is competent, dedicated local people…laboring on without a replacement or hardship pay, who care for their own people and rebuild their own countries out of the rubble, one community at a time.” –J., author of Disastrous Passion

Nothing says “Welcome back to Haiti” like the intense heat of Port au Prince, staggering mountains flooding the skyline, and the unique songs of the city, led by car horns and goat ‘bahs’ – couldn’t have been happier to be back.

I was picked up at the airport by Evans who drove me to Leogane. Haiti looks good. Really good. I first came to Haiti 4 months after the earthquake. When I returned a year later, clear progress had been made. And now, 3 years since the earthquake, I can’t believe some of the changes I am seeing. On the main streets of PAP there is very little trash, no more rubble or tents along the roads, nor are they littered with pot holes. Then again, when we drove into the neighborhoods of PAP, the scene changed a bit; more rubbish, still pockets of people living in tents, worse roads, but progress was still visible.

This was probably one of the fastest I’ve ever gotten from PAP to Leogane though, and that was a result of the improvements to Route 2. I didn’t get to see loads of PAP, but Leogane looks incredible. All of the main roads are paved, there is an ATM that works some days, there are lots of new stores and markets that supply a much wider variety of goods, there are guardrails on one road (which for some reason makes a very big difference visually), and in the center of town there is this massive community recreation center that is almost finished and looks really beautiful. Bon bagay!

Klinik Kominote – La kay mwen
I am staying at Klinik Kominote where my friend Jolinda has been living for over two years while she works for GOALS. A lot of misc. activities go on at Klinik Kominote. The organization Building Good Foundation (BGF) operates out of here so a few of their employees live here and occasionally volunteers come through. The clinic is open Monday through Friday and random other projects come and go as well. I feel pretty fortunate to have been able to stay here as it is much cheaper than if I were to have stayed at a hotel.

I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury here compared to what it was like living in Belval Plaza the last two times I was here. We have 24 hour electricity, real mattresses, running water, a flush toilet (but you can’t put TP down it), and most exciting of all A REFRIDGERATOR! I say that with excitement, but I don’t even use it. Most people living here didn’t expect to be here for so long, but over time they began ‘nesting’ (i.e., really settling in). I live in a very little t-shelter type building that I have to myself. Besides people there are two dogs, Leo and Pap-pap, a very annoying Parrot, 2 cats, and 3 very adorable kittens. I could literally just sit and watch the kittens play and be adorable all day.

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Living at Klinik Kominote sort of makes me feel like I’m living in the film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, except this film would be called Cloudy with a Chance of Mangos. The compound here is littered with mango trees and about every 3-5 minutes one falls from the sky. They are SO loud and it’s taking some time to get used to. They fall and make a very loud noise when they hit the roofs of our houses or the concrete – it was a bit startling at first. The challenge is finding the ones that have not broken open with the fall and been attacked by flies.

Day 1 – Arriving
On my first day here I got a quick tour from Jolinda and then she dragged me out to Destra, a community GOALS works in, because she had to go do some activities with the kids. We hung out, but I was so tired from my flight I had a difficult time functioning and well, stringing together sentences that made sense. It was cool to see the little beachside village where GOALS started though and the kids were great. I told my friend Junior I would call him when I arrived, but I hadn’t gotten a chance to get a SIM card because we went straight to Destra and got back home a bit late. As Jolinda and I were chatting in the gazebo that night, there was someone banging at the gate which we ignored for quite some time until Junior called Jolinda and said it was him at the gate. He came to see me because I hadn’t called. He tried to be angry, but that didn’t last long because he was happy to see me.

Day 2
Within two hours of waking up I got to see four old friends. Alex and Yves work on the compound I am living on doing construction work. So I woke up, walked out of my little house, and Yves was about 20 feet away – so great to see them. Then, not even an hour later who shows up, but two old friends Emmanuel Jean and Tony Mix. They had finished their school exams the day before so they decided to come visit Jolinda at 8am because they had nothing else to do. I had told Emmanuel that I was coming back to Haiti, but not the exact date so when they got here they were surprised to see me.

Later in the morning I met with Berlyne, a friend who I worked with at All Hands to talk to her about the research project I am doing here so she can translate for me during my interviews. As it turns out, Berlyne had translated for an evaluation of one of the organizations I am studying so she knew where to find a bunch of the t-shelters. Probably the best investment I made for this research project was the giant maps I printed out. We were able to look at the maps and find all the little communities we wanted to go to.

In the afternoon I hung out with Junior. I went and picked up a new SIM card, changed my money to Gourdes, and we walked around Leogane so I could see how much it has changed. It was great because we ran into so many people I know: Pierre, Valcin, Charles, Job, Jean, and we got Cherilus on the phone and chatted with him until my phone credit ran out. He just had a baby boy named Sonle and he told Junior and me we are the Godparents. Junior and I are going to try and go to Gonaives to visit Cherilus in a few weeks. I was also invited by my friend Robinson to come visit his English school and help teach. Another thing I noticed while walking around Leogane was that nobody yelled “Hey you!” at me or asked me for money or really paid any attention to me at all. I was pretty much just treated like everyone else and 8 times out of 10 given fair prices. I can’t even begin to describe how nice it was. I guess three years later, a lot of the NGOs have left so there are much fewer blans and the novelty of blans has worn a bit. Either way, it’s nice.

Day 3 – Research
Berlyne came at 8am and we headed out to the first community, Nerette. We looked at t-shelters provided by NGO A, a small Christian organization that provided t-shelters to 300 families in the Leogane Commune (and I think a few communities in Grassier as well). The majority of their shelters were in more rural areas and although they were labeled as “transitional” they were constructed to be as permanent as possible and meant to last 15-20 years instead of the typical 3-5. According to a former staff member from NGO A, the organization created a model that they were able to justify and label as a t-shelter because donors were only interested in funding t-shelter projects. Because NGOs were working in rural areas, land tenure was less of an issue because the majority of people owned their own land and it was easy to identify with the community what land belonged to whom. Therefore, they could make the shelters more permanent because they wouldn’t need to be moved.

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NGO A went in to communities and did an assessment then made a list of the most vulnerable people in the community who would be eligible for a t-shelter. Then, the Casec, the community leader, held a community meeting so everyone could decide who from that list would get the limited number of shelters NGO A could provide. Most people said that NGO A came once for the assessment, built the t-shelter, and never came back even though they had promised to come paint it. I think this has to do with running out of funding and how far out and difficult these rural communities are to get to.

In Nerette, NGO A built seven t-shelters and one school. We interviewed four families and spoke to the Casec about two of them because they were no longer there. The last house was over an hours walk away so we didn’t go. I won’t go into every little detail, but I’ll give a brief overview of some of the key things that beneficiaries said and any interesting tid-bits. I also posted photos on Facebook with some comments. Most of the beneficiaries said the same things: they were grateful for the shelter because they really needed it and as much as they would like to make improvements to it, such as replace the plywood on the sides that were getting damaged by the rain, they could not afford it. I am somewhat skeptical about some people’s ability to afford replacing materials. While it was clearly explained to them that I was not with NGO A or any organization, that I could not give them anything, nor was talking to me going to help them get any additional support, it still seemed as though they were telling me in hopes that I might tell someone else they need more help.

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One of the shelters, which is no longer there, was lived in by the recipient for a bit, but he passed away. His family came from PAP to sell it and the people who bought it took it a part and sold the materials. The other t-shelter that is no longer there has a more interesting story. It was built for a family on land where there were believed to be voodoo spirits. The family moved into the shelter, but not long after they started having bad dreams, which they attributed to the voodoo spirits. Then, one day the mother was outside the house doing something and when she came back in there was a giant snake next to her baby on the bed. Apparently, there are no snakes in that area and it is believed the snake was from the voodoo spirits. The family moved out right away and hasn’t moved back. They sold the shelter and land to people who disassembled it and sold it for parts, then planted corn on the land.

There was a school built in the community, but it looks unfinished. According to the headmaster (who is also the community Casec), the school was used for one year, but it hasn’t been used since because students can’t afford to pay the teachers. There are lots of kids in the community, but it is difficult to get teachers when the families can’t pay. I think they were also unhappy using the school when it wasn’t finished. They also built a latrine for the school that was completely finished and looked really nice and I saw a bio-sand water filter in the school which wasn’t being used. The bio-sand water filter (BSF) was most likely built by my friends Quinn, Paddy, and their BSF team from All Hands Volunteers, the organization I was in Haiti with the last few times. It looks like it was used while the school was in use, but you can’t stop using it and start using it again. I won’t get into all the details, but you have to run water through the filter for quite some time before you start using it again, and even still it is better not to stop using it at all because it will likely not be as effective.

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In the second community we went to, Marie-Chal, we found much of the same. That community had received 6 t-shelters and 2 shelter repair kits. While in both communities, most t-shelters had good foundations, a few had very bad ones. One man said that it was because the people who built them took some cement bags to sell for themselves. Although there is no way to know for sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true. Additionally, a few beneficiaries had missing 2 by 4 braces and pieces of their shelter. They claimed that they did not take it, not enough materials were brought to construct it. Two beneficiaries said that the plywood that divided the two rooms in the shelter were very bad so they took them down and burned them (for cooking) and have been replaced them with tarps or new plywood. NGO A provided two families with repair kits which included plywood, nails, 2 by 4s, and 2 bags of cement.

There is a lot more other interesting information I could add in, but it would be interesting to a very limited amount of readers, so I’ll save it for my dissertation. All in all it was a very successful first day of interviews. We covered 14 t-shelters out of the 30 I am hoping to get from NGO A. So far, the majority of this information is JUST from beneficiaries and a little is from one interview I had with a Tearfund employee. After I do more interviews, with additional NGO staff and more beneficiaries, I will have a better understanding of the entire t-shelter program.


Another side note:
In Marie-Chal, Berlyne and I noticed a BSF outside of a woman’s house (not a t-shelter beneficiary). Out of curiosity (because I worked on the program that made them in 2011 and my friends ran the entire program start to finish), we asked about it because it didn’t look it was being used. The woman said that in a recent storm the house had been flooded very badly so they took it outside. They knew they weren’t supposed to move it, but they had to. She said she will move it back in the house soon once they can find a way to raise it higher up. She also said she remembers all the training given to her about how you need to put water in for a few weeks over and over before they can start drinking it again. While it is unfortunate that the BSF is not being used right now, I think what she said about remembering all the training she got from the BSF crew on how to use and maintain the BSF is a testament to the great job the BSF team did in working with and training communities.

Day 4
We didn’t go out to do more interviews again on Saturday because I didn’t know where to go next. Since then I have made some phone calls and sent some emails and found out where more t-shelters are located. So on Monday morning Berlyne and I will be off to a rural community called Comier for more NGO A t-shelter interviews and in the afternoon we will be doing interviews in the center of Leogane where NGO B t-shelters are located.

Saturday night Jolinda and I went and hung out on a roof of a friend’s house, then went to a party that was apparently on Junior’s street. But that ended up being dead so we went to another club/party thing across town, but the generator had broken so we hung out there for three hours in the dark with about 30 other people while they tried to fix the generators. Ridiculous. But it was still a good night.

Anyway, back out tomorrow for more interviews and I am headed to PAP on Tuesday to meet with NGO B staff members.

One last thing..
A BIG THANK YOU to everyone who donated soccer equipment to GOALS (Global Outreach And Love of Soccer). Specifically, thanks to Matt Kalmin, Connor Rusinko, the Scanlan family, the Neistat family, the Evans family, Julia Flower, and Clark Doninger! If you did not have soccer gear to donate, but would still like to help a wonderful organization, please consider contributing a monetary donation: here.


Title quote: J. from his book, Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance Novel

Categories: Haiti | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Robert W. Service

The Men That Don't Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in, 
    A race that can't stay still; 
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, 
    And they roam the world at will. 
They range the field and they rove the flood, 
    And they climb the mountain's crest; 
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, 
    And they don't know how to rest. 

If they just went straight they might go far; 
    They are strong and brave and true; 
But they're always tired of the things that are, 
    And they want the strange and new. 
They say: "Could I find my proper groove, 
    What a deep mark I would make!" 
So they chop and change, and each fresh move 
    Is only a fresh mistake. 

And each forgets, as he strips and runs 
    With a brilliant, fitful pace, 
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones 
    Who win in the lifelong race. 
And each forgets that his youth has fled, 
    Forgets that his prime is past, 
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead, 
    In the glare of the truth at last. 

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance; 
    He has just done things by half. 
Life's been a jolly good joke on him, 
    And now is the time to laugh. 
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost; 
    He was never meant to win; 
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone; 
    He's a man who won't fit in. 
                      -Robert W. Service
Categories: Running Around | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

GOALS – Global Outreach And Love of Soccer

As I spoke about in my last blog post, I will be headed back to Haiti July 3rd to do research for my masters degree dissertation. Before  I go, I am collecting much needed supplies for the fabulous organization, GOALS (Global Outreach And Love of Soccer).

GOALS is an organization that “uses soccer to engage youth in community work and education that improve quality of life and develop new leadership”. GOALS is doing amazing work in Haiti and is an organization that I am thrilled to support.

 So, I am reaching out to all of my lovely friends, family, and readers for equipment donations such as:

  • Soccer equipment, used & new: Cleats (larger sizes are best, but small ones are good too), balls, cones, whistles, stop watches, pumps, shin guards, socks, etc.
  • Entire team uniform sets – used or new
  • Misc. items (which are available in Haiti, but are silly expensive): D batteries (for megaphones/rounding up children) and dry erase markers

GOALS does not accept:

  1. Dirty, torn, or unusable apparel, gear, equipment, materials, etc.
  2. Clothing unsuitable for sports activities, such as jeans, tank tops, etc.

If you live in Connecticut and have things you’d like to donate, please contact me at averydoninger@comcast.net and we can arrange for me to pick them up (I will bring them directly with me to Haiti in July). If you live outside CT and would like to donate, you can mail your donations to: 1201 Tree Bay Lane, Sarasota, FL 34242. If you are unable to donate any of these items, please consider making a monetary donation here. For more information on ways to support GOALS visit their website: here.


Categories: Haiti, Running Around | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney

In case you were wondering..
It’s been almost six months since my last update. Six months of bliss. I really don’t like writing in this blog or writing at all really. I’ve found I’m only really good at academic writing, which makes sense since it’s what I’ve been learning to do throughout the past 4 years of university. I’ve somehow managed to skirt my way around any sort of creative writing class. While taking one probably wouldn’t have helped my GPA, it certainly would have been a good foundation to acquiring a valuable skill. Either way, I’ve somehow managed to maintain a small following of readers. Sure, they may just be my mom, all of my mom’s friends, and a randomer or two who googled just the right phrase to direct them to this page (which they swiftly redirect away from after realizing its uselessness to them), but all in all it’s served its initial purpose, and some.

This blog started out as a way to keep my family and friends updated on all the things I was doing as a corps member in AmeriCorps NCCC and 5 years later, I still use it for the same purpose: keeping family and friends updated on my travels and experiences. It’s almost comical how drastically my writing has improved in 7 years, though it is still nothing to brag about. Most of the time I write at the end of a very long day or trip and I just get it all down before I forget all the little interesting details, then post it without any read through or edits. Because 90% of the time I write in this blog out of a feeling of [self-inflicted] obligation, my efforts are usually limited to well, the bare minimum. Most of my blogs have been a long, drawn out, stream of consciousness, littered with “……”, “lols”, and poorly formatted photos. Quality writing, I know. But maybe one in every ten posts there will be one that I took a bit of time on; one which is more reflective, fluid, readable, and best of all: edited.

The good news is, despite my crap writing, it has turned out to be nothing short of a treasure; it holds memories and little details I would have most definitely forgotten which I am so grateful to still have. I use this blog as a reference tool more often than I actually write in it. In mildly related news, I found this great website (www.mapbox.com) that allows you to make customized maps. So I mapped out all the places I’ve been. Unfortunately, I’d have to pay for a WordPress blog template that would allow me to embed the map, so that isn’t going to happen. But if you want to take a peek: check it out here.

Despite the fact that I’ve been living abroad (in England) for the past year, I haven’t done loads of traveling. My studies at Oxford Brookes have somewhat chained me to the library and my ever depleting bank account has leashed me to the very bane of my existence, my employment at Subway (gotta pay the bills, amiright?!). I’ve done a few trips around the UK: Bath, London, Stratford upon Avon, Cardiff, Warwick, Stonehenge, Birmingham, but never got around to blogging about them because I barely fit the trips themselves in between uni, work, and the frequent CENDEP pub sessions – ‘but that’s ok, right?’. It’s been a great year studying in Oxford. I loved studying at CENDEP and I’ve met really amazing people.

This little gem is definitely worth sharing, but will likely only entertain those familiar with the NGO world:

Oxford: Oxford is great and therefore it deserves its own ridiculously long paragraph.

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I love Oxford and I’m really going to miss it. It’s such a wacky little city that has more of a small town community vibe. It has interesting architecture and beautiful parks stuck in every nook and cranny. You can walk from the posh Oxford University city center right into little multicultural Cowley, a neighborhood full of students and people from all over the world. Cowley Road is a pretty amazing place – there are restaurants and stores selling food from every corner of the globe, charity shops (thrift stores), vintage shops, and loads of quirky little independently owned shops. You can walk or bike anywhere in the city and go punting on the river on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s small, but many big name artists come here to play music. A lot of fantastic local music comes out of Oxford. There is always a little acoustic show or local band playing somewhere in town. These local artists (e.g., Empty White Circles) find incredible support from local music venues, cafes, bars, and the community. Oxford has loads of community projects, festivals, community centers, art coops, food coops, and all forms of art everywhere, such as graffiti and busking musicians. There are ice cream trucks, a massive shark sticking out of the roof of a house, farmers markets every Saturday in many neighborhood and churches on Cowley Road set up little stands with old books, records, and crafts on Saturdays too. At night you can get kebabs and chips at food trucks all over town until 4 or 5am. There are constantly little festivals around town. You won’t go a day without seeing someone in a three piece suit in town. Bikers own the roads, not cars. And even while living in this little quirky, beautiful, diverse community, I still felt like the whole world was at my fingertips. All it would take was hopping a bus to Heathrow and at the drop of a hat I could be in Moscow by noon the next day. Not that I want to go to Moscow.

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While on the topic of how great Oxford is, might as well write a little blurb about May Day. May Day takes place on May 1st and is an ancient festival/holiday that celebrates the coming of spring. In Oxford, the tradition is to stay up all night and drink. Then, at 6am the entire city gathers at Magdalen Bridge in town. At exactly 6, a choir (at the top of a tower) sings the city into spring. It was pretty amazing. While I didn’t stay up all night (presentation the next day), Jenny, Cathal and I went at 6am to hear the choir. There were a ridiculous amount of drunk people being very obnoxious but at exactly 6, everyone went dead quiet and the choir sang. It was really beautiful.


A few pictures (pretty sure one photo is meant to be worth a thousand words, so I’ve practically written a novel here)

We’ve had some good pub sessions:

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Some even better ‘big nights out’:

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CENDEP Awards:

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A lovely evening at Nabeel Hamdi’s house:

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A final CENDEP dinner at Turl Street Kitchen:

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A great end of the year DEP exhibition, put together by Charlie Fisher:

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In true LD (my mom) (©Meaghan Scanlan) fashion, she decided to come visit in the last few weeks before I come home. But what a lovely visit it was! LD and Peter came and visited me in Oxford, we did a long day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, and they spent the rest of their visit in London, which I visited on a day trip. It was really fun to have them come. A few pictures..

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This Summer:

I’m now home (in Connecticut, USA) for the month of June. I’ll be working on my dissertation and in July I am headed to Haiti for about a month to do my dissertation research. My research is looking at whether or not transitional shelters (t-shelters) are actually transitioning (or, as probably only aid workers are familiar, the question “transition to what?”) in Leogane. I will be conducting interviews with t-shelter beneficiaries and key staff from the NGOs which provided the shelters.

Funny story: while I was googling transitional shelter related things a few weeks back, I stumbled upon my own blog where I had written an entire blog entry about transitional shelters in Haiti (read entry: here). I don’t really remember writing it, but I had a read through and it was pretty interesting – might even be able to reference myself in my dissertation.

While in Haiti, I will be staying with my friend Jolinda who was a fellow base manager for All Hands Volunteers in Leogane when I was there in 2011. After All Hands left Haiti, Jolinda began working for a fantastic organization called GOALS (you can read a little bit about how awesome Jolinda is: here). GOALS (Global Outreach And Love of Soccer) is an organization that “uses soccer to engage youth in community work and education that improve quality of life and develop new leadership” (Check out GOALS: here). GOALS is doing amazing work in Haiti and I am hoping to bring down some much needed supplies for them when I go.

 So, I am reaching out to all of my lovely friends, family, and readers for donations of:

  • Soccer equipment, used & new: Cleats (larger sizes are best, but small ones are good too), balls, cones, whistles, stop watches, pumps, etc.
  • Entire team uniform sets – used or new
  • Misc. items (which are available in Haiti, but are silly expensive): D batteries (for megaphones/rounding up children) and dry erase markers

GOALS does not accept:

  1. Dirty, torn, or unusable apparel, gear, equipment, materials, etc.
  2. Clothing unsuitable for sports activities, such as jeans, tank tops, etc.

Please consider donating cash or going through your closets and finding equipment you and your family are no longer using. If you live in Connecticut and have things you’d like to donate, please contact me at averydoninger@comcast.net and we can arrange for me to pick them up (I will bring them directly with me to Haiti in July). If you live outside CT and would like to donate, you can mail your donations to: 1201 Tree Bay Lane, Sarasota, FL 34242. For more information on ways to donate to GOALS visit their website: here.

What’s Next for me:

I wish I knew. I’m just kind of wingin it right now. I suppose come September I’ll have to submit my dissertation and start applying to jobs!

One more thing.. I’d like to take a quick minute to brag about the awesome people in my life and their super rad accomplishments:

Pat McDermott has been writing music reviews for The Fader, an NYC magazine. You can read one of his articles: hereJill Banta is making her way in the fashion industry, designing her own clothes (see here) and designing jewelry for T. Tahari. Elliott Woolworth is creating amazing artwork and music. He is also in a wonderful local folk band, Hanging HillsJenn Schmahl is a writer and has started sharing her work on her new blog. My cousin, Skyler Clark Hamel is making his way as country rock star in Nashville, Tennessee and it won’t be long before you’ll be hearing him on the radio. Carmine Sesto is working the CT music scene, booking and promoting shows for Manic Productions and independently. Jen Ballard is approaching her second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central Region of Ghana. Jackie Evans has moved across the country to utilize her English-Spanish bilingual skills with an organization providing micro-loans to small businesses. Tucker Barney just graduated from the University of Hartford in Trumpet Performance. Max Goto just accepted an AmeriCorps VISTA position at Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Community Engagement. Meaghan Scanlan has been working as an independent graphic designer, most recently producing a brochure for the 16th Annual Young Writers Trust Awards, an organization which Elyse Pedra has been working for over this past year. Sarah Wilson is pursuing a career as a journalist in Boston, MA. And Cameron Aiken is finishing up his degree at Eastern Connecticut State University to become an elementary school teacher.

Lastly, the two, single greatest people in the world: My brothers

Everett: While working as a Recovery Specialist at Community Mental Health Affiliates, advising all of his friends and relatives on their finances, battling Cystic Fibrosis, home brewing deliciousness with his BFF Ryan Howe, touring the greater CT area to enjoy all the micro-breweries, managing stocks, and beginning his studies to get a CFA (chartered financial analyst) cert, my brother Everett manages to continue to be one of the coolest, most amazingly brilliant people I know, who somehow refuses to wear off on me.

Griffin: My “little” brother Griffin, on the other hand, has been rock staring his way through college, kicking dyslexia’s ass, eating all of the pi those calc classes throw at him, all while destroying on the rugby field and participating in other extreme sports that make me nervous. And did I mention he can build shit too? He can build shit. Big shit. Like houses. He’s funny, he’s smart, he’s a tremendous worker, he’s tall, he can build shit. Yeah, he’s pretty great.


I think that should just about cover it for now.


Categories: England, Running Around | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Tryin’ to hit the ground with both feet runnin”

These past few months have been challenging, stressful, and exciting. I have met interesting people from all over the world and have been learning from them and with them about something we are all incredibly passionate about: disaster relief and development. Everyone has come to Oxford Brookes to study at different points in their lives. Some people have been working in the field for years, some are just out of their undergrad, some have been working in a completely unrelated field for 20 years and decided they wanted to do something else.

The Center for Development & Emergency Practice (CENDEP)  professors and lecturers have been interesting, experienced, engaging, and just as much interested in hearing what I have to say as I am in what they have to say. The humanitarian world is constantly getting it wrong and occasionally getting it right. A lot of people who have worked in the field for many years are very narrow minded in the way they think things should be done, whereas people who haven’t contributed fresh, new perspectives that changed how others looked at things. This diversity has brought a lot of lively discussion and interesting debates in the classroom and in the pub.

Janelle (US), Ahmed (Gaza), Marta (Italy)

Janelle (US), Ahmed (Gaza), Marta (Italy)

Thom (UK), me, & Matt (UK)

Thom (UK), me, & Matt (UK)

Adam (UK) and Pedro (Portugal), havin a chat!

Adam (UK) and Pedro (Portugal), havin a chat!

I have learned how to think differently, challenge ideas, and to consider the context. I’ve learned to understand the value and complexities of good partnerships and the relevance of human rights in disaster (among other contexts). I’ve learned there is no such thing as ‘best practice’, that context is key, and that good intentions are not always enough. I won’t keep chattering on about that though. I feel I should also take a minute to brag about the 5 research papers, 1 presentation, and 1 group project I’ve somehow managed to complete. Of course, I’ve only got grades back on two papers so far so perhaps it’s a bit soon to brag. Still feels good.

I’m sitting in the airport looking forward to being home for Christmas and spending time with my family, boyfriend, and friends (and to the inflight movies – I just love them!). I’ve really enjoyed this past semester in Oxford. I got lucky with really lovely housemates and a pretty ideal house location (just off Cowley Road).I also managed to snag a job up (Subway..again..I know, I feel sorry for me too) within the first few weeks. As much as I complain about it, I’m still grateful to have it. I haven’t had many opportunities to travel around England yet because I’ve been so busy with my studies, but I did pop by London for a day of sightseeing and Jenny brought me on a day trip to her old stomping grounds, Bath, for the Christmas market. I hope to do a bit more traveling over spring break or over the summer when I am doing my dissertation and have a bit more flexibility.

Big Ben, London

Big Ben, London

Somewhere in London

Somewhere in London

Piccadilly Market, London

Piccadilly Market, London

Buckingham Palace, London

Buckingham Palace, London

the abbey, Bath

the abbey, Bath

Bath Christmas Market

Bath Christmas Market

A few more things:

-At the beginning of the semester Jenny, Chris, Tara and I went to Warwick Castle, where Jenny works. We got in free and got a tour from Jenny.

-Thom hosted a Halloween party which I decided to go all out for. I made a homemade shark costume. It was awesome. I won the prize for best costume which was a gigantic bottle of champagne and eternal glory.

Nadia (Canada), Karen (Dan's wife - Canada), Janelle (US)

Nadia (Canada), Karen (Dan’s wife – Canada), Janelle (US)

Dan (UK) and Jacques (Senegal)

Dan (UK) and Jacques (Senegal)



me, Janelle, and Thom

me, Janelle, and Thom

-I hosted an American Thanksgiving dinner at my house for ALL of my coursemates. It was really fun. I don’t know how we managed to fit everyone (about 30) into our tiny lounge and kitchen, but we did and it was great! It was a potluck so everybody brought a dish and we feasted! It was especially fun because my coursemates are from all over the world and very few of them had celebrated a Thanksgiving before. Great people, great feast, great night.

bit crowded

bit crowded

chowin down

chowin down

had to improvise on places to sit and eat

had to improvise on places to sit and eat

Charlie (UK), Tereza (Slovakia?), Ahmed (Gaza), Thom (UK)

Charlie (UK), Tereza (Slovakia?), Ahmed (Gaza), Thom (UK)

me with the 4 most attractive men in our course. Matt, Adam, Thom, & Charlie.

me with the 4 most attractive men in our course. Matt, Adam, Thom, & Charlie.

class. Dan (UK) and Mike (US)

class. Dan (UK) and Mike (US)

-I think the hardest adjustment to the UK has been differentiating “chips” from “crisps”. Crisps are what you’d call chips in the US.  Chips are what you’d call french fries in the US. Very confusing. I confused many customers in my first month at Subway, haha.

Some Britishisms (or the ones I can remember off the top of my head right now anyway):

-Muppet: calling someone an idiot in an endearing kind of way..


-Instead of saying “Can I please have..” they say “Please can I have”

-Instead of saying “hello” or “hey” or “hi” they say “heyya”

-on offer = on sale

-bin = garbage

-rubbish = trash

-blagged = sorta like..winged it or half-assed it..kinda


This winter Elliott and I will be bouncing around to THREE different Christmas’. One early Chinese dinner and yankee swap Christmas with my mom and brothers, another early Christmas in Albany with my dad (and some aunts, uncles, and cousins), and then Christmas-Christmas in Ohio with Elliott’s family. I feel like I’m in a movie, but hopefully the kind where nothing goes wrong.

Happy Holidays to all.

xx Avery

Title quote: Over the Rhine

Categories: England | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? I’ve seen those English dramas too.”

After going on what felt like a CT goodbye tour, including Willimantic, Waterbury, and Oxford, I finally made it to Newark airport for my flight out to England for grad school. I was lucky and missed the evening rush – I slid right through baggage check and security which is a rare treat. The flight over was fine – I only watched one movie (I usually watch as many as I can cram in during the flight) and was able to get in a bit of sleep. I arrived, went through immigration pretty quickly, got money out of an ATM, put my ridiculous amount of luggage on a cart, and followed the well-marked signs in Heathrow all the way to the central bus station where I was able to purchase a ticket 5 minutes before the bus was meant to leave. It worked out quite nicely. As the bus was driving though Oxford I noticed the lack of taxis around and asked the driver how easy it would be for me to get one. He said you had to call one and well, without a SIM card, I couldn’t. He was very kind and called one for me. Minutes later I was picked up and brought to the door of my new home: 82 Bullingdon Road.


Here is my full address for those wishing to post me items such as postcards, Cadbury Mini Eggs (the ones here just aren’t the same – I swear!), or themselves:

Avery Doninger

82 Bullingdon Road

Cowely, Oxford, Oxfordshire

United Kingdom OX4 1QL


I was greeted by two of my housemates, Theo and Chris. The others had not yet arrived. They helped me with my bags and we chatted as I started to unpack a bit. Chris wasted no time in taking the piss out of my accent and ‘Americanisms’ – haha. They’ve been picking up on some of the things I say though so we’ll see who has the last laugh! The three of us walked to the centre (I was corrected when I called it downtown) to pick up keys for Chris and I. It is only about a 25 minute walk to the centre, and a quite lovely one at that. On the way back we stopped at Tesco (a supermarket just 3 blocks from out house) to pick up a few groceries. We live just off of Cowely Road near all the shops. Apparently it is the place to live, drink, and shop!


The city is really small, clean, quite lovely, and not nearly as posh as I had expected. The Tube is the subway in London, but they don’t have a subway in Oxford so they call the bus system the Oxford Tube. The buses are pretty expensive though – a few quid! Can you imagine paying 4-5usd for a short bus ride?! That’s why I had to get a bike. Well, I had been planning on getting one anyway. There are bikes ALL over the city. Everyone seems to have one. You have to be careful though because apparently there are a lot of bike thieves around so it is wise to invest in a solid D-lock. We even noticed that bikes get tagged if they are locked up in the same place in a public area for a long time – they are notices of removal, which I thought was interesting.

Maja (pronounced Maya – she is from Poland) arrived late that night (Thursday) via car. She had planned on keeping her car here and getting a parking permit. However, she realized that when she was in uni in Manchester she got about 5 parking tickets which she never paid for because the car is only registered in Germany. If she were to register her car now, it is likely that those tickets would come up and she would have over 5000 pounds worth of tickets to pay. Obviously, she doesn’t have that kind of money and ended up coming with an insane plan. She had just driven the car here from Germany (where her dad lives – about a 10 hour drive) and decided that the best thing to do would be to drive it back to Germany the next day (after unloading her things here) and flying back that night – crazy!

Jenny arrived the next day (Friday, I think), but only dropped her things and chatted with us for a bit. She had to go back home and work, but she should be arriving tomorrow. Jenny will be the only one in the house with a car. Chris has a bike and Maja has one coming in the post). Tara and her mom arrived Sunday around noon and we helped her move her things up to the 3rd floor where her bedroom is.

On Saturday, Chris, Theo and I walked down to the Oxford Brookes’ Headington Campus to get familiar with the area where we will be taking all our courses. They are both Architecture students and my program (Development & Emergency Practice) is under the Faculty of Architecture so we are all in the same building called Abercrombie, which is brand new. There is still a little more construction being done in that building, but it is essentially done. There is also a bit of confusion with what has been moved where because professors all have new offices, etc., but it looks beautiful.

Saturday (I think) I went bike shopping with Chris and Theo and found that the cheapest I would get a new bike would be for 100 quid (160 usd). That was too expensive so I started looking at used bikes. I didn’t find any used bikes in the shops that would work for me so I started looking online. There is this great website in the UK called Gumtree, which is pretty much just like Craigslist, so inquired about a few bikes that were much more reasonable prices. That night, after Tara had arrived at the house, the 4 of us walked about a half hour to someone’s house to look at their used bikes, but neither were going to work for me. Both were a little too big and one didn’t have properly working breaks. It was nice to have company on the walk and to get to see a bit more of Oxford. Last night I found a bike on Gumtree that looked perfect and only be sold for 45 quid. I met the guy this morning and bought it! It’s not quite as pretty as my Ghanaian bike, but it’s solid. It has good gears and breaks, new tires, non-rusty chain, and even has a basket! I am very pleased with it and all that is left to get is a D-lock, which I will hopefully go purchase later today. I’ll be keeping the bike in my room in the meantime. Oxford Brookes has a bike doctor that shows up on campus about once a week and fixes students bikes for free – it sounds pretty awesome so I’m going to bring my bike over for a tune up tomorrow.

Sunday (I think – I’ve really confused all of my days), Chris, Theo, Tara, Maja, and I all went to uni and walked through the park on the way back:


Tara, Me, Maja, Chris (Theo was the photographer)

Now everyone is in the house except for Jenny who is coming tomorrow. We are all getting on really well. We went to the pub at the end of the street last night, which was nice, but a bit quiet because it was Sunday. My course doesn’t start until Wednesday so today I am just hanging out and getting a few things done like buying a bike and going grocery shopping in a little bit.

I did something stupid. I wasn’t thinking when I was packing and packed things like my hair dryer, straighter, kettle, and bed heater. I didn’t think about the fact that I might have problems because of the wattage difference. I plugged in my bed heater and it blew a fuse and broke it! I had to throw it out and buy a new one on Amazon. I had actually used my kettle and straightener a few times with no problems (besides the kettle being much louder than normal, but I didn’t make the connection), but I don’t want to continue using them and risk blowing another fuse and/or breaking them. I bought a converter thing on Amazon so I can use my straighter, but I won’t be able to use my blow dryer or kettle. Luckily, there is a house kettle that Jenny brought and Chris, of all people, has a hair dryer I can borrow when I need it occasionally.

When I got my visa mailed back to me right before I left it stated that I could work a maximum of 20 hours per week. This was very exciting news as I REALLY need the money. When I was browsing Google maps at home and zooming in on where I would be living once I got here I noticed that there was a Subway just three blocks away. As much as I disliked (as much as I would dislike any terrible job like that) working at Subway, I have already been fully trained and it’s familiar to me. I figured with the experience I have I could easily land the job and having it just three blocks away from home is a bonus. Luckily I jumped right on it when I got here because they are doing interviews and hiring right now so I was able to submit my resume and cover letter (seemed ridiculous to me, but my housemates insisted I should write one despite how shitty the job) and I have an interview for the job tomorrow – fingers crossed!

So, I think that just about covers it.


Title quote: Vampire Weekend

Categories: England | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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