“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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