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Report from the Field

Our trip to Haiti was filled with no small measure of trepidation and excitement. We had been longing to travel to Haiti to assist in relief efforts since the initial earthquake in January, and now we also needed to conduct a feasibility study for our water well/sanitation facility projects. Weeks prior to the trip our friends urged us to obtain relevant inoculations prior to travel, but we decided to take a risk and travel armed only with insect repellant, aspirin, and Imodium AD.

From the moment our plane landed in Haiti's Toussaint Louverture International Airport we felt like we were in a different world. We were immediately confronted with the impact of the earthquake as we witnessed the immense damage the airport suffered. As we collected our luggage and passed through customs, we observed the people around us: Haitians visiting from abroad, business professionals, and NGO relief workers.

On our way to Tabbarre, which was where we spent most of our time, we saw firsthand all the buildings and homes that had been destroyed. This destruction was repeated every day as we travelled from Port-au-Prince to various parts of Haiti. We spoke with people who had been trapped under rubble and escaped managing to rescue their loved ones in the process. They were the fortunate ones who lived to tell their story. But we couldn't help but look at the rubble that was on every street, in every neighborhood and all over Port-au-Prince and think of the many lives that went unrescused; their bodies trapped underneath the piles of concrete and metal. It's one thing to sit in the comfort of one's home with the remote control watching the drama unfold on CNN and entirely another to witness it up-close and personal. On more than one occasion we brushed away the tears that swelled up in our eyes rolling down our sweaty cheeks.

Amidst immense destruction the people of Haiti have proved to be resilient. Everywhere we went we saw the Haitian flag displayed proudly. Many vendors sell their wares on top of rubble; commerce is alive and well in Haiti! There is now no infrastructure, with most aid only coming from the international community, but somehow people are finding ways to continue make a living and take care of their families. Indeed, these are the proud descendants of the Slaves who fought and won their independence from their French colonizers.

There was one issue that we hadn't given much thought of while in the United States: unemployment. Some who were fortunate to have their homes remain intact now find themselves unemployed since their office buildings are destroyed. Of course this affects their ability to provide for their families as there are no unemployment insurance agencies in existence to meet the needs of the country. Some people spoke of the nightmares they now experience due to the trauma of the earthquake; there are no social services agencies to meet the psychological needs of that demographic either.

Before leaving the United States we heard of the millions of dollars donated to Haiti but we saw no evidence of this anywhere. Downtown Port-au-Prince and several outlying neighborhoods are rife with tent cities where many people are living in deplorable conditions where their access to clean water is limited. We fear for the lives of the people living in the tent-cities since lack of clean water can lead to epidemics of water-borne diseases that could greatly increase the death toll among the survivors of the earthquake. Though some have received aid in the form of medical supplies and food, there is most certainly an urgent need for clean water.

There is a strong UN presence in and around the City, but we only witnessed them directing early morning traffic and watching down on the people from their guard towers. The Haitian government is now making plans to move the capital to Cap Haitian or "Au-Cap" and decentralizing Port-au-Prince while developing surrounding cities. But of course this will not happen overnight, so until then, as hard as it may be, life must and go on.

Towards the end of our trip we travelled 6 hours into the countryside and saw the true beauty of the island. Words cannot describe the lush flora and fauna, the beautiful hills and mountains, and the fresh air… it was amazing! It is here we experienced the slow pace life of country folk as they meandered down the streets on horses and donkeys. We waved at folks as we drove by and they waved back like we were neighbors. Here too we saw the urgent need for water wells and sanitation facilities in various communities; men, women, and children carried buckets and jugs of water for miles on foot.

We knew that many children in Haiti have been left orphaned due to the earthquake and determined to visit an orphanage while there. The orphanage we visited houses 136 beautiful and very well-behaved children. This particular orphanage is operated by a Pastor and his wife, along with 4 full-time nuns. They explained to us that each nun or "mother" as they are referred to is supposed to be responsible for the care of 8 children, however, they are currently under-staffed and without enough funding to recruit and hire additional staff, they may have to close the orphanage. When asked what the children needed the most they stated emphatically, "Beds!" We asked to see where the children slept and were saddened to see their sleeping conditions. If you would like to learn more about how you can help the children of Eglise Bon Berger (Church of the Good Shepherd) Orphanage, contact us for more information.

We learned a lot from the people of Haiti, for they accomplish a lot with very little resources. Despite their circumstances most are willing to share the little that they have to show their hospitality. And in the midst of a daunting and seemingly overwhelming situation that have found the strength and resolve to forge on. We went there to be a blessing to the people of Haiti, but we were blessed by their indomitable spirits!