More than 20 years as a Habitat for Humanity volunteer did not fully prepare me for this experience. Nearly thirty years of experience as a freelance writer is no help as I attempt to describe the indescribable. Words, at least my words, can scarcely begin to give you an idea of the things I experienced recently in Haiti.
The adventure began in April this year when, with the help and encouragement of my wife, Kay, I accepted an invitation to join the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP) with Habitat for Humanity in Haiti. The challenge was not just to show up for a week to build, but to raise funds and awareness of both the project and the plight of the people of Haiti as they continue to recover from the devastating earthquake that rocked the country Jan. 12, 2010 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Haiti_earthquake).
Thanks to many good friends and associates and a couple of fundraisers that my Kay instigated we did raise nearly double our goal. Many of those good friends are readers and my associates at Beacon Roofing Supply and supporters of our efforts here at Roofing Contractor; I cannot thank you enough. Others include the good folks at our church, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, and patrons of the Aurora Theatre who purchased artwork dedicated to this cause. So now the “raising awareness” part begins.
Fast forward to Nov. 5, when the construction leadership team arrived the day before another 400-plus volunteers would descend upon an encampment staged by Haven Partnership (http://www.havenpartnership.com/). Haven is an NGO based in Ireland that has been working in Haiti for several years. Staffed mostly by their volunteers, Haven set up tents and provided shower and sanitary facilities while preparing and serving three meals per day for around 700 people. An amazing feat and no doubt inspired by training from the Irish military. Haven hosted the CWP following a week when they staged their own building project the week before as they built the first 50 homes in the Santo project in Leogane (pronounced LAY-o-gahn).
But before arriving in Leoagane the experience of being in Haiti began as the plane descended toward the runway of the airport. The first thing I noticed was the pollution spilling into the sea. It appeared to come from the mountains and turned what would be the typical turquoise you see surrounding many Caribbean islands into what looked like chocolate milk. Next, as we came in over farm land I noticed what looked like a river from a distance but as we came closer it looked more like a scar on the land tearing aimlessly across farms and roads. It seemed to be caused by flood waters coming off the hills raging out of control. It was surreal seeing everything around it looking nice, green, and peaceful, only to be ripped through by flood waters that lacked any kind of control.
“Out of control” fashioned my first impression of this country. Beginning before the plane landed (this was my first trip to Haiti) and continued in the arrival at the airport and the ride to Leogane. The arrival at the Port-au-Prince airport and the bus ride were both punctuated with Haitian flavors. The airport was hosting all of one arrival and there were no other planes visible on the tarmac. That struck me as odd for a country with a population approaching 10 million, but I knew there was much for me to learn about this land and its inhabitants.
So as you can tell by now there is much to tell about this one-week trip. And I will attempt to tell it over the coming months by way of this blog and in a feature being planned for the February 2012 issue of Roofing Contractor. I promised the many contributors to my participation in the CWP that I would give them a full report so it will be done. And don’t worry… I will get to the roofing part soon.