Haiti and Back

The truth is hard. The truth is this; Aside from the occasional soup kitchen in high school, visiting old ladies in a nursing home and a “required” 12 hours of mandated service in college, I’m not a world class do gooder. I see things on TV and think oh that’s so sad at least its nimby (not in my backyard). We all suffer nimby to a degree, but for a stretch longer then I’d like to admit I’ve had a full blown case of it. Until I was asked to go to Haiti. The antidote, of course, to nimby is doing for others and not for you. Sure I did it to feel good and I do, but I did it to remind myself that there’s a great big world of real people that have nothing. Nothing. They have no real infrastructure, no houses, no regular paycheck, no security net, and no trash pickup and no where is that more evident and more obvious then in Haiti. Haiti an island 681 miles from the wealthiest nation in the world. Haiti the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Where poverty and national pride go together like a jack and coke, lemon and ice tea, the Captain and Tennille.

In Haiti they had nothing and they lost everything and have everything to lose on this latest crisis and yet they don’t just survive they thrive. The street markets bustle, the children laugh, the roosters crow, the adults smile and everyone says hello when you say hello. To be clear there is massive destruction, no credible form of government and a long, long (some estimates have it at 20 years) road to rebuild but Haiti’s a remarkably resilient country and resilient people are capable of remarkable things and in 16 days they reminded me of my own resilience.
We are all remarkable, we all have in us the capacity to give and don’t do it because someone tells you to, do it because its the right thing to do. Along the way we meet those that inspire, we work for those that motivate and we look for the right moment. There is never a wrong moment to help someone.

And you do not have to travel to a third world country or do what Clooney, Pitt and Jolie are doing to save the world. All WE have to do? WE just have to look up every once in a while. Oh and smile.

Until then…


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Haiti’s Eternal Weight (NYT)

Haiti’s Eternal Weight



IT has been six months since the earthquake in Haiti left more than 300,000 people dead and destroyed 280,000 homes and businesses. Haiti still faces a long road to recovery, but one of the biggest things literally standing in its way is earthquake debris.

The quake left an astonishing amount of debris, including concrete and rebar from collapsed buildings, destroyed belongings and human remains. Twenty million to 25 million cubic yards of debris fill the streets, yards, sidewalks and canals of Port-au-Prince — enough to fill five Louisiana Superdomes.

According to our research and conversations with aid groups in Haiti, less than 5 percent of this has been removed since January, and even less has been properly disposed of. A draft of the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ debris management plan says it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1,000 days to clear the debris, if it carried 1,000 loads a day — or about three years. But the current rate of removal is much lower. Based on our calculations, partially from the United States Agency for International Development’s reports on debris removal programs, we estimate that it could take 20 years or more.

Today, debris is one of the most significant issues keeping Haitians from rebuilding Port-au-Prince and resuming normal lives. Much of the stuff has been left in place or simply moved to the center or the sides of roads. Some streets with especially large piles of refuse are impassable. As a result, it can take hours to travel just a few miles. Meanwhile, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes remain blocked.

The debris is also an environmental and health hazard. The daily downpours of the rainy season leach toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the storm water system — and ultimately into the drinking water. Debris has been dumped into the sea, turning the blue water brown.

Initial cleanup efforts were promising. Immediately after the earthquake, the Haitian government’s road construction operation began clearing debris. Within a week, the United States Army Corps of Engineers deployed teams to identify sites for sorting and processing debris and drafted a debris management plan, while the Navy hired Haitian and foreign contractors to open major roads with heavy machinery.

But since then, efforts have lagged. At present, there is no significant, coordinated financing by international aid groups for debris removal using machinery, though some estimates predict the next year and a half of debris management could cost around $300 million. Instead, almost all of the operations in Port-au-Prince are in the form of cash-for-work programs like the ones sponsored by Usaid and the European Union, which have Haitians, at best, breaking concrete and loading trucks by hand and, at worst, just moving bricks from one side of a road to the other. Many workers lack masks or gloves. While this inefficient process may put money into the hands of Haitians, it only further slows rebuilding.

Instead, the United Nations, the World Bank and agencies like Usaid, in conjunction with the Haitian government, should create a task force focused on debris removal to coordinate the cleanup efforts of the hodgepodge of aid groups in the country. The task force should identify critical facilities, like hospitals and schools, and the roads that approach them, to clear first. It should lay down environmental regulations for debris disposal and landfill management, and regulate the use of cash-for-work programs. There’s no reason these can’t continue, but more of the money should be allocated to bringing in heavy equipment and expertise. This kind of task force would serve as a model for future disasters.

Debris isn’t sexy. Images of blocked-off streets don’t inspire people to help in the way pictures of hungry or needy people do. However, if Haiti is going to recover, it needs more than food aid and health clinics; it needs functioning, accessible infrastructure.

Reginald DesRoches is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where Ozlem Ergun and Julie Swann are associate professors of industrial and systems engineering and co-directors of the Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics.


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The Long Road Home

After a 3 hour ride through the mountains of Haiti and a 2 hour flight; Jen and I are very happy to be on US soil. More to come..

Jen and Noah

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Jen and I  are leaving Haiti on Wednesday and this will most likely be my last post from the island. When I am home I will get photos uploaded and some final thoughts put down.

Jen’s planned stay through mid July has changed due to our circumstances with GVN.(Joanne: I’m delivering her early do I get mondel bread?)  Haiti is a tough country that takes discipline and we both felt that GVN was lacking therby creating a unique challenge on top of what we were already facing. That being said…

Its been an incredible journey; intense, challenging, fun and fulfilling. We leave the country with a changed perception not just of Haiti, but of the power in and of humanity and what can be accomplished. The trip was far from perfect, to say the least, and anytime you put a group of strangers together who are all headstrong and wanting to help you get the occasional firework or two, but to know that you are all here for a good cause more than makes up for it. I went through my pictures last night and am excited to share them, but worry they dont accurately capture what we have seen and felt during our stay and so I will leave it up to all of you to pursue your own challenges and acts of kindness in hope that anytime someone embarks on a journey you have a context of which to frame the story. My cohorts and the folks I have met have asked me if I will come back to Haiti and the answer is yes, at some point when I have an opportunity, I’d very much like to visit and see what progress has been made and where else I might lend my support.

I’m hanging out with Pouchon in about 45 min and am excited to see him and catch up. I’m hoping to do the same tomorrow as well. He is my takeaway from this trip. For me he represents the mix of innocence and hustle that embody the Haitian spirit and I am grateful that he came along.

Until then..

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early departures

After much deliberation and contemplation I have decided to cut my experience here in Haiti short. GVN has rotations every two weeks, and while I had planned and looked forward to staying through two of the rotations, those plans have changed and I will be returning home this week. (You’re welcome mom!) While I have had an incredible experience here and have learned a lot about myself, the Haitian people, and the impact that one person can have on a community in need; both Noah and I have been less than impressed with the leadership and direction that this program has. We both came into this experience wanting to really make a difference, and work our asses off so that we could really see a difference in something that we started. Time and time again our energy and ideas have been thwarted by our lack of support and project organization from our team leaders. Unfortunately, this has happened before and I am not the first person who has left the program early.

I do want to say that coming to this decision to leave early was extremely difficult, and one that i am still struggling with as I write this. The work that needs to be done here is endless and will take years, if not decades. I don’t feel that this will be my last visit to Haiti, (sorry mom) and hope to come back in another form to continue the work that has begun here. Feeling under utilized has been extremely difficult for the both of us, but neither of us feel that it is safe enough to go out on our own to get things done. We both feel that our time here has been priceless and are walking away with a very different view of the world than we came here with. The sense of community that exists amongst the locals is astounding and if we all lived in communities like this our day to day existence would be very different.

Until then…

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After I posted yesterday I returned to the house only to realize that I had forgotten my pledge to go for a walk with Pouchon. Pouchon was mentioned on an earlier post of mine when i talked about meeting him at rec and that his dad lived in california. He had asked me earlier in the week if i would meet him on saturday to go for a walk and i had replied perhaps, but he wouldnt take no for an answer and so i relented. I had missed our appointed time and asked Danielle, a philadelphian with me, if she had seen him around. She also was supposed to walk with him and so we had him tracked down and Danielle, Pouchon and I went for a walk. Now I thought it was going to be around our “neighborhood” but he wanted to go for a walk walk to the beach through town. I was tired and wanted to not, but Danielle reminded me of why I was there and so off we went. It was the best decision i have made here and if i accomplish nothing else i will feel fulfilled. Pouchon is a 14 yr old Haitian with decent english and the mind of a hustler and child that coexist in his body. He looks like JZ, side note JZ here means Jesus so you must MUST explain, and he knows Jacmel. He led Danielle and I on a tour of essentially downtown Jacmel through the streets lined with people just hanging out, peddling their wares and living.

The architecture here was the inspiration for much of New Orleans and its evident as you wander the streets. There are these amazing buildings that have huge windows, large shutters and could pass for a movie set. Unfortunately many of the building are destroyed or are to dangerous to inhabit and so they lay silent with only the memories of how life was before the quake.

We walked past the biggest pig I’ve ever seen and down to the beach where the locals all congregate and play futball, have a beer and catch up. Danielle, who is African American, and a sociology masters candidate, and I were talking about or I was telling her that despite being a minority here I never feel unsafe, ever. In same ways I feel very protected. Danielle commented that the sense of community here and knowledge of our work here keeps us safer. This is my experience in Jacmel, I hear that PAP is not neccessarily the same. So here we were, Danielle, Pouchon and I, a surrogate family wandering the streets of Jacmel on a storm gathering Saturday afternoon just living life with the Haitians and I thought to myself this is why I came to Haiti to make a connection, to be with the people and Pouchon came along.

Pouchon asked me what time would I meet with him today so we can talk. He loves to just talk and ask questions and tell me stories. It looks like 4p today. Can’t wait to hear what he has in store for me today.

Until then..


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Don’t lick the dirt

As i was getting ready to leave for the trip I asked the nurse at my doc office if she had any parting wisdom for me in Haiti. She said, “don’t lick the dirt” to which I replied, “I think that wont be an issue.” FYI. Its a virtual impossibility. Just saying.


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