I am so excited to tell you about our first real day in Haiti. It has been so full and we have covered a lot of ground. We started with an early breakfast and in the light of the morning sun I glanced at the pool and saw what I had missed last night – the entire building adjacent to the hotel lobby and behind the area where the three of us had dinner was collapsed, its roof caved in, a strange contrast to the otherwise idyllic setting.
Gachette met us at 8am. Gachette is the country representative of Canadian Feed the Children (CFTC), a partner agency with whom Ve’ahavta has been supporting the House of Hope. Gachette is a haitian man in his forties, a father, and incredible at his job. He manages the relationships with CFTC’s four partners in Haiti. He is warm with a wonderful sense of humour and has been sharing a great deal of information about Haiti and its history over the past two days. Gachette took us to CFTC’s field office, and then took us downtown to show us the utter devastation that was left in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake. The presidential palace is destroyed, and a massive tent city has sprung up across the street. Displaced people are showering and washing up in full view – there is no privacy, they are utterly exposed. Certain infrastructure seems to have been put in place in some camps – portable toilets for example and generators, important resources though signs that the camps themselves are becoming more established, less temporary, even permanent – at least for the foreseeable future. We were left gasping and sighing as we passed by building after building that were collapsed, some partially, some reduced to complete rubble.
There is rubble everywhere. I can’t imagine what this city must have been like in the immediate aftermath of January’s disaster considering how little seems to have been done from a clean up, demolition and reconstruction point of view six months later.
We began the long drive to Gressier. We have begun to learn that poor roads and tons of traffic make traveling anywhere unpredictable. As Gachette says, “we are not so close, but we are not so far”. Eventually we made it to Gressier and saw the sign for House of Hope (HOH). We pulled into the gates and pulled up to see all 193 of the orphanage’s children assembled to welcome us. We were treated to some singing and warm greetings. The children were beautiful and sweet. It is so painful to contemplate children without parents or families. Not all the kids at HOH are orphans in the true sense of the word – many are economic orphans, or kids whose families can’t afford to take care of them. We met a few heartbreaking cases, including one boy with sad eyes who witnessed his home collapse on top of his parents, rendering him alone and living on the streets until someone brought him to Alice.
We then spent several hours meeting with Alice and one of her staff, discussing current and potential projects, and touring the grounds. We saw the vehicle we helped purchase, the sites for potential reconstruction projects, the chicken coops. We were treated to a beautiful lunch with the kids, and then to wonderful music by a troubadour group of Haitian musicians. We all listened, enjoyed, danced. Then we were treated to a show that a number of kids had prepared. Finally it was time to drive back. We received beautiful gifts of incredible paitings created by a couple of residents at the orphanage. We left, happy to know that we will be back tomorrow.
The drive home to close to two hours, the passing landscape weirdly becoming increasingly familiar – the throngs of people, the crowded markets, the piles of garbage clogging the canals and streets, the colourful tap-taps (minbuses) that are teeming with people, the rubble, the many SUVs with NGO logos, even the UN blue helmets, whom we’ve seen everywhere. Back at the hotel, we had the chance to shower and relax for a bit before meeting with Gideon Hersher, a lovely man who is the JDC rep in Haiti. It was wonderful to have dinner with him, an Israeli who has spent the past five months overseeing JDC’s projects and networking with other local NGOs. He was able share an incredible amount of information, including a few things that I didn’t know – for example, there are 21 jews currently living in Haiti, and Haiti opened up its doors to Jewish refugees after the holocaust. Gideon also gave us an update on an incredible rehab clinic we have supported which is being operated by Magen David Adom. The clinic provides free treatment and fitting and prosthetics for patients who have lost limbs in the earthquake. He was thrilled to meet us and to let us know that Ve’ahavta was one of the primary supporters of this clinic and one of the first to pledge support early on in the aftermath of the quake.
A full day, and now my eyes are closing. Time to rest. Tomorrow we look forward to meeting with the mayor of Gressier and the travelling to Leogane.
What a fabulous experience you must have had! What a great idea to record your daily activities while down in Haiti.
Barry and I have been able to get a glimpse of life in Haiti with your info and of course with the photos! You must have been overwhelmed with the welcome you received at the HOH when you arrived!
Thanks for your blog and for all the work you have done to help this orphanage. Barry and I would like to visit one day soon … you will be a wealth of knowledge.
All the best,