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On site in Haiti

Despite challenges, vibrant life


MCC and Assemblée de la Grace, a Mennonite church 13 kilometers (8 miles) northeast of Haiti’s capital, worked together to repair nearby homes, including the home of (L-R) Isaac, Viola and Estania Auguste.
Photo by: Ben Depp

(Aug. 16, 2010)  

Technology challenges, specifically erratic Internet connections, have won out over Linda’s goal to post each day during her Haiti visit. So after this, no more posts from Port-au-Prince and beyond. But look for MCC stories after Linda and photographer Silas Crews return.

 
Monday: We are headed to Radio Nationale d’Haïti to interview people about advertisements they have been running to encourage people to buy Haitian food, not imported food, so that the money stays in the Haitian economy. MCC supports these ads through partner organization Mouvman Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal (Support Local Production).
 
Sunday: We worshipped with the people of Assemblée de la Grace, a Mennonite congregation on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, led by Pastor Lesly Bertrand. Bertrand is overseer of 24 Mennonite churches in Haiti.
 
MCC has worked with Assemblée de la Grace to distribute food and other material aid and to build temporary housing for some members. Almost everyone in Croix-des-Bouquets, the community where the church is located, was affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake – most houses were damaged; a few were destroyed.
 
We visited two people in their new homes, which are predominantly built of tin. One temporary home was built beside the remains of the owners’ former, much-larger house. Now the husband and wife and their four children live in a space largely filled by one large bed.
 
Hear Pastor Bertrand speak in the early days after the earthquake of the resilience of his congregation on this MCC audio report: http://mcc.org/stories/podcasts/strong-faith
 
Outstanding experiences of the week: Riding on a moto-taxi, weaving in and out of crazy traffic. Piles of garbage because there’s no regular garbage pick up. Mounds of rubble. Broken streets. Houses still tilting at precarious angles. No electricity most of the time. Yet in the streets, people move with purpose. They laugh, they play, they fix motorcycles, they cook and sell. They tend to babies. Life is very vibrant in the midst of it all. 
 
 

Tent camp visit


Many people are living in tents and temporary shelters.

(Aug. 10, 2010)  

A long and loud thunderstorm came to Port-au-Prince Sunday evening, the day I arrived. We were having our first Haitian meal inside the MCC guest house that had sustained some damage in the January earthquake. At this point, though, the house is safe, secure and I had no worries.

My thoughts strayed to the people inside the massive tent cities we had passed on the way from the airport. What is it like to be there now, with the rain pouring down, the thunder and lightning separated from you by a layer of plastic? What would you do if the rain came in?

On Monday, I got a few answers to my questions. We visited a tent city for 1,500 people that was established on a public park. It used to be a place of leisure. Now it is a place of survival. 

The tent cities situated throughout the city are called IDP camps – for internally displaced people. The people there are used to live in a home or an apartment prior to the earthquake that would have protected them from the rain, if not an earthquake. Homelessness was not much of an issue in Haitiprior to the earthquake, we were told.

With the guidance of a man who heads the community leadership group at the camp, seven of us from MCC walked through the maze of tents.  I felt like an intruder, and I was. This area, as much as it was nothing more than cobbled together pieces of plastic, canvas or other fabric, was their home.

Yet people welcome us in, eager to show us the desperateness of their living conditions – the dirt floors and the flimsy tent ceilings.  When they slept Sunday night, the water rolled through some of the tents.  Some people tried to sleep on tarps that they lifted up to channel water around their heads, but that didn’t work very well. They were scrubbing those muddy tarps yesterday.

In the lower parts of the camp, water pooled outside the tents, complete with the garbage the water had swept from the camp. The families who lived there were trying to clean it up, so the mosquitoes didn’t breed there.

In the midst of these awful conditions, what I noticed most were the children. Babies that must have been birthed in the camp – in fact the leader said that many babies were born this week to women who survived the earthquake pregnant. The older children played soccer and jumped rope, wrestled with each other, played soccer and played or bathed in buckets of water.  I was happy to see that many were eating plates of rice and beans.

(Please read below for older entries, and continue to check the site for new material.)

 

Come along with me

 

Yollette Jean, left, and Pancha Moreno, right, MCC Haiti's connecting peoples coordinator, help clear rubble from the site where an MCC Haiti employee's home collapsed during the January earthquake. Photo by Ben Depp.

(Aug. 6, 2010)

 

Haiti has never been on my top 10 list of countries to travel to. Or 20 or 30. How many countries are there in the world? It was down near the bottom. If I’m honest, I pictured the country as a bottomless pit of need with few redeeming qualities.

And then the Haiti earthquake happened. In my role as news coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, I was suddenly writing about Haiti, day in and day out. I was watching video, seeing pictures, reading blog posts from our workers, talking to Haitians by Skype and trying to imagine what it is like to have your world collapse around you.

Gradually Haiti began changing from a destination to people — people who desperately dug through the rubble to find their children and eventually those who resolutely set about making some semblance of order out of their lives.

Sunday I will travel to Haiti. Now I am going with curiosity, with a desire to meet survivors, a desire to watch children play and a desire to learn from people whose faith stays strong in adversity.

My role, initially, is to learn, and then it is to write. I invite you to go along through these updates. I’m planning to write on the site each day, (assuming we can connect to the internet) introducing you to Haitians I meet… their ideas and thoughts and experiences. I hope by the time I’m done, when you think of Haiti, you’ll see people before you see rubble. Join me!