Sunday, May 1, 2011

Planning a Tour and Touring the Ruins

Slightly sunburned and ridiculously relaxed after a day of poolside laziness yesterday, I arrived EARLY with Franck at the airport.  Those of you who have visited may know from personal experience that Franck does have a bit of an issue with punctuality...  I keep giving him watches, but it never helps.

Anyway, this morning we arrived several hours early as we were dropping of Didier Ravaine, one of the members of Aide Aux Enfants d'Haiti.  Didier and Francoise Fontaines-Pageaut have spent the previous week here in Haiti with Margarette to report to donors on the Fondation Bon Berger school in Castaches.

Castaches is a small, rural village near Jeremie, South and West of the capital.  It's a very long and rough ride by SUV, a dangerous trip by boat, or a short flight to reach the city, and then a bit more brutal ground travel to reach the village.  Fondation Bon Berger, with financial backing from Aide Aux Enfants d'Haiti, began the school project last year.  You can read the amazing account of what can be done in Haiti with full community participation and ownership in a report: Two Weeks in Jeremie/Castaches.  In September, the school opened its doors to over 250 students, many of whom had never attended school before.  Today, the school provides not only free education and uniforms, but two meals per day for each of its students.  In the evenings, the Women's group of Castaches gather to educate each other on business basics and beginning literacy.  I imagine Didier and Francoise were able to go home with a positive review for French donors that their money was well spent!

In any case, this morning we brought Didier to the airport for his return flight, and rather than making Franck drop him off, come all the way back to the guest house to get me, and go back to the airport to pick up my guests for the next few days, I went with him.  Francoise will be staying a few more days, and she decided to tag along.

My guests until Wednesday are Clair Peyton, a social worker with Forever Families Adoption Services, and Donna W., an adoptive parent whose daughter came home during the earthquake airlift.  Both ladies are deeply involved with Friends of Ft. Liberte.  Claire and Donna have made it their special mission to improve living conditions for children at the King's Center orphanage in Ft. Liberte.  I have not seen the facility, but it sounds like the King's Center is much like hundreds of other orphanages throughout the nation.  Families with no possible way to feed their children are forced to abandon them in the hopes that an orphanage will prevent their starvation, and there they stay permanently along with the 'true' orphans.  This orphanage is run by Pastor Andre, a dedicated pastor who has stretched himself very thin indeed trying to help his community pull itself up by its own bootstraps.  No one at this orphanage goes hungry, and in fact all of the children are able to attend an outside school every day.  But the entire group of children, ages 7 through 18, is watched over by one married couple. 

Donna and Clair are coming to visit a select few of the best of the best of Haitian run orphanages.  They want to raise funds to hire and train more staff for King's Center, and need advice about how to select nannies who will care about the children and how to help the current King's Center and Ft. Liberte staff to train them in positive child care techniques and theories.  I have volunteered to make introductions and be their tour guide.

After quite a long wait in the sun, my guests arrived and we returned to the guest house.  Driving back through the streets of Port-au-Prince post-quake is disturbing.  It's not just all of the missing landmarks anymore - I was already struggling to wrap my brain around the scale of destruction on my last two visits to Haiti.  It's the lack of progress.  Petionville has been the focus of much clean up effort.  There are missing buildings, but much of the rubble has been removed.  Someone who didn't know better might not know there had been an earthquake at all.  But down on the plain...  The only difference I can see between today and May of 2010 are the many, many shiny new land cruisers filled with cheerful blan cruising the streets.

I do realize that I sound bitter.  It is because I am angry, as are many Haitians.  Much aid was promised, but from what I can see very little of that was delivered.  At least not to the people in the streets.  At least not on a large enough scale to make a significant impact. 

So little has changed for them.  The medians of busy streets are filled with tents, and empty lots sprout tent camps like bizarre blue mushrooms in the rain.  The aisles between the tents in the camp right outside the airport are so narrow that only one person could pass through at a time.  I saw two little boys playing right by the road this morning outside the camp.  They were probably three or four years old.  One was a redhead and the other was blond.  Light colored hair for a person of African descent is not a fashion statement here - just another sign of severe malnutrition.  Their bloated bellies and stick insect limbs told the rest of the story.

I sure don't know what the answer is.  I didn't know even before the earthquake, but this isn't it.  Some aid might be distributed to tent camps, but it is not reaching the bellies of these little boys, playing in plain sight of the major traffic artery of downtown.  So what must it be like in the tent camps not right on the main street?  I fear I am going to find out very soon.  If I have learned anything during the last eight years and twenty-nine trips to Haiti, it's that I don't know what I am doing here.  Our aid projects work because Haitians decide what to do and how to do it.  I just show up with cash and go home with accounting of how it was used.  I can only pray that all the well-intentioned NGOs who appear as quickly as the tent camps can learn the same lesson before their funding is used up and nothing remains but the SUVs.

Back at the guest house I arranged our visits for the next day, because that's how we must work in Haiti.  It's just too unpredictable to try to plan weeks in advance, as I would do in the States.  Fortunately the Haitian spirit of hospitality and generosity means that everyone is pleased to see us, even on short notice.  Tomorrow will be an interesting and hopefully useful day.

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