Haiti, HODR, Happiness, Round 2


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Central America Caribbean » Haiti
June 25th 2010
Published: April 6th 2011
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I spent three weeks with my folks in California after New Zealand, a
time much spent on my father's ginormous computer monitor editing most
of my photos from the past 4 years of my trip and less time relaxing
and seeing friends. What's a girl to do? I can never seem to catch up
in life, which explains why I am always months behind in my email
blasts...

I left my family in the wee hours of May 26 and headed to
Port-au-Prince, my second time to Haiti in less than 2 years. This
time, of course, Hands On (Note: as of the end of August 2010, the
organization is now known as All Hands Volunteers, or AVH. You can see
the new website at hands.org) had been there as a result of the
devastating earthquake last January, and there wasn't anything to stop
me from going!

This was the first time I arrived so late in the game, as over four
months had gone by since the quake and over three since HODR got
there. Ehem, excuse me, All Hands...this is going to take some getting
used to. I also only stayed for one month, another unthinkable act, as
I have always stayed and volunteered for three or four months and
often until the end of the deployment or darn near close! Anyway, I
stayed a month and only really worked on one project.

I got to the base on a Friday night, just in time for the nightly
meeting, and then worked all day Saturday on a rubble site that darned
near killed me. The intense heat and pace of the others who had been
there a while knocked me down. I had waited far too long (many, many
months...) since doing this kind of manual labor and my body just
wasn't used to it. Fortunately for me, Sunday was a day off. Not so
fortunate for me, Monday I woke up with extreme pain in my abdomen and
was basically out of commission for the rest of the week with bad
tummy and excruciating pains. When I wasn't sleeping off the pain (no
painkillers...), I helped a bit reorganizing the office store room. It
was a tough week, drained of most energy, but I soon got over it.

The next two and a half weeks I spent working on a satellite project
about 20/30 minutes ride out of town in a small village called
Bellevue. There were between six and eight of us on average that
stayed out there from early Monday morning until the afternoon on
Saturday, heading back to base for our Sunday day off and
much-deserved rest day.

The week prior to arriving in Haiti as well as the week I was
primarily bed ridden, a group went out to the site and built a
concrete foundation for the school as well as getting everything
situated for the living quarters for the following 8-10 weeks of the
school build. When I got there we basically started with putting up
the wooden framework, wrapped it with heavy duty chain link fencing,
put the tin on the roof, built the school furniture and then just as I
was getting set to leave the project, we started the plastering of the
walls. We had a huge Haitian contingent helping us on a daily basis,
with lots of gratitude and smiles everyday from the local villagers,
eager to see the final product. I think it was hard at first for them
to understand what was happening to their community; a place where an
existing school, chapel and clinic once stood that was soon reduced to
a pile of rubble after the sizable earthquake shook the country. Next,
in come a bunch of white people, whistling, laughing, playing jumprope
with the children and working hard in the heat of the 90+ degree days.
And one day -- voila, a four-room school was built and nearly
functioning (three classrooms and an office). It took a total of eight
weeks to build the school to completion and countless volunteer hours,
but much love and appreciation went both into the building of the
school by the volunteers as well as the locals in getting something
they much deserved and cherished. I'm sad to have missed the "grand
opening" ceremony as it appeared to be loads of fun and full of
excited children -- oh and numerous overjoyed volunteers!

If you go to the following link you can see a video montage of School
Build Number 2, the one I had worked on, and if you look closely, you
might see me a time or two as well:
http://www.youtube.com/HODRdotORG#p/a/u/0/Fv_qf6q1VWY

Our home away from home was in a gigantic tent complements of Unicef
and erected on a concrete slab where previously the school had been.
Our tools occupied one side, our sleeping quarters on the other and a
makeshift table and some of the completed school desks/chairs in the
center, where we were able to sit, talk, eat or play cards. Granted,
we had mattresses, blankets (which we didn't need since it was still
quite warm at night) and mosquito nets, but it gave me a small taste
of how so many Haitians had to live (and are still living today,
nearly 8 months after the quake) -- and I'm sure triple the amount of
people occupied their tents. At least we had some elbow room.

During the extremely hot work days on the satellite project (which was
every day), we looked forward to two specific times: lunchtime and
after dinner. These were the times we walked across the street and
followed a little path not even 5 minutes away, and cooled ourselves
off by jumping into the ocean. Two thatched roof gazebos graced the
water's edge, which provided a haven from the relentless rays. This
was where after a dip in the refreshing sea we all spread out for our
lunchtime siestas, our clothes dripping with salty water onto the cool
concrete underneath us. In the evening, we played frisbee in the water
at sunset, and occasionally stayed in long enough to watch the
phosphorescence gather in droves all around us. What a peaceful place;
serene and magical.

Soon it was time for me to press on. I said my farewells to some close
friends and left the project by local bus, crammed full of Haitians
heading to the big bustling city of Port-au-Prince, a couple hours
away. I bought a ticket and walked on the bus with a fellow volunteer
heading the same direction, only to find all the seats were taken. All
the Haitians pointed with their thumbs over their shoulders -- it was
all the way to the back for the white people. It felt a bit like Rosa
Parks in Reverse -- go to the back of the bus, blanc!

My time in Haiti was eye-opening and truly inspirational, yet far too
short. If I didn't have the world to get around (again) perhaps I
would have stayed longer. Haitians can be so inspiring and uplifting,
despite the devastation and poverty they live with on a daily basis.
They know how to sing, to dance, to laugh, to smile. Despite loss and
hard times, they look forward, onward, to the betterment of what is
around them. I was fortunate to have met some really wonderful people
this time around, some caring individuals who only want to pick up the
pieces and move on. Now, that's what I call living!


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