Friday, May 28, 2010

Life in Ouanaminthe

Madame Dee put it nicely when she described her recent visit to Bas Dillaire as a “thriving community”, you should see us now Dee!!! The final leg of the village construction is nearly complete. Depending on the rains, we should be finished in four to five weeks.

We have started finishing off the roads and communal areas, the whole community is out planting and tending their gardens. Best of all we’ve started planting crops; each household is growing a particular variety of veg or citrus fruits, so that when everything is ripe the crop growers will exchange the produce within the community. The kids are up at 6am to water the plot, the pepper garden is coming on and we have set aside approximately 1.5 acres of unsuitable building land for a communal allotment. A donation of plants and vegetables gave the programme a kick start, and now everyone is competing with saplings and seeds from all around. All of the initiatives, meetings and challenges faced in getting this village off the ground seem a distant memory to the thriving community we now have.

Those of you who came to Ouanaminthe for Build it Week will be pleased to hear the refurbishment of the school toilet block is complete with new sinks, urinals, loo’s and three shower cubicles. We’ll shortly put the icing on the cake with a solar installation to power light, fans and a computer.

The recent funding influx from the EU has enabled us to commence the final leg – and it’s not just for building 200 homes. We have training underway in a host of areas, construction, road building, agri training, solar power, sanitation, community workshops – you name it! 150 trainees will work onsite over the next 18 months, before we finally hand over to the community.

One encounter I will never forget happened just a few weeks ago; having got the local men involved in setting out the roads and fencing, a group of women ‘door stepped’ me declaring that they are the ones who keep the home and will maintain the gardens, crops etc. They demanded some attention and volunteered for extra training which we simply have to find the funds for – or else! The horticulture trainers moved swiftly and set up an afternoon slot for these women, and they are really enjoying it. To get such a proactive response from the women is fantastic and they have started a community movement that is just phenomenal. You just have to see it to believe it.

Not forgetting the upgrade programme that we are doing to 250 existing homes in the area. Six teams of local tradesmen have nearly completed upgrades to 200 homes. These simple renovations involve repairs or replacement of the roof, cladding, installation of a concrete floor and weather proofing. More often than not the family is aged and the improvements are a massive boost.

To see the kids dressed to the nines tripping off to school is heartwarming, “bonjour Monsieur Joe”. In fact I Skype my daughter most days about 9am Haiti time just as she arrives back from school in Longford and she chats with a bunch of Ouanaminthe girls who stop by on their way to class. I don’t think they have a clue what they are saying to each other but laugh their heads off all the same. I don’t get a word in!

Life in Ouanaminthe is pretty settled already. Some people have acquired jobs on the basis of having a proper address, more are in training with Haven and others are working directly for the contractor.

Every day I chat to families who tell me their lives have been changed by Haven, they have pride beyond belief and this project, our first in Haiti will be a shining example of how to empower a previously helpless community. Your donations and dedication have changed the lives of so many. The founders were up recently for a visit, I think they were touched by the communal effort and are confident that we fulfill the vision.

So that’s it for now, as they say in Haiti… Everything in Ouanaminthe is “bonbagay”.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Buckets of Rain and Shelter from the storm.

A scientific survey among the music buffs in Haven’s La Boule house has concluded that Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on the tracks’ is the ‘Carlsberg’ Album (probably the best album etc...).
Haven's ‘young’ Water Sanitation engineer (and convert to Dylanism) reckoned that two of the tracks on that album: ‘Buckets of rain’ and ‘Shelter from the Storm’ would make a good title for a blog and given the conditions here last Sunday when we had torrential rain and strong winds for a six hour period, he was spot on.

There certainly were buckets of rain in the camps in and around Port Au Prince and there was very little shelter from the storm.

A visit to Camp de Sages, the next morning, where Haven are currently in the process of installing latrines and showers, puts the reality of life in camps into perspective. Committee leader Hugo points to the makeshift drainage channels around the shelters and the inadequate numbers of ‘Pwelas’ (Tarpaulines).

The drainage channels were inundated as rainwater and rubble were washed across the camp. But at least this camp is on high ground and shortly after the rains had stopped the water was gone. Not so however in our camps in Bon Repos (Good rest???). Bon Repos is low lying, so when the rain stops the waters remain. The cry of a very young baby echos around the camp and a young mother has to tend to baby while trying to make the shelter liveable again for another few days.

Haven usually installs ‘pit latrines’; but when the water-table is effectively at ground level, as it is in Bon Repos, you can’t use a pit!! So the local men, on a cash for work scheme, prepare the ground for a concrete tank which will sit partially above ground and partially below. The toilet cubicles will then be constructed on top of the tank. The tank will be vented and will need to be ‘de-sludged’ every four weeks.

In Camp se Sages by 10am on Monday morning, the ground is dry again, the wet clothes are dry and the people are in good spirits, the curious children run over shouting ‘Mon Blanc’ and shake our hands, the shyer ones hold on to their mothers’ hands but still extend a hand when we go over to them.

Back in Bon Repos by midday the air is heavy with moisture, the ground muddy but the children still greet us with shouts and the adults with Bonjou, alo, salut or bo’swa but always with a smile. It’s been said before, but the resilience the Haitian people is really astounding.

As we prepare to move on to the next camp we are asked how is Madame D or when will Madame ‘Deerdray’ be back. Madame D certainly made a huge impact here and helped in no small way to prepare her friends in the camps for the ‘buckets of rain’.

Come in she said, I’ll give ya, shelter from the storm!