Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Blog

Week ending 17th. December
This week was a busy one as Leslie Buckley, Haven’s Founder came out to Port au Prince to visit our projects and get an update on what is happening around the country.
Ciara, Leslie and I went driving around the city, and the greater Port au Prince area showing him what we have been up to since his last trip to the area.
First we went to Croix de Bouquet to see our Transitional Shelter project, funded by Plan International. While we were there we were able to hand over 20 houses to families. Haven have almost completed 100 T Shelters here in Croix De Bouquet. The families living here used to live on a campsite, under weather beaten tarpaulins, sleeping on blankets spread upon the bare earth.
Haiti is a tough place to be at the best of times, but these are the days that make the hard days worthwhile. And there are plenty more of them to come, with Haven having a further 600 shelters left to complete in and around PaP.

We then moved on to visit one of our water and sanitation (WASH) programmes, which we are constructing with UNICEF funding in 13 schools across the capital. We met with the school’s Principal, and also with Kone from Unicef, whom we have partnered with to carry out this project, bringing a clean water supply, hygiene promotion workshops and latrines to these 200 school children aged from four to 18. Leslie and I got plenty of feedback on how the project is working, what we have done really well to date and what still needs to be improved. We are learning every step of the way.
We then moved on to Camp Crise, one of the 57 campsites in which we are working. Here we met our Community Development Workers, who were in the middle of doing a Hygiene Promotion demonstration. These workshops have been a key part of our workload since the earthquake struck; but since the Cholera broke it is even more important. Haven’s message is simple but incredibly important. It incorporates 6 basic principles:
• Always use latrines, never defecate in the open
• Always wash your hands after toileting, before handling food, after changing diapers, before and after collecting water, before going to sleep at night and first thing on waking
• Never drink untreated water
• Keep prepared food covered at all times
• Full body washes with soap and clean water daily
• Never walk barefoot – always wear washable shoes or sandals

We also brought Leslie to see the Gabion rubble House. The Haven team have termed this the rubble house, as it is literally built using the rubble from the toppled buildings. Rubble is used every step of the way from the foundation through to the plaster! We are particularly proud of this project as we are the first organisation to pilot the method, and we are attracting a lot of attention as a result.
After Leslie left I took a visit to see the Iron Market - the Haitian version of the IFSC! This area was also demolished by the earthquake which Irish businessman and Haven Board member Denis O’Brien, invested in to get this district up and running again. It has now reached completion. It was due to be officially opened this week, but the ceremony had to be postponed because of the political protests. The opening date is now rescheduled for mid January which is a relief to the project team there as recent unrest has caused some delays.
Tonight we are having our final team meeting with our entire staff, both local and expat, based in Haiti. We will give each other updates on what is happening across the country on all of Haven’s sites, covering all topics, from community development, to cholera, shelter, and of course our diminishing budgets!
Once all that is done we will kick back for a little bit of a Christmas party in the Haven house. Haitian Jackson, who was due to perform for our volunteers in October finally gets a gig and it promises to be great craic. Come Saturday our group will disperse, some bound for rural Haiti, Dublin, Longford, Galway and of course the Republic of Cork.
Gerry and Gareth will hold the fort until we return, needless to say there will be plenty of excitement waiting for us on our return in 2011.
Happy Christmas to all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Politics and more politics..

Hi all,
I spent a lot of time in Gonaives this week and have been paying close attention to the news keeping myself updated on what is happening in the Presidential Election.

It was announced this week that government protégé Jude Celestin and former first lady Mirlande Manigat were the top two candidates who were to advance to a second round run-off in presidential elections, scheduled for January 16th.

By early morning all hell had broken loose, furious supporters of eliminated candidates set fires and put up barricades in the streets of PaP after hearing the outcome. The results were immediately questioned in country and abroad, threatening more unrest for poor Haiti already wracked by the cholera epidemic and still recovering from the devastating earthquake. Popular carnival singer Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly trailed Mr Celestin by about 6,800 votes - less than 1%, according to the results released by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council.

Despite the madness in PaP, Gonaives remained relatively calm and we were able to carry on with a normal working day. The project in Gonaives is progressing well and the 80 new houses should be to wall plate level by the end of January.

Haven is preparing a Cholera mitigation proposal to cover our beneficiary areas of Mount Blanc, Jubalee, Raboto and Latanere. A WASH cluster has been established in the area. This is a group of NGO’s (UN, Red Cross, Government of Haiti) looking after Water and Sanitation in the Gonaives area. They have welcomed our Havens presence as we have a good reputation for building and Gonaives badly needs latrines.

This morning at 6 am, Security gave me the all clear to return to Port au Prince as it was raining and the barricades were being abandoned. Worst luck, it had stopped raining by the time we hit the outskirts of the City and true to form the ‘manifestations’ had started again in earnest. Getting back to the safety of the house was greeted with a huge sigh of relief.

The Haven team are now on ‘lock down’ once again, we are all hoping the unrest will come to an end now that Haiti's Electoral Council (CEP) has just released a note to the press saying that a special recount for the first 3 candidates for President of Haiti: Michel Martelly, Mirlande Manigat, and Jude Celestin is being considered.
In the meanwhile we have plenty to keep us constructively occupied finalising project proposals for Phase 2 Rubble housing, permanent housing submissions to the Haiti Reconstruction Commission (HRC), Cholera proposals for IA, CGI reports and other such fun stuff you never really get around to on a normal day.

Joe Grealy just called from Quanaminthe to let me know we have our first suspected case of Cholera in Bas Dilaire. We made contact with our partners Plan International and they are providing super support.

Now, if only I had stocked the fridge with a few beers before heading to Gonaives! Ah well, roll on the Christmas party………..


Friday, December 3, 2010

We dont have snow but we do have politics...

PaP, 03rd. December

Hello from a scorching Haiti,

Ireland and Haiti have something in common this week; it’s definitely not the weather but rather that both country's political future is hanging in the balance.

On 28th November, the election took place for the next President of Haiti. A successor to Rene Preval has yet to be announced. Despite numerous allegations of vote rigging, the various organisations monitoring and observing the election seem happy with how the day proceeded and are confident that the result will be fair and valid.

The latest update put the musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly and the former first lady Mirlande Manigat at 39% and 31% respectively, with the preferred candidate the previous president René Préval, Jude Celestin, on 12%.

Despite some protests, both peaceful and otherwise in the run up to polling day, the event itself passed off in relative calm. Any anger or frustration was primarily directed at the Minustah, the UN stabilisation mission that has been blamed for various problems - from heavy-handed tactics to causing the cholera outbreak that has claimed the lives of 1,800 men, women and children, since mid October.

The count is currenlty ongoing, with a final result expected on 20th December. Meanwhile the people wait with baited breath.

Haven’s operations were unfortunately affected by security concerns due to the political tensions. The UN and various embassies sent regular updates warning us of potential flashpoints.

Our projects in Gonaives and Ouanaminthe have been particularly affected. The Haven expat team were on ‘lock-down’ for three days at the end of November. This has been totally frustrating for us, as our work plans and schedules seem now to be constantly disrupted due to these pockets of violence and tension which seem to start very easily.

We also have to bear in mind the safety of our national staff when demonstrations get out of hand. If we feel that our staff is under threat or in danger, we send them home until the situation returns to normal. This results in hours and days of productivity being lost as well as putting all of the team on edge.

Not only are the team on edge but our families also. This week my wife, Sinead and I decided that Port au Prince was no longer a safe place for the family to live. Unfortunately she and my two boys Reuben and Louie, left Haiti’s capital, late last week, bound for county Cork via New York and Bornacoola, Leitrim.

Despite all of the dramatics Haven is still ploughing ahead on our Transitional Shelter projects which are funded by American Red Cross, Plan international and Oxfam America. To date we have 100 T-Shelters completed, and another 600 to go. The pressure is on big time to try and increase production to 100 units per month by the end of January.

Housing construction and upgrades continue at Gonaives, Cabaret and Ti Riviere. Last big push before a well deserved Christmas holiday. Bring on the Turkey!

Our cholera mitigation programme is on-going, distributing hygiene kits, oral rehydration sachets, and holding hygiene promotion sessions in the campsites and schools in which we are working, as well as with beneficiaries in Ouanaminthe and Gonaives.

The PAHO has estimated that a massive 400,000 lives will be lost within 12 months of the epidemic taking hold. However they also stated that the rate of deaths from the infection has now slowed to 2.3%, down from 9%.

It may be dim, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Until next week!