Little did we know when Kieran Tansey and I were planning our trip to visit the orphanage and continue the great work done on previous trips, to improve the access for wheelchair users to the rest of the schools and orphanage did we know the people of Haiti would be hammered by yet again by another natural disaster.
Hurricane Mathew hit Haiti on the 17th October, with winds of 230kph and torrential ran for 2 days it was hard to see how the huts and dwellings could survive and the people could manage to secure their families and possessions. As the news reached our TV screens the full extent revealed itself, our thoughts turned to the all of the people we have met on our travels in Haiti. In the coming day as the storm moved on to Miami and the worlds media moved on to the next story it seemed that Haiti yet again would be forgotten and left to carry on regardless amid fears of cholera outbreaks and struggling with the lack of a basic human requirement, clean drinking water.
Our first priority was to see if there was anything we could bring with us that might make some small difference and help. Gena had a list of clothes and some sports equipment for the orphanage but was wondering if we could source some water purification tablets to distribute in the area. After a quick search in the internet we were amazed to find that the biggest producer of water purification tablets in the World has a factory in the sunny southeast of Ireland, Wexford. After a quick mail followed up by a call we were able to agree the best type of tablet and the deal was done, we had 46,000 Aquatabs to bring to Haiti in our luggage, enough to purify approx. 1,150,000 litres of water.
So finally the day arrived, loaded with as many bags and cases as our tickets allowed and armed with a baggage waiver from Aer Lingus for 2 extra cases we met-up in Dublin airport for the trip to Haiti. A note of thanks to Brendan Flynn for supplying our tee shirts and hoodies with the ESPWA logo, It’s amazing how many people both in Dublin and new York who ask what we do and who we are after seeing the logo.
We landed in Port Au Prince airport to the usual chaos in the baggage area but were soon out with all bags intact, as we came out the front door we could see Gena and Norma waiting for us and whisked us to Minibus and with all of the bags loaded we were off through the streets of PAP and up through Petitionville , after a brief stop to pick up some supplies we were up into the mountains and clouds and the Orphanage.
Kiaran had been very descriptive of the views and the vista that surrounded, but unfortunately we were surrounded by clouds after a sudden downpour so I would have to wait until the next day to take it all in. We had just got settled and unpacked a when we had a visit from some old friends from Haven, John and Ailish, who were out for a stroll in the National Park with some friends taking a well-deserved rest after all of the relief work they had been doing since the Hurricane. The relayed some of the horrifying stories of the devastation they had seen in the south of the country and on Ille A Vache. All too soon they were off and we headed off to bed ready for the week ahead.
Monday Morning 5.30 am the first glimpses of the sun were visible behind the mountains and the picture Kieran and described was unveiling itself from the rocky escarpments of the top of the mountains to the green lush valley floor, the sounds of the valley waking up and starting their daily toil. A beautiful wispy veil of cloud was drifting through the trees and for the first time I realised just how high up we were at approximately 5000 feet. We could hear the sounds of the children in the orphanage moving around doing their chores.
After a quick breakfast of Kieran’s amazing Porridge with cinnamon and star anise and tea and bread with homemade peanut butter, we were off up the hill to see Gena and have a walk of the proposed work and meet the team of local lads we would work with for the week.
Main focus for us was the road up the hill directly outside Gena’s house this was in poor condition with lots of pot holes and pieces of concrete breaking up in sections, an old garage pit used for working on the trucks that had become a hazard for the kids needed to be filled in, there was also an area at the back of the house which was holding water and a cement sink for washing pots which was too high and was not fit for purpose.
After dividing up the team we set about getting started breaking up the top layer from the road and removing and loose soil and rocks, armed with picks shovels and sledge hammers it was soon apparent that most of the concrete was breaking up very easily and would not pose much opposition however in other areas we had some rock, thankfully we had the use of a Kango an this made relatively light work of it. And the pit we needed to fill became a home for the spoil that was removed.
At the same time we were clearing the area behind the house digging out the soil and getting down to a level we could fill with concrete and build a shutter to fill and close off an old drain. First batch mixed and filled and levelled and floated.
During each day we break in the morning and at lunch, our host Immacula had prepared the most delicious meals, I joked with Kieran that I had come to Haiti to loose weight and it wouldn’t be happening this week based on the feast that was on offer each day, flavoursome, comforting homely food and plenty of it.
Day 2, started in much the same way beautiful views fortifying breakfast and then off to finishing off the stripping of the top layer on the road and finishing off the shutter lid and well as knocking a hole in the wall for drainage. By now we had almost filled the pit and had started laying out the bays ready for pouring the new cement for the road. Today we were joined by some of the older lads from the orphanage who had no school the lads had worked with ESPWA before and were well versed in what was needed and were eager to hone their skills.
This is where the machine really kicks in the mix is agreed sand, cement and stone and the lads start building the piles for mixing, shovels picks and wheelbarrows all handed out and the ballet begins, first the piles of sand stone and cement are mixed dry then water is added and all mixed using the shovels and picks back breaking work but the lads seem to have endless energy and mix all day phenomenal really. The steady procession of wheelbarrows fills each bay followed by levelling and floating, and edging then then on to the next one.
The rest of the week became a blur of shovels, picks, wheelbarrows and as the remaining sections were formed and filled the occasional stop for the lads doing the levelling to discuss the consistency of the mix or whether it was too wet or dry punctuated with shouts of “n ale, n ale” which means “Let’s go, let’s go” and off they go again.
The last job each evening is to cover the wet sections with tarps to protect it from the heavy rainfall.
As the week was drawing to a close the road was coming together like a strange jigsaw and we were down to filling the last few bay’s we turned to have a looked the finishing off the last few jobs on the list , the garage pit which had been filled with all of the rocks and old cement from the road was capped and screened. The area behind the house was finished off and all that was left was to move the pot washing sink. After a quick chat with some of the crew we decided to leave this until the last day when we could all assist in carrying it to its new more suitable home. We had estimated that we would need all of us to move it and the cast concrete base as it was not only going to be heavy but it was in a tight space and would awkward to manoeuvre, however it wasn’t to be. I can sum up this very amusing incident as follows,
The full team assembled and discussed the task.
Each option was discussed, justified and critiqued.
The task started.
Some heated discussions.
Lots of laughing and slagging.
A sledge hammer broke the base into small pieces and we started building a new sink from scratch
Finally we had a look at the roof of Gena’s House which needs some repairs due to leaks causing dampness below. We took a video of the roof for the rest of the team to evaluate and we will be putting a plan in place to rectify this.
Like any trip to Haiti you are left with memories make you smile, one of the ones from this trip was seeing the kids assemble each morning, outside their school in lines waiting for class to start, all chattering away to each other and dressed in their spotless school uniforms with the rucksacks waiting for the teacher to give the signal to start the day the same way as it starts every day, the raising of the National flag and singing the national anthem , standing tall and proud until the end some feat for a bunch of 5 to 8 year olds while a couple of scruffy Irish lads are standing over you with a camera capturing every note. A few more songs, a hug for everyone and off into class in order which would remind you of a queue in Disneyland , all in a neat line but eager and exited to get into class.
There is some much more I could write about this trip every time I type something I remember another funny or sad memory. But that’s Haiti a county of contrasts, beautiful lush green mountains to dry arid areas and the diversity and strength of its people make it a colourful and interesting place. The Haitian’s have a saying “Dye Mon, Gen Mon” or “Beyond the mountain is another mountain” . But they continue to climb and do whatever it takes to concur the mountains.
Thanks to all the Family, Friends and everyone who helped, supported, contributed or donated. Thanks to my long suffering traveling companion Kieran Tansey for the amazing porridge and the craic and the Captain. Thanks to Gena, Norma and Immacula for looking after us so well.
ESPWA will be traveling to Kenscoff again in 2017 to continue the much needed repairs.