You too can make a difference – Fintan’s Story

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You too can make a difference – Fintan’s Story

I joined the Espwa Halloween team at Dublin Airport, initially with Kieran, Mags, Marie and later at our New York connection with Joe.  After some 9 hours flight time we arrived safely at Toussaint Louverture Airport.  We collected our luggage successfully from reclaim, but I learned I needed a docket (from Dublin) to match the label on the bag to navigate through Airport security; much to my chagrin, a docket I did not have! After a very discrete group huddle, we pooled our luggage onto a trolley and approached security.  After some cajoling by Espwa team leaders, and no doubt helped by our matching Espwa hoodies and t-shirts we were waved through, much to my relief out into the hot air of Port au Prince.

There we were chaperoned by the vibrant Michelle, a physiotherapist stationed in the Capital, onto the team bus for our journey to Kenscoff.  The distance is about 10 miles as the crow flies, but the mountains seem to stretch out of nothing into the sky so we prepared for a 2 hour plus road trip.  The volume of traffic was thick and the rules of the road apparently thin, we had an excellent driver who seemed to traverse the route by skill and his wits than any well-defined system; no traffic lights or roundabouts, malfunctioned cars abandoned in the middle of the road!  My nerves not helped by the suggestion that traffic coming downhill were freewheeling to conserve fuel!  More likely given the fuel crisis engulfing the country, we would learn in Kenscoff that the Mains power would be switched on and off ad-hoc as a measure to cope with the crisis.  The whole journey seemed to be lined with people walking the roads or manning mildly stocked containers of supplies.  The famed tap taps a regular sight on the route, people hanging out the back.  We did pass an affluent area of high walls, one house in particular had armed police on the road outside (which seemed to me to scream attention than add to any sense of security).

We arrived in Kenscoff to much excitement from local kids and people and were warmly greeted by Gena (NPH Director), Philip (maintenance) and Norma (senior physiotherapist).  After dropping off the luggage at our retreat and catching the breath-taking mountain scenery that served as a backdrop, we were brought around to survey the proposed workload for the week.  3 x small extensions to living quarters within the Kenscoff complex to improve living space and air circulation to counteract mould which surfaces easily in the more temperate and humid Kenscoff climate.  Also, a job of transplanting grass to thwart the effects of heavy rain.  If there was any suspicion that the work of Espwa was done before we arrived through their provision of supplies and financing of the construction project and labour for the upcoming week, this was dispelled fairly quickly; it was very much roll up the sleeves from the beginning.

I was nervous about my limited construction skills (even though I work for a building products company!), and hoped to find a level that could be useful.  Joe has a background in the construction industry and was a massive leader on the project having a handle on all aspects, Kieran clearly honed his construction skills on his many trips to Haiti, Mags great at bringing order and keeping people motivated (refer to the blog of the chief blocklayer!!).  Espwa take great care that all work is done to the highest specification.  Myself and Marie as newcomers, weighed in with the local contracting team as best we could, labouring.  I found the Haitian team very hard working, skilled, enjoyed the banter; essentially no different to anyone else from anywhere.

I was determined to take on any instruction from Gena intently, although she can communicate a message very clearly, I eventually gathered that most of the time she was simply slagging me!  But, I was not the only one, I recall her addressing 5 or 6 local contractors in creole, although I didn’t understand the conversation, all men broke down laughing and poking each other in jest, they were a bit quicker on the uptake.

Philip was a huge help on location of tools and supplies from Stores, liaising with local tradesmen.  His work as joiner on the project was key, even though he claims it is far from a joiner he is (he does it better that make coffee!!).

Michelle, Norma, Gena no stranger to the shovel, wheelbarrow or paintbrush; everyone mucked in.  The complex is very much a community, everybody genuinely interested in each other and a good sense of camaraderie.  Given Haiti’s relative proximity to the equator, night seemed to fall very quickly so the team made the most of what light there was.  Days would arise very suddenly too (a bit more quickly thanks to an out-of-sync cock crowing somewhere in the vicinity!)

We rounded off the week with a variety show from the kids in the Orphanage, clearly a lot of talent being nurtured.  In return (in my case at least) we demonstrated a lack of talent on the dance floor.

People in the Orphanage were great all week, so honest and open always ready to greet you with a fist bump, high five or a ‘Bonjour’.  Kids mad to help out on the hard labour.

Job on the grass transplant was complete and works on the house well on its way to completion when we were leaving; Espwa leaders were happy in the knowledge that Ernst and his men would complete the job capably in coming weeks.

As a group we attended mass celebrated by Father Rick in Port-au-Prince before leaving, his sermon injected a sense of front line realism of the problems facing Haiti and the dangers inherent to people committed to volunteering their services.  Myself and Marie as newcomers were lucky to be given a tour of the facilities in Port-au-Prince.  Although the paediatric hospital operates on a shoe-string it is a proper functioning facility providing valuable services.  We also observed an impressive new gym, helped financed through a Spanish Agency and were lucky to meet three of their representatives.  Also had the pleasure of meeting Damian, service provider through Haven.

The trip taught me that although it may seem like a drop in the ocean, if you try you can make a difference or that at the very least there is a value in simply trying.  (Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better).  The greatest asset in Haiti is its people; but they will benefit from a helping hand from Agencies like NPH, VC and support from Espwa.

I would like to thank Gena and Kieran particularly for mobilising my involvement in the trip initially, but also all the people I met along the way volunteers and locals, just for being themselves!!  Maybe a special word for Immacula and the wonderful food served up.  The experience was the trip of a lifetime.