I have been processing what I experienced since my return to the USA from Haiti. I keep bringing up different aspects of the trip to Joan and the kids, and thought, why not write a blog where I ask myself the questions, I want to answer.
Here is an interview of myself. Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and why you did this.
A: I work for a wonderful company, Cisco, that for a few years have offered 40 hours to each employee to use for giveback. As long as you were giving back, you could use these hours and not impact your vacation. I had used them before, but this year you could feel that the leadership wanted us to use them all. Dave Wooster, a college at work goes with his church since 2009, and another college of mine, Sean Ryan went and spoke highly of it. So with faith in Dave and his church team, I wanted do more than the food banks that I previously did, and invested in this giveback.
(Left to right: Dave Wooster, Colleen Dwyer, Bobby Zaki, and me)
Q: Do you feel you had an impact?
A: Yes. Paint cost over twice as much as in the USA. The Average Haiti income for 3 months would not pay for the 5 gallon pale of paint we used. This and volunteers painting the dorms for them, has 1000x impact as painting a room for charity in the USA.
Beyond what I did in painting and assisting in some wiring, what the medical team did and the Vacation Bible School, we had an impact.
Q: What would you do different?
A: Pack different. I thought I was going to do one thing, ended up doing something else and realized that I should have just brought old clothes and adapted.
Q: Would you recommend a parent sending a Teen / Young Adult there?
A: That is a BIG question. First that is a decision that each parent needs to make on their own after doing as much research as possible, and knowing their child. I would recommend that the child understand that it is not like the USA/Canada, and to listen to their in-country support. If they say do not do something, LISTEN. You put your safty into the team you are traveling with, so know them, and know who they know there.
Q: What was the country like?
A: Great question, I do not know. We visited a lot of places, but, not enough to even know what all of Port-au-Prince is ‘like’.
The areas we were in were depressing. There was no garbage pick up, so piles of trash where common, burning at night. Dust is in the air due to the dirt on the roads. Everything has a coating of it. I will speak of the security that we had, and we saw, yet I saw no crime of any kind beyond traffic violations. People could leave the mules and donkeys loosely tied while they went shopping and no one touched them. Goats, pigs and chickens roamed the street, with marking indicating who owned them. No locking them up to protect them.
Q: If you needed to describe it in one word what would that be?
A: Abandoned. The country feels abandoned. With the lack of public works, the roads are beyond potholes, the road disappears, and then reappears. Trash is everywhere, as there is no trash pickup.
Q: You mentioned traffic violations, how was the traffic.
A: Bizzarre! No sense of lanes, push your way in, if there is 1cm clearance you’re good. People tap the side of the car to let you know they are there, as they walk right beside you. Horns are used as a thank you. Drivers roll down the window to get traffic reports from other drivers, to plan their route. Beautiful new (unfinished) cement highway turns to a road block as the underground culvert is still being build and blocks the road, so the drivers go up onto the sidewalk, and around it. Truck repairs of wheels to axles are done in the street with others moving around them. And NO ACCIDENTS…
A: I only saw, two stop signs, with STOP written on them. First, there was only two on a single intersection, and that the word STOP was in english. I thought this was odd, turns out STOP is the word to stop in Creole.
Q: What was one of the most upsetting things that you saw.
A: Two items. The US built a medical clinic in 2009, and equipped it, and due to funding, never operated it. The team used it as a clinic location while we were there, and William is looking for his charity to take control. The Construction team was evaluating the building condition and what it needed. To see these stickers, and know we did virtually nothing with the dollars spent.
The second is the environmental impact we have. This is not any different in Haiti then at home, but when you look a two bags of water bottles that we collected from two days of use for the clinic, and realize that these, and every wrapper I take off of every snack will be in those trash piles.
Q: Asked a different way. what was the most disturbing thing for you on the trip?
A: Let me answer in three ways. First for me, I like to be prepared, and I did not know what to expect before I went, and while there, so that played against my psyche. Second is while I was there, I would get up early in the morning (4:30am to the horror of my room mates), and write the blog, cull the photos, and at 6am walk around the court yard and talk to Joan in the USA. I realized in around Saturday or Sunday (3rd or 4th day) that I was a prisoner. I was behind a 20 foot wall with barbwire, big steal gate, armed Gard at the date
We travel to the orphanage where once again, a large 20’ steal gate was opened by an armed guard, and We were let in, and ‘secured’. Unlike all of my other travels, I was restricted, and confined. It was for my safety, and I understand, but that ‘got to me’. Third, and the most sad, was when Bobby asked where the children go after they leave the orphanage, to hear that ‘most’ of the young ladies will end up in prostitution, was extremely disturbing.
Q: Do you think there is hope for the country based on the sliver of Haiti you saw?
A: The small business / entrepreneurial spirit is so high. Every sidewalk is lined with people that are selling goods. The government is full of corruption and is unstable so international business is reluctant to invest. Like so many other countries, if there is corruption in government then the country get stuck. If a textile company wanted to take advantage of cheap labor, and the closeness to USA, they would risk loosing all of the plant on the next government turn over. That being said, when you see the good nature of the people, the desire to do more, setting up shop on the sidewalks to build their wealth, I believe there is much hope. Also there are people like the ones I travel with that support efforts of William Lowry who set up so many support organizations for the country. My Neighbor’s Children and Clean the World . Here is a great article on what he has done. William was our host in Haiti, and I thank him for all he does.
Q: What was the housing like that you stayed at?
A: This goes to the country feels abandoned. The house was once gorgeous, and still is very nice. Furniture was great, bedroom doors shut securely, but bathroom doors were missing handles and some stuck and could not shut. In one room (not mine) missing shower curtain and no light. Both EASILY fixed before we left. There was no hot water in the house. As Dave discovered in trying to hook up the hot water tank, the building was actually two buildings connected, each with their own plumbing. The staff were incredible, I would get up at 4:30, and after a QUICK shower with COLD water, to sit, write and blog. The staff as soon as they saw me would get a pot of coffee, provide me with a mug, saucer and hot Haiti Coffee (which is VERY Good)
Q: You had the opportunity to have a night out, What was eating out like?
A: The restaurant was part of a motel / hotel (picture 1960/70’s Motel) over by the American Embassy. Like all residences, we needed to approach the steal gate with armed guard and be let in. Once in, it was like being anywhere in USA / Canada. Small path with grass (not much of that in Haiti), lead to the glass walled restaurant in the center courtyard of the motel rooms, and beside the pool. We sat at two tables as there were 20ish of us, and the Pizza was thin crust with Diet Coke and ICE! (I advoided ice and most water as it will not agree with you. Ice, open your mouth in the shower, all is not in your best interest)
Q: You have a lot of street photos, were you able to walk all around?
A: No, these were all taken from the safety of our van, through the darkened windows.
Q: What did you like the best?
A: Easy, the children. They were amazingly, well behaved, grateful of what we did, and our help. I took a photo printer with me and paper. With the iPhone I could take a picture, and PRINT it.
I needed to create some order, as all of the children from 4-14 were swarming me ‘picture, Kevin, me, picture’. I would pick three, “un deux trois” while pointing, the others would scream ‘quatre’ and point to themself, no, “un deux trois”, then take photo(s) of the first, and after they were good with the photo and it printed, Deux would scream, ‘un, un’ and the others would all be ‘trois, trois’.
The simple one two three, was all the order that was need for these children of various ages, to wait and get their photos. Sixty plus photos, with the printer running out of paper every 10 photos, and needed to be reloaded, and over heating in the 95+ temperature, but what fun…
Q: What was the most surprising thing?
A: How ineffective I am when I can not communicate. Being a geek, I am all the time faced with making analogies for people to understand what I am talking about, but mimes, slow talking and translators, EVEN GOOGLE TRANSLATOR, can not replace knowing the language. An hour of back and forth to explain that the latex paint we were using on the dorms could not be mixed with the acrylic paint we used on the rails.
Q: Would you go back?
A: That is a tough question. With the lack of communications on my part, I feel that I was limited on my impact. I know I helped, I know my presence was impactful, but, I wish I could have taught more, explained more, and learned more from the people of Haiti. That is the number one inhibitor for me to go back. I need to know French or Creole.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Yes, if you have read this and made it to this point, you ether know me, or are thinking of going to somewhere similar. You probably should. Research and make sure you can trust those that you are going with, and are hosting you. We grow from being uncomfortable. This was a major growth for me. I made new friends, I learned, I witnessed, I spent a week in an environment so different from mine, I release control to others, I had faith.
Thank You to;
Valorie Buttler Ron Chapman Katia Coley Colleen Dwyer Silvia Sicalo Eddy Sicalo Caryn Wooster Dave Wooster Elizabeth Wooster Glenn Gibb Mandy Gibb David Wheeler Betty Wheeler Bobby Zaki Jasmine Henriquez William Lowry
For being my Haiti family.