'Getting to work' Haiti Hurricane disaster response part 2/3


Nothing ever went to plan, it never does in the post disaster setting. We couldn't be as productive as we’d like to have been with a lot of time wasted waiting around. Each morning our drivers would turn up very late after struggling to find fuel or buy us water for the day. Post hurricane supplies were limited and prices inflated due to the shortage and more so for foreigners. En route we’d get stuck in traffic, or the mud. Roads that were passable one day were not the next after overnight flooding. Some days we didn't start ‘work’ until lunchtime. It was incredibly frustrating but all very normal in a post disaster setting. 

We were given tasks by a local charity who knew the area very well and directed us to where our skills could best be put to use. We were tasked with reaching the very remote villages who hadn't yet received any help due to difficulty accessing their location. To reach one hill top village we hiked for 4 hours from the end of the dirt road up the river with frequent knee high water crossings. With us we’d have to haul planks of wood, buckets of nails, sheets of tin for roofing, ladders and medical supplies on our shoulders in 35 degree heat, in intense humidity. To add to our weight, we had to carry a minimum of 3 litres of water with us as there was none we could safely drink once there.


We hired a boat for a 40 minute ride to reach a sleepy fishing village as the access road was completely un-passable due to a massive land slide during the hurricane. As we arrived the whole community greeted us on the beach, ready to help.

The consequences of the road being blocked was huge for the community. Before the hurricane the men of the village made a very modest living by selling their fish at market. I met a fisherman on the beach who was repairing his net. Through our translator he told me that he was 46, but he looked much older. His eyes were tired, the wrinkles on his forehead deep and he only looked at me once during our brief conversation. He was a broken man, a hungry man who had lived in this village all his life. He told me that all the fish had died during the storm when they were washed up onto the beach and stranded. Many of their boats were destroyed.


As soon as the storm had passed, they needed to eat and the whole village went fishing. Not only did they catch nothing, but the new debris under the water from the hurricane tore their nets. They salvaged the ones they could and now tired to repair the nets with cut off pieces from other nets that washed ashore. He hadn’t caught a single fish since the hurricane had struck three weeks ago. There is no other work in the village and his family were starving. Even if he could catch fish, the road was blocked so he couldn't sell them. He and his family with six children were surviving on coconuts and rice. They had no source of food except aid that was bought to them.


Despite the serve lack of food, the children of the village had bundles of energy. There were tearing up and down the beach giggling, playing tag with their friends, jumping in the river and swimming, ferrying us and our tools across the river in hand built, wooden, dug out canoes. After work had finished for the day I was playing chase with the children when I came across a woman with a baby only a few days old. She had given birth alone in the shack she currently stood in, an almost empty, single room of concrete with no roof and exposed metal rods protruding from the 3 walls. She was beaming with the pride of a proud mother as we made a fuss of the little bundle she held tightly to her chest. Our chain sawyers removed the ginormous tree that had fallen inside her house. She was so grateful, despite the fact that their ‘House’ had no roof and not one complete wall.  


We rebuilt the village school from its foundations and cleared away the obstructing large pieces of debris with the chain saws. Our team and the locals worked as one, hammering nails into the new roof and passing up the tin roof sheets. I’d only made a couple of strokes with the paint brushes before a child wanted to take over the fun. In the end, the whole team stood back and watched as the children of the village took great delight and pride in painting their new school.

Back in the capital of Port Au Prince, the affectionately named the ‘air donkeys’ of our team continued delivering food aid to remote communities via helicopter with our partners as the weather allowed. Our last project was at an orphanage for 32 children, aged between 10 months and 18 years. Most of the children living there weren't orphans, most had been taken there by their families who could not afford to feed them, or they were simply found living in the rubbish dumps.   

Off a small court yard the children sleep in 2 rooms packed tightly with bunk beds, lined with dirty mattresses and no sheets, one room for the boys and the other for the girls. Every child shared a bed with at least one other. The room was smelly and barren, a dark empty space with no lights, filled only with bare, rusty bunk beds. There were no toys, no colourful paint or pictures adorning the walls. Most of the children were not yet toilet trained and therefore relived themselves on the spot, the older children used a hole in the ground but often missed the target. It was squalor. At night they are alone and look after each other.The roof in the bedroom was so old and damaged every time it rained the roof leaked, soaking all their beds with dirty water. 

We constructed a new, leak free roof and our medical professionals conducted heath checks on all the children, treating them for ring worm, skin conditions, infections and any other simple aliments. We also made removable covers for the drains that the children were using as toilets so they didn’t fall in them anymore.