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Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Trip to Haiti in 1985

Haiti mountains

I'm really unsure where to begin what is going to have to be a blog series. There is no way to condense my week in the horribly poor country of Haiti into one day. Yet, I don't want this to be a book, either. Well, here we go!

In 1985 I had the chance to go to Haiti on a short-term mission trip with Project Serve. They coordinated the trip with "Mission Possible" in Haiti. MP still serves Haiti and the Dominican Republic with seven schools. Our team was there for 7 days and we went to a different place every day. This is why it is very hard to condense the story into one post, but it gave us a great overview of the problems the Haitians faced, even without an earthquake.

The picture above is from the airplane- our first view of the mountains of Haiti. You will notice that they look very barren. They are. That condition is not due to their great height. It is a result of the stripping of the mahogany forests decades ago. The ecosystem was completely ruined, and the forests have never regrown. It is very difficult for people to even maintain subsistence lifestyles.

Haiti map

I'm assuming that since Haiti has been in the news so much this week that you don't need a locator map. So I'll just zoom in on the Baie du Port-au-Prince. You can see the numbers 1-7 in red. Those are all the places we worked: some city and some very remote. We acted as support for a medical team, but we had varied tasks.

Port-au-Prince Airport

We flew into the airport that has been so much in the news. It is very small, what you see in the picture is what there is. We flew in on a small jet from Miami, which parked on the tarmac, and we just walked down some roll-out steps and into the airport. It is my understanding that the tower came down in the earthquake. CNN quoted a pilot this week as saying "there was somebody on a radio somewhere in the airport who is trying to help kind of coordinate the landing of planes. But it is - it's literally just somebody on a radio and no one is sure where that person is." So when there have been so many complaints about flights not being able to land, there is a very real physical limit to the number of planes that can be on the ground before they just plain run out of room. I've heard reports today that they are landing an aircraft every 12 minutes. This is pretty amazing considering that they have to be unloaded. Seriously, this space isn't as big as the parking lot of some malls.

Haitian market

This was a typical sight that we saw almost every day. This is a marketplace. Does it look like it came from another century? (Well, technically is was... haha... I can't believe how long ago I took this trip), but this is how commerce is done pretty much everywhere outside of Port-au-Prince and a couple of other cities.

ladies cooking on charcoal burners

We spent a day at one of the largest Mission Possible schools in Montrois. These ladies were cooking the school lunches on the charcoal burners you see. They were fixing lunch for 700 people! For most of the kids at their schools, this was the only meal they would have for the entire day. At school they also had access to clean water which was trucked in and gravity fed from a large plastic tank on the property. The children proudly wore uniforms of white shirts and blue pants or skirts. This was like a badge of accomplishment for them. It meant that their family cared enough to make sure that they could go to school. Other schools were also orphanages, where the uniforms were provided.

Tomorrow I'll show you some of the tasks we did.


rainfield61 said...

This is the memory....

and now I see Haiti everywhere as when I see those donation boxes.

RNSANE said...

Oh, Shark, how wonderful that you were there over twenty years ago to help care for the poor of Haiti. It is so sad, to me, that conditions for them have barely improved in all these years. I think it so devastating to think there will never really be any way to account for all the numbers lost, families won't be able to properly mourn their dead, loved ones in other countries can't know what has happened to them, whether they burned in mass graves or if they are being care for in an outlying hospital, whether children have been flown to other countries. These are the things that break my heart.

wenn said...

a very good project!

Rick (Ratty) said...

This is a good beginning of what I can tell will be a very interesting series. I can only relate to being in a place like this through your blog posts. Though I've lived in several places, I've never had much of an opportunity to travel, even in my own country.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful beginning of the story, and experiences you're sharing. Personally story like this is my favorite!

Ann said...

What a wonderful experience that must have been. Look forward to hearing more of the story

Secondary Roads said...

The rape of Haiti's resources in a sad tale. At one time this was a wealthy country. What a pity that it was exploited and not managed properly. Already you are helping me to put the little that I know into a broader context. Thanks. Looking forward to the next installment.

VanillaSeven said...

That's a memorable trip you had Sharkie. I wish the problem there solved soon.

Sharkbytes said...

rainfield- I am honored if I have given you some pictures other than destruction and pain

Carmen- Haiti was such a mess even before the earthquake, I just don't know how they will ever sorwt it all out.

wenn- yes, it was a great project. I have always felt that we actually accomplished quite a bit.

Ratty- This is the only place I have been except Canada and the US. Maybe I'll tell more about how it happened that I went one day.

Ann- It was a time of learning. I'm very grateful that I got to go.

Chuck- Well, I am happy if this gives you a little perspective. In some ways the experiences are very outdated, but things have changed so little there that I think it isn't much different from recently.

Vanilla- The problems there won't be fixed soon at all. But I suspect that whatever is rebuilt will be much better than what was there.

Icy- Glad you like it so far!

The Silver Age Sara said...

You are taking me back in time certainly and I'm enjoying the series. My experiences in Haiti are vivid because of the children who live in such extreme poverty. Still, they always had the biggest smiles despite their circumstances. Just so very sad anyone has to live in such desperate circumstances.

Sharkbytes said...

Mountain Woman- You were there too sometime?

Matt Keegan said...

What a sad country. But what an interesting series. I have started to go through your articles and, even though your trip was 25 years ago, you give an excellent review of the country.

Somehow, even before the quake shattered so many lives, I believe that much of the greenery in the mountains had already been removed as people cut down trees for fire wood.

Sharkbytes said...

Matt- So glad you came by. Yes, the trees have been gone from the mountains for decades. It's amazing how slowly things change in a culture like that.