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Some posters that made me smile this week. March 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 11:04 pm

First, one seen at a community event to celebrate World Water Day.

“Welcome to you Kate. We are verry happy to see you. We like the project. [in Creole] Water is life”.

Next, seen at the training workshop for carpenters and masons, on the subject of disaster resistant building techniques. Their evaluation of the training course …..  “We love it”.


Building back better ….

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 10:53 pm

“Building back better” is a buzz word in my industry, much as “Do no harm” guides the actions of Doctors. We shouldn’t just restore people to their previous state of poverty, but ensure that what is restored is an improvement to their life – restoring their dignity as well as those things which they lost in the earthquake.

We are trying to build new homes for vulnerable people in the community; most of our beneficiaries are elderly, disabled, or both. As part of this process we are mobilising skilled tradespeople from within those communities, training them in techniques of construction which produce shelters which are both hurricaine and earthquake resistant. Yesterday I went to see some of the training which our team was doing; watching them teach health and safety standards to a group of rural carpenters was quite bizarre, but then seeing the carpenters take on the learning about methods of improving the strength of a house, as they constructed paper models so enthusiastically, I realised that what we are doing here is vital. We don’t need to build back better, if we teach the people to build back better themselves.

I have been out to visit some of the shelters we are building. One is for an elderly, disabled woman – and her grown-up, disabled son. I have attached a photo of their home from before the ‘tremblement de terre’, and the one we have now built them. In the interim they were living in a shack made from the remnants of their homes, perhaps 3m squared. We have built back better for them – their new house has bigger floor space, and will resist disaster – but have we helped them better their lives? Before the earthquake they lived in poverty, with no income except what Wilfred earned through begging on the road; now, they have a shelter, but they still live in it in poverty, with no livelihood. As we are now starting to plan our projects for the next project year, these questions come into my mind, and I wonder if the donors who give us the funds will feel the same way. ….


The teachers become the students. January 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 4:50 pm

I have a staff member called Archelet, who is one of my Education Supervisors. Last October he asked if I would come and see his teacher’s training, the next time he did it, and I agreed. Sure enough, last week he called in my promise, and on Friday I went to a school, which we had built, to see more than 200 teachers learning and discussing together.

I come from a family of teachers – both my Mum and my sister are teachers – so I have always felt a certain level of respect for the commitment required from teachers. We support more than 100 schools, which totals almost 600 teachers – many of whom don’t know when their next paycheque is coming, as it depends on when the children can afford to pay their school fees. 90% of the schools in Haiti are private, and as the limited number of Government schools could never accomodate all the children in the Country, parents are forced to send their children to fee paying schools. Of the 100 schools we support, for example, 99 are privatley owned.

The subjects we are teaching the teachers this month will help them to improve the educational quality in their schools, in a country which still teaches by rote; we are teaching child/educational psychology, dealing with the stigmatism of children at school (for example if they have HIV or cholera) and alternative/interactive teaching methods.  At the moment I have a French teacher, who started to teach us by rote – memorising and repeating verb tables, independantly of any context or variety. A couple of weeks ago we asked him to teach us differently, and having experienced the new, contextual, interactive style, I have recognised what an aid this is to learning. I feel that I am making progress, rather than just failing to adequatley memorise tables,  for which I am unsure the context of when I should use them.

Often when I have visited training sessions, in other countries where I have worked, it is a room of tired people – indeed, sometimes they are often asleep at the back of the room by the afternoon! – who are just waiting for their free lunch. When I arrived at the school on Friday it was three classrooms full of animated discussions, laughter and concentrated  learning.  I was impressed, happy and very, very proud of my dedicated team.


Protests and a providential truck. January 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 12:11 am

The more alert of you – if indeed I have any followers left after such a long break – may have noticed that it has been some time since I last blogged. For this I can only apologise, swear that I’ll be more considerate of my adoring public in future, and promise to update you now on the reasons for the interval. I notice that I last blogged on 5th December, which is shortly before the country went to the polls to vote in their new President. As you may have seen on the news at the time, the results which were announced were not pleasing to everyone and many of them took to the streets in protest. Unfortunately for me and some of my colleagues, one of these road blockades was on the road between the mountains and Leogane town, so we became stuck up in the hills – with only one change of clothes and a very limited supply of teabags. The situation was grave indeed.

The first day that I was forced to drink coffee, we made our escape.

I called my contact at the UN and told him that we were going to walk across the mountains to freedom, in the manner of ‘The sound of music’. He told me that I had an ‘indomitable spirit’ and wished me well. Myself, two international colleagues and 13 Haitian colleagues all left our compound prepared to walk an anticipated 4 hours to Leogane – and came face-to-face with a banana truck. A quick negotiation with the driver saw me and the other expats hidden amongst the bananas, with the Haitian staff around us as a human shield. We drove the 18 kms in that way, through three road blocks (which were moved to make way for trade, but not for internationals), and got to Leogane undiscovered. A walk along the main road, and we were home – to a shower, a change of clothes and a cup of tea. Several cups of tea. Throughout the whole experience, we were never in any real danger. The most you could say about the International community during that time is that we were in the way; we weren’t the target, and we weren’t blamed. We hibernated in the guesthouse in Leogane for several days, laying low and letting things blow over – which they did.

The issues occurred because there were 3 main candidates; Madame Manigat (a former Senator and First Lady), Jude Celestin (the son-in-law of the current President, and also of his political party) and ‘Sweet Micky’ (a pop singer, who enjoys giving the message of his manifesto via song, often wearing drag). Only the first two would go through to the run-off vote, and Sweet Micky’s supporters were not happy that their man had come in 3rd. As it turns out, they were right to be angry – an independent recount shows that Sweet Micky did come in 2nd, and Celestin had fixed the vote to get through. After a few nervous weeks of deliberation, Celestin dropped out of the race yesterday – to the discontent of no-one, proving probably that he did pay his ‘supporters’ after all. We await the date to be set for the final vote to decide on the President; if Sweet Micky doesn’t win, we can expect more violence.

Since coming back after Christmas I have been so busy with the project, but also have so many stories to tell – things are getting exciting as we are starting to build houses, repair roads, help farmers with seeds, plant tree nurseries, help communities establish businesses, and finish up all our school construction. Tomorrow, I will start to tell you a few – but until then, here is a photo of a distribution we did today of Household Repair kits, to victims of Hurricane Tomas which passed through last November. Each kit contained wood, plastic sheeting, rope, nails, nurricane strapping (which holds the roof on for next time) and a blanket. Thank God, the distribution passed off smoothly (sometimes they can get a bit wild) and we look forward to giving out more in the next couple of weeks – to 300 families in total.


Carrying gifts from afar. December 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 5:00 pm

Yesterday I thought I’d help transport materials to one of our school construction sites. It was a Saturday so our drivers weren’t in work, I can drive, and I must have been filled with the Christmas spirit or something, so I volunteered. It turned out to be an interesting day, and one of unexpected beauty.

We started out at out warehouses loading timber; from there we drove for about 2 hours to get to the first drop-off point. This is as far as a truck can go. Even though I have been working here for quite a while now, and do know how far the distances we operate in are, it never fails to strike me just how remotely we do work. I talk about it all the time in meetings – “Remember, we work in remote and inaccessible areas, so we can’t produce that report as qucikly as you can if you just need to walk around a camp where everyone lives close together” – but everytime I experience it, it amazes me anew. Especially travelling in the pick-up trucks. Each truck has a maximum load; for example either 10 bags of cememnet, or 16 2x4s.

Once we had reached the first drop-off point, a pick-up truck is needed to shuttle the materials to a second drop-off site and can only carry it’s maximum load each time. It is 40 minutes drive to the second drop-off point, and as an example – we have 300 bags of cememnet to move. At 10 bags a time, and the ability to do about 3 trips in a working day, it would take one pick-up truck 2 weeks to move it all – and that’s just the cement, to say nothing of the huge amount of timber!

Oh, but what a drive! I haven’t done any offroading for about 3 or 4 years, and it was quite fun to shift the Hilux into 4 wheel drive and navigate a dramatic mountain path, with sheer drops down one side and mountainsides on the other. And the scenary! In three return trips to the second drop-off site I did not get bored of it; the rolling mountain, and long views out to the ocean …. it reminds me of what a fertile country this is, and what a privilidge it is to be able to be working here.

But once the materials reach the second drop-off point, their journey is not yet over. From there, the communities carry the materials by hand to the school site – a further three hour walk (and that’s when you aren’t encumbered with a bag of cement or a 2×4). The commitment of the communities continues to amaze me; they carry their school peice by peice, for hours up and down the mountains, so that their children can learn.

One day I will do that walk ….. when I have more time. It is such a busy time here, and I am now into my final week before my Christmas Leave. The cholera crisis has put new pressures on the team, and with the elections causing disturbances and delays in work, November was a difficult month. I wish I had more time now to be able to do more of what I did yesterday; acting as driver and translator, in the front line of the work, and really understanding by experience rather than getting only snippets of experience with which I go into meetings and defend my team and the excellent job they’re doing. With a new year will come new opportunities, and I mean to make the most of them.


Cholera, Tomas, and finding the energy to keep on going. November 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 9:55 pm

As you might have seen on the news, it’s been a busy couple of weeks in Haiti, which accounts for my lack of blogging. Yesterday morning I slept until 11.30am and woke up amazed I had slept so long … but when I left my room and found the front door closed, and the generator off, I realised that I was the first person awake! It has been a hard time, and it’s not over yet. We are still responding the hurricane and the cholera epidemic is heading towards us; with everyones attention focussed on hurricane Tomas, the cholera took the opportunity to thrive and spread.

We watched the hurricane for more than a week before it arrived. It was quite the tease, first of all being a tropical storm and we all breathed easy, then upgrading to category 3 and we were all put on edge again, and so it went on. Then it was heading away from us, then back towards us ….. Tomas certainly liked to keep us guessing. Meanwhile, we had to prepare. I seemed to be in endless co-ordination meetings with the UN and other Agencies, be it about cholera or hurricane preparedness. My base manager took the reins on preparing our compounds for the onslaught, and we prepared to hunker down and ride it out. And then it arrived. And I pretty much slept through it. We went to bed on Thursday night and when we woke up, the worst had gone by.

It was like a wet day in Yorkshire on Friday, and where we were in the lowlands, it was earily calm. [In the mountains it was a different story, but we were all down here]. The temperature was lovely, cool enough to wear jeans and trainers, sleep under a sheet and drink endless cups of tea (not there is ever a wrong temperature for drinking endless cups of tea, but you get my meaning). If it wasn’t for the devastation caused elsewhere, I would say that hurricanes were quite enjoyable.

On Saturday morning we woke up and headed out in teams to assess our projects areas. It is obvious that the mountain regions have lost some agricultre, specifically bean crops and banana trees. The people up there are really very concerned and think the loss is catastrophic and complete; in reality we estimate maybe a 30% harvest loss this winter season (the main growing season starts in March). The UN have started a full scale assessment this week to find out the reality, and make suggestions. Some people have lost their tents and roofs and we are taking names now so that we can assista with plastic sheetings and new tents. In the river, lowlands areas we saw the most damage. Severe flooding had caused many houses to be washed through with water and mud slides, displacing families until the rivers go down. Even today they are high, and we are not able to access some of our working areas.

But, even with all this, I give thanks to God, because it is far from as bad as it could have been. There were no deaths or injuries in our area, and although there have been some families suffer with damamge to their shelter, no-one has found their home totally destroyed. The agriculture loss is a concern, but not an immidiate problem, and something we have time to respond to. No-one is starving, no-one is hurt, and that’s about as good as it gets after a natural disaster. By the time it passe dby Haiti, Tomas was not even categorised as a hurricane, for which I am very grateful to God, and credit to the power of prayer. The Haitian people have suffered an earthqauke and a cholera epidemic this year already, and they are exhausted from living in a state of emergency. So are we! I haven’t been this tired in a long time, and have already started counting down to my Christmas break (5 weeks and 1 day to go :-)).

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for Haiti, and for Tearfunds work, and for me, as you have seen everything happening on the news. Continue to pray for the cholera epidemic -it seems it has been discovered in Port au Prince today, so it’s heading this way, and if it’s in the capital city, then there is such a high risk of huge numbers of casualties. The hurricane took our focus off this deadly and fast spreading diseise …. we need to get it back in our sights, and fight. I am not sure where the energy is going to come form, but I’m sure I must have some reserves somewhere.


Capturing the wild springs October 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 10:55 pm

Working in the mountains, there are many natural springs which are a huge blessing for the communities; a plentiful supply of water, fresh and usually quite clean. Before the earthquake many communities had tapped this springs and used them to pipe the water throughout the hillsides, from one community to another, serving the needs of many people. The erthquake changed that however, landslides causing the pipes to be damaged and destroyed, and the network of tapped springs to be destroyed.

We have a programme o f’ ‘spring captures’ – a delicious phrase, evoking for me images of hunting the wild springs of the mountains, tracking them across the hillsides, and taming them to our domestic wills :-). I visited one such capture recently, and saw the work our teams are doing in wrestling the wild springs of the mountains into submission.  From the photo I can recognise that it may apear to just be a pool of mud. Granted, that may actually be all it is right now. But you can see the pipe with the spring water pouring out of it, and where the mud is, there will eventually be a cement tank to hold the water straight after it comes out from the ground, it will then filter it and send it down the pipe to a nearby tapstand. There will also be a second pipe which will travel alot further – all the way down a mountainside, along a valley bottom, and up the hillside agaian, to a second community. You can see in the second photo, I am standing at the level of the spring as I take the photo and the houses you can see on the opposite hillside are where the capture will be tamed and released in to.

It’s such a good plan. And such a blessing; we can take this natural resource, literally pouring forth from the hillside, and make sure that as many people as possible benefit from it. We plan to capture 15 springs across the hills of Leogane before next July, bringing clean water to many hundreds of people – and ensuring that this epidemic of untamed springs can be brought into submission, no longer running wild in the hillsides!


The start of the school year October 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 5:22 pm

As the child of a teacher, whenever anyone says to me “the start of the year”, I do not think about January; instead, my mind jumps immediately to September, which is the start of the school year in the UK. In Haiti, the schools have started back in the last week, and I have been visiting the schools we are building. Unfortunately, we haven’t finished building all the schools we had hoped to finish by now; the delays have been for so many reasons – the problems of importing treated timber, finding contractors who would work in the remote locations where we operate, transporting materials to these remote sites, and of course the hurricane season bringing bad weather for doing all of this. Although we are late I am still proud of what we are accomplishing. By waiting for treated timber we are ensuring that the schools will stand for 20 years instead of 2 years, and by persevering with working in remote locations despite the challenges we are going where other Agencies won’t go.

The first school I saw this week is the first one we completed. When we arrived we expected to find an unpainted building, but it seems that the school headmaster had taken the initiative and painted it over the weekend …… pink! Apparently we had given him red and white paint, expecting him to keep those colours separate, but he decided to mix them, which creates quite a jolly school building. The construction team, all men except the manager, were not thrilled with the colour choice, but I thought it was great. The team want us to give the schools yellow and green paint – which are Tearfund colours; I explained that we don’t need to brand the schools, but we should let the headmasters choose what they would like.

The second school I saw this week was also a joy to see, even though it wasn’t completed. It started with a drive down a river for about half an hour, and then we could go no further, so we got out of the car and started walking along the river. After about an hour, at times knee deep in water, we reached a hill and walking up it, we crested the top and there was the school – timber frame already erected, on the top of a hill, surrounded by mountains. Walking along the river it was humbling to think about how all the materials for the school had been carried by the community members to get them to that hill; infact we even saw a boy carrying the last of the roofing sheets as we walked. Looking at the school, the huge amount of timber, the amount of cement needed to make the slab for the floor, the sheer quantity of sand and gravel required (which we also saw being collected – you can see the community volunteers with buckets on their heads in the group photo – those are the people collecting the sand and gravel) ….. it all gives you this impression; these people really wanted us to build them a school. Is there a community in England that would have the commitment to mobilise the whole community to carry, piece by piece, their new schools for an hour along a river to the construction site, free of charge?

I love that we are working in these remote places. I love that part of my job is seeing those hidden parts of Haiti that few people see, far from the towns and the displaced peoples camps. And I love seeing the commitment of communities to work together to ensure their children are educated.


Building a business, watching it fall … and starting again. October 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 12:35 am

On my last break I went and visited a friend who lived in New York state, who was about to move with her husband and 5 week old baby girl to a house they had never been to, in a State they had never lived in before, in a town they had never visited, to start a small business of their own, making garden furniture; which they had never made before. I thought about her this week, when I visited a group of ladies in the mountains who also had their own small business.

These ladies have been making jams and marmalades together since 2004. Although it didn’t used to be very profitable, thanks to a training course supported by another organisation in 2008, in rceent years they had seen a good turnover – making enough money to build themselves a small building to use as a ‘factory’, employ 15 ladies, and ensure all of them had enough money to send their children to school and keep their families fed. The jams and marmalades were popular, not just in the local markets but at supermarkets in Port-au-Prince also.  They used fruit they had grown locally, and things were on the up; years of investing in their small business was paying dividends.

Then the earthquake happened. In the photo you can see what happened to their building; completely destroyed. Their equipment was mostly damaged beyond repair. You can see in the second photo the effect it had on their pots and pans. They are still using these battered pots and pans to make thier jams and marmaldes (which I can confirm really are very good). They have started again, in the yard of someones house, but the production scale is small because they have lost their equipment. We are helping them with a grant of $2000, which won’t rebuild their workspace but will help them buy the machines to allow them to mass produce their goods. Once they can do this, the supermarkets in Port-au-Prince will take their stock again, and they can start on the path to rebuilding what they have lost.

I think about my friend Jill, starting out in her small business; the risk she is taking, and the effort her family will put into building it up. I imagine her taking years, seeing it grow, getting it to a stage where her risk paid off and her family are comfortable…. and then suddenly, to lose it all.  Would she have the energy and the courage to start again? To pick up what is left and start from the beginning for a second time? Perhaps she would. It must take incredible energy and motivation. I admire these ladies for their determination, and look forward to seeing their jams and marmalades on the shelves.  (and perhaps also doing a little more sampling of the goods ….. just ensuring we are supporting products of quality, you understand ….)


Who gave you this house? October 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 4:24 pm

This week I have taken the ECHO representative (ECHO are the European Union’s humanitarian activities funding body) for Haiti around our project sites, so that he can see what his money is in the process of provising. Donor visits are always a little nerve-wracking; you never quite know what the communities are going to say to them when they are asked questions, and you just hope some stupid little thing doesn’t make you look like an un-professional organisation – and instead that the rep will come away with the impression that you are a supremely professional organisation delivering high quality work in an entirely appropriate manner and are worthy of increased funding.

I took him to see the first shelter we have built, up in the mountains. This was our pilot house; we put it up, and through the process learnt better ways to do it again on a larger scale (we have 499 more shelters to build this year) and we got feedback about improvements to the design. I remember sitting with Tom, our previous construction advisor, as he designed this shelter. I can remember him playing around with it so that for no increased cost we could provide for the people a house which was what they wanted, as well as being hurricane and earthquake resistant. In the photos you can see a tradition Haitian ‘Creole’ house – and also our shelter. I am so proud of how similar it looks to the traditional houses that have always been built in these mountains. I look around at other designs that the other Agencies are building and I feel overwhelmingly proud that, although we are aware that our verandah doesn’t meet hurricane resistance guidelines, it does  fit into the local landscape with a greater ease. It is not just a house of practical purpose, which will stay standing in a natural disaster, but one where the owners can feel at home, broadly similar in look and style to the home that they lost. A place where they can start again, somewhere that feels slightly familiar.  

The first shelter that we have built has been for two old ladies who were living together in a shack made of … well, anything they could find, really. Pieces of tin, banana leaves, cardboard, plastic. You can see it in the photo, to the left of the new house we have built for them. You might mistake it for a pile of debris, so look closely. The two ladies themselves at sat in front of it. One of these old ladies was there when the ECHO rep saw the shelter, and he asked her a question. “Who built you this house?”.

She pointed up at the sky and said, “God did”.

The ECHO rep persisted, “But which organisation came and built this house?”.

“God built this house for me”.

“The European Union fund Tearfund to built shelters, so the European Union has paid for this house for you”.

“God gave it to me”.

I walked away smiling to myself, thrilled at the thought of giving 499 more families the same gift from God.