Kate in Haiti's Blog

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Families July 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 1:10 am

My favourite moment of last week happened while I was briefing a new international staff member. Having been briefed for a few days in Port au Prince I was trying to explain to her that the standard of food and accommodation was not as luxurious in Leogane, so that she didn’t arrive here with unrealistic expectations. As I was trying to diplomatically explain this, another fairly new staff member walked by and, hearing what I was explaining, said to her, “We live together like a family in Leogane”.

It has been some time since I updated my blog, and part of the reason has been because the family in Leogane has been growing with new staff arrivals. It is good to see the programme change and develop, but also sad as we prepare to see others leave. The media team came earlier this month, as I mentioned in my previous blog. I joined them while they were here, and I listened to some stories. Stories about families. We visited the home of one of the children from one of the schools we support; her name is Ruth and she is 10. She lives with her parents, brothers, Auntie and cousins, as after the earthquake one family, whose home had been destroyed in Port au Prince, came to live with them. Fortunatley for this family, there are no deaths in their earthquake story – because everyone here has an earthquake story. It is like asking someone where they were when the twin towers were hit, or Princess Diana was killed. Everyone has their own story of how they experienced the event, which will stay with them and become part of their family history. Eight people live in their two roomed wooden house, a traditional creole structure, brightly painted, with two doors – one to let the spirits in, and one to let the spirits out (because you certainly don’t want a house clogged up with spirits, do you?). Next to their wooden house is the house they had spent years building; a concrete house, modern and cherished. And now useless, as a giant crack in the side means it is uninhabitable – forcing them to move back into the house they had worked so hard to move out of. Later in the day we saw Ruth and her cousins, beating the heck out of some bean plants to release the beans from the stems. Life is not easy being a kid here (although she seemed to be quite enjoying the destruction of defenceless plants).

The next child we followed home from school had a much more difficult story to hear. Her name is Louisana and she is 13. She lives with her Mother, sister and Grandfather in what can barely be described as a shack. In the rubble of their former, concrete home, they live in a shelter just big enough to accommodate two mattresses, made out of banana leaf walls and a plastic sheet roof. Her father died in the earthquake, leaving the family without an income. The Grandfather, her mothers father, who had come to live with them for his retirement to be taken care of, has gone back out to the fields to work. Well into his 70s, possibly 80s, he is a working man again and a provider for his daughters family. Everytime it rains, I think of that family – and I tell myself again that I will make sure that they get a shelter from us, and as soon as possible.

We are almost in a position to start building shelters for people. Supplies are arriving every day now, and soon we will have enough of everything to get cracking – with Louisanas family high up on the list (along with the two old ladies I have mentioned previously). I can’t wait to see structures built, to be able to know that we were a part of improving peoples lives, and helping them to find some security in this fractured world in which they have found themselves. To start a new chapter, create a new part of the story, in a families history.


A way to help July 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 2:07 am

I remember when I was a child, possibly sometime like 1986, there were very strong winds which hit Southern England (I was a Yorkshire woman in exile back then), and I remember going to school the next day and seeing the effect that it had had there. Compared to what I see now it really wasn’t too bad – the fence around the swimming pool had blown down (yes, an outdoor pool; it was torture. I think it was intended to be what my Grandad would call ‘charactor building’) and the outside of the grounds were unkempt and blown about. But as a child it felt like a place I regarded as absolute and unchanging had been destroyed, and it unsettled me enough to remain in my memory to this day.

People are always asking me how they can help the people in the places that I work. Usually I don’t have a practical way people can help – I work on big, multi-million dollar, government funded projects, in which a comparativly small donation would get lost – but this time, I have something to suggest to those who are interested. We work with alot of schools, and while we can provide teacher training, schools supplies and temporary (and sometimes permanant)shelter, we do not have the budget to provide school furniture to every school we support. If you, or your workplace or church group or school class, are interested in fundraising, perhaps you might like to consider this.

$1000  (about £700) will buy furniture for one classroom. This is a teachers desk and 20 benches and desks for children (with 3 children sitting at each desk). It might sound alot of money, but timber must be brought in from the United States – the timber available locally isn’t treated, and there are no plants in the country that could treat it. Untreated, the furniture would last maybe a year with the humidity and the termites. Treated, it has a much longer lifespan. Each school has between 2 and 6 classrooms.

I can send you photos of ‘your’ classroom. You can write to the teachers and the pupils. They will write a thank you to you. You can connect to where your money has gone, and can see the results. Alot of people ask for my advice on charitable giving, and it seems to me that this real person-to-person connection is something that people want to have. It helps you to understand, it helps you to empathise …. and it helps them to learn. It’s a win-win situation.

My email address is dmt-haiti-ac@tearfund.org . Let me know if I can count you in.


In every home a different story July 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — kateinhaiti @ 1:52 am

The rain is pouring outside as I write this, and for myself I am pleased. I writhed around for ages in bed last night in a pool of my own sweat, wishing for a cool breeze, and tonight I will have my wish. A cool evening, an easy nights sleep. But I can’t help feeling guilty, because although it’s easier for me to sleep, there are so many people outside the walls of this compound for whom sleep tonight will be damp and uncomfortable.

This week we started a housing survey, where we have a team of people going house-to-house in the districts where we work and assessing their situation. Are their shelters collapsed? Do they need a repair kit for their house, or a whole new shelter? Do they have a latrine? Are they able to rebuild their own house, or are they so vulnerable that we will have to do it for them? How many people live with them? The staff have been really pleased that Tearfund is taking the time to do this survey, and taking the time to go and asses each home individually, looking for the correct solution for each unique situation. So many agencies have targets to meet and deadlines to keep (and so do we …..) and, because of these pressures, devise one-approach-fits-all solutions, which eveitably fit-some and leave others still in want. I am glad we are doing this survey too. It is taking a long time, and it does delay the implementation of the work way beyond our deadline, but it feels like we are doing it ….. right. It feels like we are doing it …. respectfully. It feels like we are, somehow, and I’m not sure how, offering some dignity.

Entering the data that the teams are bringing back is telling us so many different stories. Lots of homes have taken in family from port-au-Prince, or other places where their homes were destroyed. One home listed 17 people living there. One home listed one familyliving there, but no actual structure. They was just living there, in that open space where their house once stood. Our construction advisor went out and met two old ladies living together in what can barely be called a shack. They have no family support, and no strength to be able to fix their shelter themselves. I wonder how they have fared in tonights rains ….. and I think about my Grandma, and how I’d feel if it had been her. One home listed two elderly people and several children – we presume the parents were killed, and now the Grandparents have found themselves raising their Grandchildren. The stories go on and on; each one unique, each one worth listening to and respecting.

This week we have a media team arriving, a writer and a photographer. We have many trips planned to see the project activities, the things that Tearfund has done to help these affected communities, and the things that we’re going to do in the coming months to make a difference here. I hope they take the time to hear some of these stories, and I hope that I too make the time myself to listen more and sit in front of my laptop less. The lives of these people need to be real to me, and not just target numbers in my reports.

 We need to hear these stories.