Kate in Haiti's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

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.