Sunday, October 10

Ethiopia trip

Thought I'd write and let you know a bit of what I have been up to. I'm in Ethiopia with 10 other people, a mixture of church leaders and Tearfund staff, most of whom this is their first trip to a developing country.

We travelled first to Awassa which took most of the day after arriving in Addis, with a stop for lunch by the lake on the way, which was very pleasant.  The first night was in a local hotel/guest house and then after seeing some local programme work each of the team were taken to the host family that they were staying with.  The programme we were visiting is self help groups which have been developed since 2003. Each group has a facilitator from our partner Kale Heywet and each group starts off with about 20 people.  The group starts by saving each week, then making loans to each other and paying them back with interest.  The key to the groups is relationship and trust that is built up between them, which leads to a repayment rate of something like 98%.  Where the relationships are not good the repayment of loans is lower and other troubles emerge.  The group members save initially very small amounts, in some cases as  little as 1p, but now have the equivalent of £3,000 within the group

Each of the group had a translator with them and stayed with families that are members of local self help groups.  The team coped with it in different ways but a number said that it was the best thing they had done (one even said ever).  It is hard sometimes to deal with very different living conditions, to realise that people with so little are so full of faith and blessing God for everything they have been given, some people also just don't like the local food!  One team member had a brother of the wife in the household visit on the last morning, to see why a white man would choose to visit his sister, when as a family they had nothing to do with her, because her husband abused her and she didn't do anything about it.  The brother said at the end of the visit that maybe he should review his attitude of his sister. It is so good to be able to hear stories of attitudes being challenged and maybe changed forever for this lady.

After the immersion visits had finished we had a coffee ceremony (very common in Ethiopia) to celebrate the visit and hear more stories of how the self help groups have changed peoples lives.  One lady shared her story that she had dreamed of having furniture and a bed in her house, and now through the self help groups she has that, is putting her children through school, she has respect for herself and is able to speak in front of a group.  It is amazing to listen to the number of lives changed and transformed for generations to come.

Next we travelled to Soddo and have been visiting conservation projects where whole hillsides have been terraced and are being or have been planted with trees, which will be coppiced and managed in
the years to come.  A whole hillside in 2 ½ months done manually.  We saw a 12 km irrigation scheme, and a self help group that had been going for 3 years, but had some way to go.

Today we went to church, and saw a church HIV group and then a community group of people living with HIV.  The church group was interesting, probably a good  word, and I'm not sure all of the attitudes were quite as they could be.  Finished off with an amazing self help group that had been going for one year, it was their celebratory meeting.  So much achieved and such a sense of community, enjoyment, smiles and laughter.


Saturday, June 19

Had my RedR security training course last week which involved me getting kidnapped – yes I was the lucky one with the sack put over my head and dragged off, then car jacked and a passer by in cross fire. It was useful to be reminded of much of the advice and we also did hurricane and earthquake preparedness.  I now need to prepare ‘hibernation’ boxes for the teams in Leogane in case there is a hurricane and we have to stay in our allocated hibernation room for several days.  Monday we had a tropical storm alert, but by the afternoon it had gone from red to orange alert.

Sunday two of us went up to the church associated with the orphanage on whose land we camp in the Uplands.  It was a Saints day, St Augustine de Padoue, mostly in Creole but I did manage to keep track of bits of the sermon and what was said.  At the end of the offering a group of ladies came down the aisle with large baskets of items for the offering on their heads.  There were chickens and a turkey amongst fruit and vegetables and even a bottle of rum.  If you’d like to see some photos they are on Picasa

We got a special mention for helping the nuns, orphanage and the area, including helping with rebuilding the road to the church.  I’m currently sitting in a plywood and corrugated iron cabin that has been erected on the orphanage site.  It provides an area for work and relaxation (tables and metal fold out chairs) for those living up here which isn’t a tent.  I’m back to my tent that I spent 2 months in earlier in the year.  My thermarest almost looks welcoming.  The latrine we dug is good but not so inviting!

Monday I went to the Uplands site for the first time.  Before setting off at 9.30 I had a manic couple of hours trying to make sure that the staff were all sorted for the next couple of days.  We are still trying to recruit for some positions, especially skilled construction workers and need to set up systems to make the vehicles, purchase requests and stock systems work better.  We have also had a couple of staff bereavements.  The father of a staff member died last week and Monday afternoon a son of another died from meningitis.  Another staff member has a child who has been very sick and this morning a staff member asked for prayers for his cousin.  She was pregnant and now it has been said that she will die.  It is certainly a sobering reminder of the frailty of life.  I’ve order 20 first aid kits and first aid training for our construction sites, to include supplies for breaks and traumas.

Once up at Tom Gato (our site in the mountains) it was a bit calmer.We are sharing an office building with another organisation.  It is rather cramped working conditions but is a permanent structure.  It was the first time that I had met my staff up there and I am hoping to appoint an assistant, to the logs officer, this week to help with the stock movement.  It is increasingly important to make sure everything works properly for warehousing as we start bringing in materials for housing construction.  I had notification that we were allocated 1,000 tool kits and 4,000 mosi nets.  Today I got an email asking if I could arrange a crane for containers for storage at both sites.  Another thing for the ‘to do’ list!  Everything takes up so much space and when it the wood, concrete etc arrive in a couple of weeks it will take all the space we have.  A rub haul is also on my shopping list for storage.

It is a beautiful site coming out of my tent in the morning.  Even when the rain has poured down during the night, the mist across the hills in bright sunshine is very beautiful.  There are clear scars on the mountains from the earthquake.  It is much cooler up in the mountains, I even had a sleeping bag over my shoulders at night, but hot by 6.30am.  The second evening it was just me and some national staff there in the evening, my French is taking a bit of a battering. It may be execrable to listen to for Haitians but I have had to explain all manner of things and my vocab is improving for financial, HR and logistical matters!  I was due to start French lessons with a couple of nuns in the evening but that isn’t now happening until next week.

The education team have been incorporating world cup activities into many of their lessons and have been doing a lot of disaster risk reduction training.  They have been working on material for earthquakes and hurricanes which we have talked of trialling with staff first.  Sadly some are still quite traumatised by all that has happened.  The construction teams are waiting for treated wood and plywood to arrive before carrying on with shelters.  Currently latrines for schools have been their main focus.  I attended a shelter cluster meeting today.  It was good to be back with my favourite cluster, getting ideas and listening to others.  Also they had wireless internet which was very welcome as ours has been on the blink for the last few days in the Leogane office.

We have some beds and even a sofa in our house now.  Still no kitchen so have to go next door for that.  Sheets arrived this week which was exciting.

Please pray for staff over this weekend as we have the funeral for the little boy on Saturday and a major meeting to agree a proposal for institutional funding which needs to be submitted in just two weeks, lots of work to agree all the programme details and budgets.

Sunday, June 13

Plans and Progress

After 2 nights in Port au Prince I spent half a day in the office catching up on logistics, sorting currency, meeting up with national staff again.  It was lovely to see them and I got a great welcome. Arrived in Leogane just before the end of the office day so had time to count the cash box, meet everyone and then the day was at an end. The Area coordinator and I were the only expats there and were able to move into the house next door to the office.  As we each carried a bed in they were still trying to wire up the lighting.  We ended up with none in our rooms or the bathroom.  Some lights were on and attracted a lovely lot of bugs for us to go to bed.  There is still no more furniture as yet though we are hoping for some at the end of this week.

Many homes have been doing rubble clearance which means that a number of roads I have travelled along are now half their original width due to rubble spilling into the roads.  I’ve tried asking a number of people but no one has any ideas as to where it is all going to go. Washing and cleaning facilities are still a challenge for many people living in the temporary settlements.  It is a common sight to see people washing their clothes and themselves in steams of water at the edge of the road.  Some of it does not look too clean, especially as it mixes with the potholes in the tarmac and the debris as it flows along the road.

Tearfund’s programme in Leogane and Gressier is focusing on education, shelter, livelihoods and water and sanitation.  We have currently exceeded our target for latrines and the education programmes are going well with schools clubs now operating in many areas. Livelihoods supervisors start next week and the construction teams have been working hard.  Getting supplies in is a challenge for many INGO’s.  To get treated wood, suitable for construction takes time to get it into the country.  I heard today of some toolkits available as a gift in kind.  Hopefully we may be able to get some of those, the challenge will be getting them through customs.  We still have a number of vehicles that we are waiting to clear customs.  They have been here since around the time I last left Haiti but each week we are promised it will be soon that they are released.  Please do pray that this happens as it will reduce our costs for rented vehicles and will give us the ability to access some of the areas that are difficult to currently reach.

Each week I will be spending two nights up the hillside at a place called Tom Gato, which is our upland base.  This will be in a tent, as hurricane season approaches, at least it may get rid of some of the mosquitos!  There is currently no consistent management support for the site up there so I am covering Monday to Wednesday morning and then the area coordinator will cover Wednesday to Friday morning. I'm quite looking forward to seeing the programme from a different perspective.

Tuesday, June 8

Back in Haiti

Currently sitting in the team house in Petionville.  The rain is pouring down outside and the lightening has been crashing round the house.  It is probably good not to be in a tent.

It seemed to take a long time to get to Haiti.  I left 10am Friday and arrived here 9am (3pm UK time)  Saturday.  I did have an overnight in Miami but it was good to finally arrive.  Flying straight into Port au Prince you get off the plane through the one tunnel into the airport building, go down a quite smart arrival tunnel, like any airport in the world but as you go down the escalator, where you would turn into the arrivals hall, you go out of the building, catch a bus across to the American Airlines cargo hall and enter the bedlam that is customs
and baggage reclaim.  The driver had forgotten to pick me up so had to wait around for about an hour before I finally set off.  Two of the drivers that I knew came to pick me up and it was lovely to be greeted by big smiles and welcomes and them saying how good it was to see me back.

The rubble in Port au Prince is in even bigger piles.  Some buildings that had to be demolished have been taken apart, manually, with pick axes and now lie in huge piles of debris ready for the sites to be cleared.  I saw today one site, that I had previously seen as a spontaneous camp with many tents, now just one  enormous pile of rubble.  Where it will all go to eventually, or when, I have no idea. Some people have now gone back to their homes but there are still many living in the camps.  There have been some evictions from private land.

The life here for the team now is very different from when I was here before.  It is very surreal to be in a house, but see the same items that we had in the camp, the storage boxes, plastic bowls, water filter etc now in very different surroundings.  In some ways it makes me feel very uncomfortable to be in such different surroundings, so removed now from those who are still living in tents, but necessary for the health and safety of staff.  I've been having briefings on HR, finance, security and then logs tomorrow.  I'm hoping to leave for the programme site in Leogane tomorrow (Monday) lunchtime.  I have to come back to Port au Prince for 2 days of security training for NGO staff on Thursday and Friday.  I think I will feel more comfortable at the
programme site, where I will be based, and am looking forward to seeing the programme staff and advisors again.  Lots of work to do and a number of issues to resolve.

Went to church today, where we camped previously.  Saw a number of people who I had known previously and caught up a bit with their news.  Looking forward to more catching up tomorrow

Wednesday, May 12

Update from Zambia

 I don't normally write down any email descriptions of my trips overseas, just the final report at the end, but I found myself thinking about how to descirbe things in the same way that I did in Haiti so here goes.  Andrew this is to prove I do work, even if we never talk, and to those of you who refer to my trips as holidays this is to tell you a bit of what I do.  It isn't written as a blog but a 'welcome to my world'  please don't feel you have to plough through all of it

Flight from Heathrow was fine, 2 hour transfer in Nairobi, just enough time for a mango juice.  Arrived in Lusaka and then had a 3 hour wait before we set off for the road journey to Serenje.  Finally arrived at about 8pm

I've been to the guest house before and the best way to describe it is a bit like a run down 50's single storey guest house.  In my room the curtains are sort of up and not to be moved.  Best not to look too closely at the mattress.  Tiles off the wall in the bathroom.  The sink had a hot tap and the bath a cold tap, but neither had a plug! The other interesting feature was the light switch in the bathroom was broken so stayed on all the time.  I foolishly shut the bathroom door to keep out the light the first night, but because there were just holes and no handles a knife had to be used to open it again in the morning!

Early morning meeting to agree the programme, objectives, messaging etc.  Then meeting with pastors fellowship who are 'owners of the vision'.  Welcome and mini sermon then up to me to bring greetings from Kerith (who fund the project) and lay out my objectives and hopes for the week.  Talked about recent visit from Uganda of partners, the model of church and community mobilisation and the way this has been replication in many countries leading to empowerment and sustainability.  Used the illustration of Joseph going to Egypt to illustrate the way the bible talks about food security.  Their role as pastors to encourage their congregations to use their resources and inputs wisely.  Spoke about empowerment, my desire for them to be in control and not to have to rely on outside help in the future.  Seemed OK as they want to learn more about mobilisation process.

Went to Mosankano community.  Welcome with community and their leaders.  Unusual because chair person is a woman.  Had a report on agricultural inputs of beans and groundnuts (peanuts).  There were exceptionally heavy rains so most of the beans rotted on the plants so poor harvest.  Very good groundnut harvest.  Sweet potatoes currently in the gound but soon ready for harvest.  Certain it wil be another very good crop.  Crops have meant that they have not been hungry like in other years, their childrn have been able to have sweet potato and groundnuts for breakfast before going to school.  They also reported that the educational support has allowed a few children to go onto university and as a community they are very proud of this.  This time I talked about the parable fo the talents, that God ahs given us resources and it is up to us to use them wisely and not just remain in the same place.

We visited a number of fields under cultivation.  Some were better tended than others and I suggested to the field officer for the project that he collect data on yields and adherence to the advice by the agricultural officers.  This may provide motivation for correct planting next season.  It was clear that some were far better tended and had the correct planting formation, whereas others showed a disappointing crop but in a mixed field with bad spacing.  Visiting the fields was a classic case of it is just round the corner and after 25 minutes walk we got there.

Chikitu was next community.  Journey took us down a half metre wide track, so fairly typical African journey where the 4 wheel drive vehicle ploughs through the vegetation.  Another welcome, more songs, spoke this time about work kerith doing in the community.  Then story of woman in uganda who sold her cow, planted cassava with the profits, sold that and used the profit to pay for hiring cows to plough more cassava etc.  She now owns her own tractor, ploughs in 5 days hires it out the rest of the time.

More fields of maize, cassava, groundnuts, sweets potato.  Same stories about bean crops.  All now planting more land and able to save seeds for next year, so generally good news.  Many of the houses are looking after double and single orphans.  Large field of groundnuts should bring in 500,000 kwacha and you need 30,000 for school uniform and about 20,000 for school fees.

Travelled to Kashitu which is about 5 mins on tarmac and then 60 on dirt tracks.  Community members weren't assembled so went off to the fields.  Abandoned vehicle and walked ab out 20/25 mins to what looked like an idyllic house up in the hills.  The mud brick house had flowers in the front, a stream running down the hill near to the house, chickens running ground and all neat and tidy.  Of course the reality is that it take over an hour to walk to school across the fields and about 4 hours to the nearest town.  Maybe not so idyllic. heavily pregnant lady explained how the ground nut seeds, sweet potatoes etc had enabled her to expand her fields.  Also she had invested some of the profits into a local co-operative match funding scheme and bought maize seed and fertilizer.  The family now have all the chidren in school and also have 3 meals a day rather than the one before the project started.  Real sense that the family were looking to the future and planning and investing.

Visited another couple of fields.  One was an elderly man looking after a number of orphans.  he had planted his ground nut seeds, sold some, paid for schooling, bought more seeds, extended the fields he was working.  All been done by hand and was quite extensive.  I suggested putting money aside to hire a plough and he is going to do that this year.

Another lady told a similar story with cassava plants and using cuttings to extend her agriculture.  At the community meeting a number of people described how the seeds had enabled them to pay for school fees for their children, the orphans they cared for etc.  There were also people who complained that their childrn did not have educational support whilst others did.  The challenge is to get people to look at inputs given as investments and not to continue in dependency mode. Priority of new field officer but community already showing excellent examples of this.  33 people said their lives had significantly changed since start of the project.

Community also sold a lorry load of sweet potatoes in 50kg sacks to buyer from Lusaka who had come and collected them.  Suggested possiblity of community putting money aside and hiring a van to sell produce in Lusaka themselves.  Likely to achieve a price 4 or 5 times when they are currently receiving - worth investigating.

Met a girl just arrived in area from US for 2 years with peace corp. Seemed a bit odd as no obvious support (monthly meeting) and she is an agriculture, forestry and bee keeping advisor, but her degree is in English and her training was just a few weeks after arriving in Zambia.

Long project meeting at end of day talking about financials.

Fields first so met a grandmother widow for 27 years and now has care of 3 children from one of her sons.  they are from  first marriage which ended in divorce.  He has remarried and so the children have come to live with her.  Same stories of agricultural expansion, match funding etc.  Also next door was her daughter who had 8 children by her first husband who died (wanted boys) and 2 from her second.

Looked at more fields (quite boring by now) of cassava, ground nuts and cassava.  One field not particularly well tended but the lady explained she was doing it by herself.  Must be hard working land by yourself by hand.

At the community meeting a number commented on the poor bean harvest, though the chief pointed out that it wasn't the fault of the seed distributed since their own seeds had failed.  He encouraged the community members to take the opportunities that were given, not rely on them  for the future but to make sull advantage of them.  More children were in school and the communities are conributing to improving the construction of classrooms for years 8 and 9 at the local basic school.  I spoke about running the race (Timothy), keeping the end goal in focus, not getting put off by downfalls and taking advantage of cars that came along to help you, but making sure it was your vision and goal and not that of someone else.  Used an example from Tanzania where a community now has all tin roofs and children in school through their own efforts.

Lastly project committee meeting to feedback.  Encouraged them to look for the bright spots and use them as examples in communities.  Talked about dpendency and the role of pastors to encourage congregations to look to planning for the future and investing what individuals are given.

Back to Lusaka.  Slightly more upmarket guest house with internet but no wifi key so having to use the computer in reception.

If you have made it this far, well done.  One bit of news on the emails is that I've been asked if I would go back to Haiti.  Obviously can't at the moment as in the wrong place.  I'm in negotiations!


Saturday, April 10

Haiti Reflection

It is a bit late, but finally done something!

It is now over two weeks since I returned from Haiti and in many ways my time there seems a life time away.  Time seems to go so much slower without the immediacy and urgency that is felt when living in Port au Prince.  The rains instead of being remote, are real when you get out of the tent in the morning into mud, that cakes to about a centimetre deep on your shoes within a couple of steps.

I have heard that there have now been a number of afternoon rains heralding the start of the rainy season just around the corner.  The government in Haiti has managed to acquire land for the first of the temporary resettlement camps, preparatory work has begun to ready the 7.450 hectares for occupation.  The team are about to move into a permanent office and the work on the house that I found has almost been completed, the team will be able to move in within a couple of weeks.

It has been quite strange returning to a form of notoriety.  I went to the theatre with a couple of friends who knew one of the actors.  The actor came up to say hello to them after the performance and as soon as they introduced me, just by my first name, he said I've been reading about you!  The gas man coming into work commented to reception that he'd read about me in the local paper, and I met someone today for the first time who said they'd read about me.  It seems an odd thing to have so many comments about omething I consider to have been a priviledge, to do something which in many ways didn't seem special but quite normal.

On Monday it will be three months since the earthquake.  It is likely that newspapers and television will carry mention of what has happened, or not happened.  It would be good if the focus is not just on any negative story, but they will be able to find and report the stories of hope that also abound.  Haiti has an opportunity for change, not just from the monies coming into the country from governments and agencies, but most importantly from a desire from the people on the streets, in the camps and in the churches.  The church I visited on the day before I came home talked about 1,500 people becoming christians and coming to the church, since the earthquake. When replicated across the country this is a real opportunity for lasting change. 

Even though Haiti may have gone from the news the people, and the challenges for the country will still remain in the years ahead and I hope that they will remain in your prayers.

Sunday, March 21

Last update

Well this will be my last update.  Got lots still to do before I leave as after receipt of some emails I need to take some video and photos.  I was due to go to the Upland areas of the DMT programme site yesterday, but it rained all through the night and into the day, so the visit was called off 6.30 yesterday morning.  It means I have to leave some things unfinished and in the hands of others.  It isn’t that they aren’t capable, but I am now more susceptible to the vagaries of communications to get what I need.  The rains meant that there was an impact on the programme work, in the morning they were unable to even get the car out of the parking area.  The road up the hillside is treacherous at the best of times but the rains will make it inaccessible at times.

The rains were heavy and although only for less than 24 hours have an immediate impact on the camps and the roads around Port au Prince.  Yesterday I received the following email via the shelter cluster asking for assistance with tents and flooring.  ‘The compound is situated at the Petionville Club, and there is an IDP camp of approx 45,000 people living there. Last night the hospital tent was damaged and has no flooring so it is taking on water and is a muddy disaster, but they are still using it to treat urgent care and emergency patients. Equipment, including an x-ray machine was moved under shelter but there is more equipment in danger from the rain and mud/flooding. The school tents (over 300 kids enrolled) were ruined and unusable, all of the school supplies and tables/chairs have been moved to high ground, but are not under shelter.
 We need to replace the clinic and school tents, and provide flooring, today if possible. The location for the school has been moved to more stable ground to avoid this happening again if we have the necessary flooring/tents. The clinic would be stabalized if there was flooring and a more stable tent structure.’

The government is still struggling to secure land and agreements for new camps to the north of Port au Prince.  Landowners have not proved willing to give land that will in all probability be a permanent gift, the government has said it does not have the funds to purchase the land (money coming in from appeals has not gone to the government), the church has very little land in Haiti, and so the debates and negotiations carry on.  Plans that seemed firm two weeks ago are now not so concrete, but time marches inexorably onwards.

I was reminded today that news is a matter of perspective.  I happened to see an article from the Guardian about 2 weeks ago reporting the usage of Google earth and map for plotting aid coming into Haiti.  Strange that this is news, since it has been happening since the beginning of the crisis.  Many of the towns and communities have different names in French and Creole, or even just the way they are reported.  Agencies need to be clear where distributions or work is going on and so GPS coordinates have consistently been encouraged and mapped through the coordinating bodies and onto Google.  Technological tools which are deemed almost a necessity suddenly become news.  As Tearfund we have a lovely map of all our programme sites and I’m trying to get them plotted on a map showing contours, mountain tops, main towns etc.  It all helps to give a clear picture of where each agency is working.

I’m off to a church tomorrow that needs rebuilding after the earthquake.  I’m being collected at 6am but am told it will be over by 8am!

I’ve been thinking about things I’m looking forward to or will miss as I return, and a couple of the team have asked about 1st meals!

I’ll miss the sun and the warmth, but not the mud.  Tents and mud aren’t great but then it is warm and so it soon washes off
I’ll miss seeing the programme develop, seeing things I’ve worked on come to fruition
I’ll miss the people who have put so much passion, energy and their dreams into creating the programme and will be able to see lives change
I’ll miss being a part of something bigger than just Tearfund, being a cog in the coordination machinery
I’ll miss the local staff who have got used to our funny ways and shared their lives
I’ll even miss my little tent, my sanctuary from the world!

And what am I looking forward to?  Seeing my children – what else is there?!


Tuesday, March 16

Drama and dilemmas

It was with great anticipation that I set off for a weekend of comparative comfort, however, as often happens the anticipation is greater than reality!  The building started off looking like a slightly rundown one storey motel, but it was by the sea.  We tried to dump bags, but the rooms weren’t ready so we went off for lunch with a possible donor.  On our return at about 5pm, after a number of visits en route, the rooms still weren’t ready.  We were able to sit with a cool drink near to the water, then had a quick paddle in the water before being shown our room.  Unfortunately, the apartment that the person booking the rooms had been shown, did not quite match the one that we were in.  In ours the door handles didn’t quite work, the bathroom door didn’t fit the frame, or have a handle or latch.  There were no curtains in the rooms which looked straight out into the restaurant area.  The apartment had been wired but there were no plug sockets just bare wires, the light switches were a switch in a hole surrounded by wires.  The beds also had plastic over them which in a hot climate is not great. The hotel manager was surprised that we didn’t appreciate how hard he’d worked to get to that point,  we thought we were getting the finished product – it was all in all rather like an episode from Fawlty Towers.

After a long programme meeting on Saturday from 9am to 6pm at night one of our lucky number jumped into the sea but got out again a couple of minutes later saying that something had bitten her.  It was in fact a box jelly fish.  After many phone calls and raiding of the medical kit we were fortunate to be able to help.  I think about 6 jelly fish had been swept over the coral reef, it wasn’t a usual occurrence, just unfortunate I think.

Today I have finished off an application for tarpaulins for 3,600 households for Tearfund partners here in Port au Prince.  I’ll take it I when I go to the Logs base tomorrow morning and hopefully there will be tarps still in the pipeline that we can access.  I’m also trying to compile a spreadsheet before I leave which shows all the Tearfund partners and programme, in all the different areas, with the activities that will be undertaken so that all the information is in a central place.  Tomorrow I think we’re working on an application to UNICEF to be able to access resources for schools and early learning.  There is an item called ‘school in a box’ which is literally what it is!

The large mounds of rubble everywhere on the streets continue to grow.  The groups of people in red, yellow, blue, purple T shirts on cash for work programmes are a talking point in many meetings, but they are doing valuable work clearing ditches, rubble and rubbish from the streets.  An item which is taking up time currently in most of the cluster meetings is discussions about camp relocations.  5 new camps have been designated by the government and it anticipated that 200,000 people will be moved from camps in the city into the new camps, where transitional shelters will be built.  There are various discussions going on in clusters regarding human rights and ensuring people are not moved forcibly.  There are also issues with regard to children needing to be registered to ensure their safety in the move, which will probably happen very quickly and with little warning.  Many of the camps from which people will be moved are overcrowded and with poor sanitation and facilities and will flood during the rainy season.  It is a problem not easily solved.  Talking to local Haitians they all know people who just sleep at the camps, but during the day return to their homes to cook and try and carry on their lives.  For some their homes have actually been passed as safe by engineers but the majority of these have not been reoccupied, people would rather sleep out in the open away from concrete.  So these people will not want to move to live in different camps, the majority of which are 10 km north of Port au Prince.  For the government their predicament is difficult, if you forcibly move people their will be outcry from the NGO community regarding human rights, if you leave people who do not want to move there will be outcry that people who have suffered from the earthquake are now living in flooded areas.  One of the myriad of issues that people are struggling to solve.


Saturday, March 13

Mapping out the work

The hot and sticky is back, it is so comforting to have got rid of the rain and cool and back to the heat.  The focus this week for me has definitely been house hunting.  Trying to find a house, in a suitable location, with enough rooms, can fit in a large generator, has water supply, wired for electricity, is secure, with parking for a number of vehicles and all for the right price has been a challenge.  But hopefully the search is now over.  We met with the engineer and gave our list of modifications today, now we just have to agree the lease.  It seems a really nice house, shame I’ll never live in it!  I have truly seen a complete range, the ‘fixer’ said that I would now have a good understanding of Haitian housing.

I’ve also been working with the information from the needs assessment with partners to try and get clarity on the number of tarpaulins needed.  I think that is agreed now but I need to submit the request and see if we can get any.  I’m really not sure that there is complete understanding about what this will entail from their end, but I can only set it up and hope it works out OK.  I’m also trying to get a large spreadsheet together of all the project sites, both DMT and partners, the number of beneficiaries and households, what activities are being undertaken and then the location with GPS coordinates.

We’ve got a media team here and it is very interesting seeing Port au Prince from their perspective and new eyes.  I took them up a hill to an area that has been very badly affected.  The photographer was taking photos of some buildings when some local people came up to him to point out where a body was still trapped in the rubble.  Apparently some of the areas they have been don’t smell too great.  But mostly as you travel around the city people are actively trying to clear away the rubble, even if it is one person trying to chip away at an enormous pile of concrete that was their house.  I was parked in traffic the other day looking at the rubble by the side of the road.  It was truly representative of lives torn apart.  In this mound there were a couple of concertinaed cars, clothes, bedspreads, plant pots, artificial flowers, a teddy bear, kitchen ware.  All parts of lives now changed and mixed with concrete, debris and dust.

Tomorrow is quite exciting as I am off to Leogane again.  I should get to see a couple of the programme sites in the afternoon and then an all day programme meeting on Saturday.  But the excitement is that we’re staying in accommodation with beds and running water!  I’ll have to see if I can actually sleep any better than on a thermarest on the ground.  Maybe there will even be hot or warm water.   


Monday, March 8

House Hunting

After the highlight of my helicopter flight the week came back to reality, with 4 of my original group going home on Wednesday morning.  It seemed very quiet and bereft without them.  Only 5 in camp on Wednesday night.  Others arrived back from the field on Thursday and a media team arrived on Friday. 

I’ve spent a number of afternoons looking at houses for the team.  I’ve managed to find a ‘fixer’ who is taking me round a series of houses, I’ve now managed to drop all the palatial houses ‘not really Tearfund’, the ones in the middle of nowhere ‘we don’t want to feel too isolated’ and the luxury ones ‘we aren’t an embassy and we have to look after our money’.  I actually saw two today that had the right number of rooms and feel, but one had too many cracks for my liking and ideally I’d like them nearer to the office we’ve located.  Tomorrow afternoon I’m off to see the office to make suggestions for layout and then ……… more houses.  We’ve had quite a bit of rain this week and, although this afternoon was warm and sunny again, it has been a good reminder that when the rains come it will quickly get muddy, and camping is quite difficult when you can’t keep things out of the rain and the washing doesn’t dry.

I’ve got a copy of the needs assessment done with our partner organisations in Port au Prince now, so am just working out the tarpaulin requirements for their compounds.  Many of them have people camping around their buildings, some of which are churches and another a bible college.  For everyone the recent rains are bringing into sharp focus the need to get adequate emergency shelter out to everyone.  I’d really like to get it sorted before I come home.  I’m also trying to source resources from UNICEF and Save for schools, child protection and hygiene promotion.  Resources are slowly becoming available so hopefully I can get some information on them this week.

Not so many coordination meetings now.  They are mostly now going to one a week.  They are still very useful to get information on what is happening, new initiatives and guidelines.  Did various reports last week as well so at least those are now done and out of the way.

Lindsey Reece-Smith
Project Support Officer
Tearfund Haiti
Port au Prince

Wednesday, March 3

Adventures on a helicopter

Up at 5.30am this morning to get ready for the lorry arriving.  The last lorry for the tarpaulins had arrived – unfortunately the waxed boxes had not survived so well with the recent rains as we have still been unable to find warehousing locally in Port Au Prince.  It was a bit of a heavy, soggy job to get everything in the truck.  However, this was done and I and two others set off for the logs base and the helipad. 

There was of course the usual waiting around, first for the wfp truck with additional sheeting, then for the UN heli (a Russian Mil 17 from about 30 years ago).  Since the payload was under 2 tonnes we were all 3 able to go on the trip.  The wait in the sun dragged on and as the wind got up I was increasingly nervous that we wouldn’t be able to make our two drops.  Finally we made it to the heli, loaded on the first set of boxes and set off.  It was great to be able to see so much of Port Au Prince as we flew out along the coast line, the closely clustered tent cities, the blue tarps sticking out above the grey of the cement and breeze blocks and the density of the city really unfolded beneath us. 

Once we moved in from the coast the hills rose up and the buildings and cement fell away.  Looking out over Haiti it is really a beautiful country, but deforestation has really taken its toll.  I do hope that as the programme progresses Tearfund is able to really help with the agriculture in the rural areas and it will look more green.  We were doing the drops by heli because there just are no roads that a vehicle can take up into the hills.  They are very isolated and the facilities of the UN are a major advantage.  It just means some forms and negotiations and some patience!  The pilot called me up to talk to him as we circled near to the given coordinates – had I been here before – sadly no!  But after a minute I did see a puff of smoke and pointed it out – as we approached the bonfire there were a group of Haitians gesticulating to the next ridge where an H was marked.  The ridge was very narrow and unfortunately the buffeting wind meant we could land along the length of the ridge but had to balance across the ridge.  It was a very tight fit and the selected community unloaders had to climb up to us to get the boxes!  It was so tight that the rise of the land meant we couldn’t fully open the doors at the back so some had to come out the side door.  There was a very funny moment for me when the pilot saw me lifting boxes out the side door.  ‘Don’t lift them Lindsey let the local people do it – you need to save the world!’

After the first successful drop we went back to the logs base and loaded up again (WFP driver had disappeared so he was dragged out from his rest!) Off again with my Russian pilot and his other two staff – one whose job was to hang out the side of the heli and see if we could land.  I was called to talk to the pilot again.  I recognised the hillside as we went up this time (there was a white cliff over to the left where the side of the mountain had fallen in the earthquake) and knew we had to climb another 250m.  We saw the smoke, but the site marked was only about 16m in length before some make shift shelter – there was no way we could land, the material would have been blown into the blades.  We circled several times and finally landed at the site the heli had landed on Saturday on the next ridge.  After negotiating with the local committee they helped us unload.  The people waiting on the ridge for us had to run down and up again to meet us.  We saw them arriving just as we were lifting off!

It was a great experience and help so desperately needed for really remote communities.


Tuesday, March 2

Lorries, helicopters, mules and 4x4s

Thursday morning found me at the logs base again talking to the nice people in the OCHA office about a map.  We had some of the GPS coordinates of our distribution sites and wanted them plotted on a map.  Over two hours later, I had a number of copies of a beautiful full colour map, showing our sites, the towns and also the hills and contours.  We had to call at the warehouse that stores the gift in kind items to sort out truck loading, then lead a truck back to our compound for loading of the cut tarpaulins.  I ended up travelling in the lorry, following another 2 from the team in the car, to Leogane so that we could keep in contact with VHF radios.

Travelling in the cab of a lorry does give a very good view of the city as we travelled out of Port au Prince.  I could see over the walls into the tent cities, see the destruction behind the house fronts and we also passed along the edge of the port.  One section of the port was completely taken over by row upon row of US army tents, at the start it seemed to stretch as far as you could see.  Once out of the city the houses were spread further apart and somehow this seemed to make the scale of destruction look worse.  There weren’t roads to go down that looked untouched, or one house standing next to one that wasn’t.  It just seemed to be houses that had all suffered to some extent.  Sections of the road had giant steps in them, other sections were like the waves in the sea and other parts just had enormous cracks.

We got to the warehouse just before it closed with our lorry, we’d borrowed a small section from another agency for a few days, unfortunately the 4 following on behind were not so fortunate so the drivers had to stay overnight to unload the following day.  It is a big task to do a distribution.  Not only do you have to get the right goods in the right place, but the lorries, the staff, the loaders and unloaders, the agreement between agencies of whom is distributing where.  Then you add in meeting with community leaders to ask them to identify the most vulnerable in their community to receive assistance and to compile a list.  We had local staff on what seemed like endless phone calls to make sure the tickets had been given out for the distribution, the list of names written and collected, the site for distribution identified, the security sorted out and the time of the distribution agreed.

Friday we got a late start because of the trucks needing to unload in Leogane and a late release from the airport of the jerry cans.  We were still trying to confirm helicopter drops for the communities inaccessible by road, and cutting the last few tarpaulins which had arrived late from the supply chain warehouse in Port au Prince.  4 small distributions were done in the afternoon.  When the needs assessment was done the other week, one community had a lady whose baby had been born the day of the earthquake.  The baby was well but she was concerned about the coming rains and how to keep the baby well, she had also hurt her leg.  When they went back to the community to do the distribution the lady was at the front of the queue for her tarpaulins!  Within an hour of some people being given the tarpaulins some of the shelters were seen going up.  On Saturday after more distributions during the day, the rains came down very heavily in the evening.  It was a good feeling to think that some people were dry that night because of the tarpaulins given out a few hours before.

Saturday was a busy day with more distributions, some going very smoothly without a hitch, one that the committee were working from 3 different lists which was a challenge (!), others were there was minor difficulties and another which became like a Whitehall farce where the lorry refused to go down the last half hour of the road, when the goods got there the committee which was mostly nuns hadn’t drawn up the list (one of the sisters had forgotten to give a message to another) and the only sheets given out at that location were to the people who came on mules or horses down the mountain as the heli couldn’t fit in the last 20 household sets!  Sometimes there are moments when you think I could write a book about this!  The heli drops went well, though late as there was a delay for an hour and a half at the beginning of the day.  The team who had to climb the mountain to meet them had to set off at 4.30am to ensure they were there on time and didn’t get down and back to camp until 7.30pm.  The community were very grateful though and appreciative that after the visit from the needs assessment team they hadn’t been forgotten but had returned bringing items for them.

Sunday half the team went back to Port au Prince first thing and the rest of us carried on until the evening.  I did one in the morning right on the top of the mountains, the road up was incredible, again with earthquake fractures, a challenge even in a 4 x 4 vehicle, but at the top you could see for miles out across the other mountain ridges.  The afternoon we set off with two lorry loads for 450 households at 3 sites.  I never thought the lorries would make it down into two river beds and up the other side but to my surprise they did!  The more urban communities felt very different from the rural, much more questioning about what they would get now and in the future.  The rural communities just seemed grateful that they had been remembered.  At my first distribution it was very touching to see an elderly lady right at the front of the line on a chair.  She was helped up the steps to where we were distributing (community along a tarmac road with a narrow concrete walkway with nothing to prevent you from falling off the edge to the road 3 metres below!), collected her sheets and then was helped away back to her home.  Helping the most vulnerable in society, has to be what it’s all about!


Wednesday, February 24

Earthquakes and tarpaulins

Another hot sticky evening in the office.  Today was woken about 1.30am by the first earthquake I have felt.  It was apparently 4.7 and the epicentre was far out to sea.  It only lasted a couple of seconds but was followed by screaming in the neighbourhood around.  Yesterday there were quakes at 4.30am and 10.20am and I didn’t feel either.  The one this morning was followed by another one but I didn’t feel that either.  The local people seem to be woken or to feel every single one.  Apparently the one yesterday morning caused chaos on the streets as people ran out of buildings.  At a meeting this afternoon talking about psychosocial support for staff it was reported by a number of organisations that one of the biggest problems they has was rumours and misinformation abounding.  One organisation is actually writing an information document about earthquakes to give staff an explanation.

We were working Sunday to get a proposal off but did manage to have pancakes as a treat for breakfast.  The 2 vehicles arrived from SD later in the day bringing with them the new area coordinator (for the lowland project) and the disaster management advisor to work with partners in Port au Prince.  It seems quite strange to have our little group change with the addition of new people.  So we were 12 until Monday then the 2 advisors left for Leogane and today (Tuesday) another 4 left for Leogane.  The camp seems strangely quiet and deserted, but it is now just the HQ in Haiti and the 2 sub bases being established.  At the end of last week and over the weekend I think I did something like 14 interviews for Programme Managers for the programme areas, by the end they had all begun to swim together in my mind.

Sunday the tarpaulins arrived.  They came in 2 40 foot container lorries, with extreme difficulty getting them into the compound.  We had to take down a couple of tents to get the first to the lock up area, then the battery on the lorry failed and it took some time to get it going again.  The second lorry got stuck on an overhead electric cable (a broom handle and long ladder does wonders), and it had no brakes so the army of workers had to carry the 45kg boxes further in the dark – it was just one of those events that was in hindsight of comedy of errors.  So Monday morning saw me with a band of merry casual workers ready to cut up tarpaulins.  The tarps come in a box, on a roll and have to be cut into ten.  Then they have to be folded and tied to include a roll of tarp tape ready for distribution.  Having negotiated a rate for the day I was slightly frustrated to watch the speed of work.  So early afternoon saw me and one other doing a timed exercise to see how fast we could cut, pack and rebox a roll of tarp.  The end of the day I informed them of a new deal and today was piece work.  Instead of the 46 achieved yesterday suddenly an amazing 180 was achieved.  There was some serious fluid loss going on.  I encouraged one of our national staff to bring in some friends to help and to see if he could get any women.  The team with the woman on was level pegging in the lead in the morning but sadly did not finish first at the end of the day.  However, the number she accomplished did wipe the smirks off some of the faces.

Trying to organise the distribution is in all sorts of ways an uphill battle.  We have a seven day turn around in which the goods have to be delivered, we are delivering to mountain areas and trying to get some of the goods helicoptered in, we need to agree distribution lists with the community committees and give them tickets for collection of goods, find warehousing in Leogane as well as setting up the base and sourcing the necessary vehicles – quite a bit to do.  48 hours to go.  On the upside if we achieve it 1,700 will have the wherewithal to protect themselves from the rain.


Monday, February 22

Urgent prayer requests

We have a very busy week ahead of us. Please pray for us:
  • Starting today we are trying to organise casual staff to cut 350 rolls of tarp into 5 metre lengths to distribute to 1,500 households
  • Getting 3x20 tonne lorry worth of goods up to Leogane
  • We need to organise the logistics and vehicles to get all the tarps and plastic sheeting up into the mountain areas, some of which are impassable by 4 x 4 because of landslides
  • The distribution takes place Friday and Saturday please pray for security as we do this
  • One team members’ father had a heart attack yesterday; he is stable in hospital but please pray for his recovery and for peace for her
  • Proposal for the programme went off at 2am this morning – meetings this week
  • Vehicles have arrived by still need work putting them together and we need them urgently
  • For all the newly recruited staff
  • For a team that is tired and has a mountain to climb (quite literally) in more senses than one this week

Saturday, February 20

Saturday news

Early morning Saturday and in the office for 7am.  The long walk down the hill – all of 200 yards.  Yesterday was a lot cooler and the wind got up a bit (still only in a T shirt) but no repeat of the rain the other night.

This week has been more up and down, really had some ‘what on earth am I doing here’ moments earlier in the week.  My laptop also got infected with a Trojan, compliments of a memory stick when someone borrowed my laptop.  This meant I’d lost access to my laptop for about 36 hours, we had to do a destroy and rebuild in the end.  Communicating with the UK office can be a challenge because even when we get up at 6am it is already the afternoon.  If you have to go to a morning meeting the office day is over by the time you get back.  I suppose it adds to the feeling of isolation because no one else is around.

Based on the needs assessment last week I handed in a requisition for gifts in kind on Monday.  Thursday we got a call to say some were available, I signed the agreement yesterday and we need to collect them this afternoon.  It means that next week we can go back to the communities the needs assessment took place in, and take them tarpaulins, ground sheets, water carriers.  It isn’t everything we hoped for, but it is a start.  It will make a big difference for about 1,700 households currently sleeping out in the open or under bedsheets.  There has been a big discussion in the shelter group the last couple of days because the UN released a statement saying more tents were needed.  But there has been agreement that tents are not what are needed.  They are unsuitable for the camp situation, much more expensive than tarps, won’t last in the long term etc.  Big frustrations from group leaders that they are having to spend a large proportion of time going over the same messages again and again instead of getting on with the job in hand.  Work is underway to set up the pipeline for supplies for transitional shelter, which will be the focus after emergency shelter.  Hopefully the details will be out in the next week.

The British Ambassador dropped in the other day.  We’d registered our presence with his office and he literally just called by for a few minutes with a representative from DFID.  We apparently have a nicer camp than DFID, he didn’t stop for a cup of tea as he had a meeting with the European Union.

Last Sunday we walked up to a patisserie (about half an hour walk in the heat so were very glad of the air conditioning when we arrived).  It was our break for the week and all ended up with a burger and chips.  One slightly surreal moment was the Canadian military sitting in the patisserie, eating pizza with a semi automatic weapons on their laps.

This afternoon our two vehicles should arrive.  Two of the team went up to SD to collect them and are driving down with two new arrivals.  The team will then split on Monday, some going to set up in Leogane with 2 sub offices there.  Upland and lowland bases.  I’ve been interviewing the last few days for project staff for the health and watsan elements.  There have been some very funny moments, where it was hard to keep a straight face.  We’ve used a translator for some of them as they don’t need English, one of the translations which made me smile was when the translator talked about ‘the masses’!


Friday, February 19

The work goes on

Just over three weeks since we arrived here.

Sunday morning at the service in church there was a man in front of me with a bandage around his hand and two fingers missing.  When I spoke to him he explained that he was an English teacher in a school when the quake happened and the school collapsed.  He’d previously lived in New York for a number of years and spoke very good English.  He spoke of the chaos in the school, the people trapped in the rubble and local people having to perform amputations to get people out from under the rubble.  He’d been unable to access medical help for his hand for 3 days, and when he found a hospital he’d had to walk out again because of the smell from the bodies.  Amputation had been taking place with only nerve blockers.  He asked me if I could imagine how awful it was, the truth is I just couldn’t

There was a group visiting from Firefighters for Christ.  It is apparently an international organisation of firefighters who volunteer to help at emergencies around this world, this group had been helping in an orphanage.  They have to negotiate holiday or time off in lieu to go to emergencies and pay their own way, with no support from the fire service.  An amazing group.

Rubble clearance is underway.  Local people have been employed in cash for work schemes to start the clearance.  The difficulty in this is that enormous mounds of rubble are on corners or on the pavements waiting to be cleared somewhere else.  People are up on their roofs clearing off the rubble, just brushing it over the edge onto the ground below.  If the building is up against the road you have to be careful to watch for flying masonry and all the dust.  In the car the other day we came round the corner and had to clear some lumps of brick and concrete out of the road before carrying on.  Drainage ditches were filled with rubble in the quake and the sides of the roads can be filled with rubble.  Drainage needs to be a priority as the rains come ever closer.  We’ve had a couple of half hour downpours, but only at night.

Operation Surge which has been the WFP food programme has now finished.  25lb bags of rice for people, within a couple of days the bags could be seen in use for other purposes, nothing is wasted when people are short of resources. 

We’ve spent this week so far preparing for programme work in Leogane, writing up the needs assessment from last week, working on the strategy.  The places the team visited were in the hills in Leogane commune, some of the communities had been 100% destroyed, nothing left.  Latrines had all collapsed, problems with hand pumps and springs for water. Today 100 sani slabs arrived (plastic slabs for the tops of latrines, and we have cement and wood arriving tomorrow.)  Two of the team are going up to Santo Domingo tomorrow, hopefully on a UN flight, to collect two vehicles which have arrived.  It will be good to get them here and have a couple of reliable vehicles.

People are still very concerned about going back inside buildings.  One of our new employees said the other day that his mother is very concerned that he is working in a building in case there should be another earthquake and it collapsed.  A driver and one of the national staff were in the car today and it went down a bumpy road.  They commented that it felt like being in an earthquake.  It is obviously still just beneath the surface.

The shelter meeting the other day was still trying to find agencies to cover some of the spontaneous camps.  Thoughts are now changing from emergency to start discussions on transitional shelter, the pipeline takes a long time to set up.  Current guidelines mean that the transitional shelters are likely to be of a higher standard than many of the original homes.

Monday, February 15

National day of fasting and mourning

Today is 12th February.  One months since the earthquake happened at 4.53pm and so many lives were changed forever.  It is a national day of fasting and mourning. The church compound is open from 6am to 6pm for prayer.  As I sat in the office at about 6.45am I could hear a woman’s voice raised half in song, half wailing.

Travelling to the UN logs base today for meetings we passed a number of churches.  Each one was packed, with people flowing out onto the streets and crowding round.  We passed a school which had totally collapsed and there were many people gathered around the ruin singing and in attitudes of prayer.  The majority of the people were dressed all in white and others in white shirts.  Many of the roads were almost deserted, an eerie stillness on the city first thing in the morning.  Many meetings have been postponed and the shelter meeting that I attended began with a minutes silence.

The church in the compound held a memorial service, strangely it wasn’t packed to overflowing as I’d expected.  Maybe because so many other places were meeting, maybe because people preferred to spend time alone.  Certainly there were many that I knew who were praying and fasting that day who weren’t there.

People were encouraged to go to the front to give the name, the relationship to them and the age of people they knew who had died.  Inevitably some people had to say more.  There were a number who I had seen regularly in church.  One woman who, through her tears, told how her brother in law, sister in law, and her son died.  Another young man explained how he had been at the university at the time of the quake.  It is estimated that 1,500 had died there and he had literally seen people dying to his left and right.  He made it out but his home had collapsed and he lost his father, brother in law, sister and her baby.

What struck me most was the stillness of the day, despite the tears there was also a sense of quiet and calm.

The service finished with the old hymn:
Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

A strange mix sung in English and Creole and then everyone moved around the church, greeting everyone and thanking God that they were alive

Thursday, February 11

Two weeks later

Well, it is just over two weeks since I left the UK.  The weather here is such that the micro fleeces I packed in my luggage seem rather ridiculous, though they do make a good pillow.  We have had two nights were there was a scattering of rain, but nights are generally very hot and sticky.  The dust is truly beginning to settle.  When I arrived here, and had my head torch on at night, I could see dust moving in the air, now it is only insects dive bombing the light.  We had a brief and wonderful day or so when wifi arrived, but then died.  We’ve tried all sorts of possible fixes but now a router is on its way from the UK which may solve the problems.  In the meantime we are just left with the sat phone to upload.

At church on Sunday I was sitting next to a young man who told me how he had finished school and then worked to save up to go to university.  He paid his fees at the beginning of the year but now the university is destroyed and he has nowhere to go and has lost his money.  The reality of every day lives comes home to you time and time again.  We have been interviewing for staff, many of whom had jobs or were at university prior to the earthquake.  They have now lost their means of education and employment.  Outside the UN logs base the other day I saw many people standing with CV’s in orange envelopes waiting to hand them to anyone who would take them.  We have been inundated with requests for work and I passed another agency door today and saw people queuing with their orange envelopes.

One thing that our partners here are having to deal with is staff who have lost homes and possessions, how to provide for them and to make grants to enable them to having suitable housing.  This will also be a consideration for us as we take on permanent staff.

Queues are everywhere.  The WFP food distributions are still continuing this week and there are hold ups of traffic everywhere.  The US army and WFP seem to have commandeered all the Avis rentacars as I’ve seen many with both Avis and WFP stickers on, or Avis cars filled with American troops.  I passed the Canadian embassy today and there was a queue of several hundred people along the pavement outside, everyone applying for visas, the American embassy is the same.  All the banks have long queues outside, as do Western Union and all the mobile phone shops as people try and pick up money transfers coming in from family and friends.  Food prices are still rising sharply and people are struggling to afford the food that is now in the shops.  I went to a supermarket today and prices on almost all food items were more expensive than in the UK.

To avoid the traffic queues and to get to meetings one of the drivers, Jimmy Bruce (I kid you not and he is Haitian, not Scottish), takes me down the back roads.  It is off road driving but in many ways makes me think of living on a giant building site.  The roads are grey white with the dust, there is rubble on the roads and half built houses everywhere.  There looks to have been a lot of building going on at the time of the earthquake and it just adds to the surreal experience of a building development going on for miles.  Steel wire protrudes from the lumps on concrete and electric cables lie carelessly over, between and alongside houses.  Today I passed a Goodyear tyre shop.  To the front of the building there was a massive chunk of concrete, shaped with steel wires sticking out.  Maybe it was decorative before.  Standing on top of it were three men trying to break it apart to move it.  The comedy of the moment was them standing there with toe tector boots, hard hats, but only a hammer between the three of them.

The work on the food distribution at the church compound goes on, slowly some order is coming out of the chaos.  A large water filter has been installed, it isn’t up and running yet but they are looking to start water distribution as well, I’ve talked to them about trying to do this in conjunction with hygiene promotion.  Some thought needs to go into it before they start but it will get there.  Friday is 12th Feb, which means one month after the quake.  A national holiday and day of mourning has been declared.  The church has a fast for the day and will be holding a memorial at 4pm.  They have just asked people to bring the name and age of the person who died to try and ensure that the service is not too long, I’m sure it will be an emotional time for many attending.  On Sunday we sang the song which starts ‘Everyone needs compassion’ and has the chorus ‘Saviour He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save’ brings a whole new meaning to the words.

Our assessment team is out in Leogane at the moment.  It is a very rural area and they thought they may even have to use mules, but extreme off road driving has proved possible, though I’m not sure what the vehicles thought of it.  Tearfund is the first agency into those areas and they are desperately in need, even before the quake.  Some communities have literally just been turned to dust.  The concrete is a poor quality and just crumbles away.  Some wooden houses have remained standing, but landslides have landed large bolders into the middle of some homes.

I’ve attended a number of coordination meetings.  Hygiene promotion, shelter, child protection and education and WASH though those turned out to be problematic as they were in French with no translation!  I can now sound quite knowledgeable on transitional shelters, why no more tents, tracing children, solid waste and the agreed hygiene messages.  Coming up is psycho social support and religion and child friendly spaces.  The race is on to get people under tarpaulins (plastic sheeting) before 1st May when hurricane season is expected, to get hygiene promotion messages to all the 900 camps, provide adequate saniation and to protect the many unaccompanied children and get many of them back to families.  

Monday, February 8

Haiti Calling

Another Sunday in Port au Prince.  It is still very hot, one of the drivers reckoned that the humidity was about 70% in the evenings which is an indication of rain on the way.  So many people still sleeping out in the open and sanitation is not good in any way so there will be many implications when rains come.  The first are likely to be heavy.

Friday spent a lot of time stuck in traffic.  There have been riots in the town centre associated with massive food distributions that have been taking place this week by World Food Programme.  The riots meant a complete logjam on the roads.  Although Minustah, the UN site from before the quake, is out of town the traffic just didn’t move much.  I was late for a meeting there and then have to wait about two hours to be collected by the driver again.  Eventually he had to abandon his car on the side of the road and walk to get me!  Case management systems for tracking children are being set up, linking in UNICEFF, Haitian government, Save etc.  This is for unaccompanied and also children who are in certain situations with carers but not parents.  Girls are particularly identified as at risk.  We had a training meeting on needs assessment for partners on Thursday, and they identified a high level of concern with prostitution and child trafficking.

Spent quite a bit of time this week on organisation of the food distribution programme operated out of the church compound, hopefully will get it properly sorted the beginning of next week, they are also looking at a giant water filter which will have its own issues with regards to distribution, access, hygiene promotion.  There was a community meeting yesterday for Delmas 75, the area we are living in, the police attended and agreed to be present outside the compound when the distribution is on.  The situation is such though that some of the police are recipients of the food distribution.

The scale of the devastation in the city strikes you every time you go in and see the massive task just to clear the roads.  Debris still lies on roads, tarpaulins are stretched out over half the road in some places to give cover to families.  You often see families camped out against a house which is lop sided and half fallen down.  Roof, floors and garage are concertinaed together and a car and beds sandwiched in between.  Half a floor might hand down the front of a house held on only by some steel wire.  I saw a balcony which just looked like a flap at the front of a house as it hang down and another where the grill at the front of the balcony had captured all the possessions from the room as it was squashed, but there is no way to access it.  Many who could afford it have gone to the US and so their houses stand abandoned.  All around you see people trying to sweep out the debris and sift through the rubble, there are so many tons on rubble over such a wide area, the clear up just stretches on into the future.  Rumours abound about setting up a new capital and abandoning Port au Prince, statements that no building should take place in the area, and the President is keen to clear migrants out of the town back to the rural areas. 

The needs assessment team has been in Leogane since Friday, apparently some areas they are going just have nothing left, wood structures in some communities have been left standing but landslides have also affected people.  I am working with partners in Port au Prince this week on their needs assessments for the work they are doing.  They are all in a difficult situation, trying to assist those around them, but also dealing with their own grief and loss.

Our little camp city is a haven, apart from the cockerel that doesn’t know that dawn is not at midnight, and the dogs who only wake up at midnight and bark throughout the night.  Food is fine with a good mix.  Breakfast is porridge made in your bowl from oats, dried milk and sugar – tastes better than it sounds. Sandwich lunch and whatever the cook makes for dinner.  Our logs guys have worked really hard to try and get some semblance of order and ensure that we have water, transport etc.  One of our nightly routines is to guess the contents of the ultimate tech loggie.  He has about 8 different pockets and we are always amazed at the size of the items that come out – a bit like Mary Poppins handbag.  A revelation the other evening was a stealth belt, in addition to the utility belt.  A stealth belt has waterproof compartments and a hidden little knife.  It amuses us anyway.  Yesterday evening we began watching Spooks.  We could only watch two episodes as we didn’t have any power and the laptop batteries began to run down, it was quite funny though all of us sitting in the pitch black, in the office, with a mosi coil on a very hot sticky night, on hard metal chairs getting enthused about a television programme which was 8 years old.  We were very excited the other evening to obtain wifi – unfortunately at the moment it only seems to work for a few minutes in the early morning and maybe, if you are lucky, a few minutes at one other time.  Communication continues to be a challenge.  Google, Yahoo and hotmail accounts are inaccessible due to the speed of connection.  England and the snow and cold seem very far away.


Sunday, February 7

Reflections from Haiti

Email from Lindsey sent on 3rd Feb

Well I have been here in Port au Prince now for 5 days.  The weather is quite hot and sticky which is a problem for sleeping well at night.  Black hawks regularly fly overhead and the sound of enormous groups of people waiting for food distributions come over the walls.  We have the US military calling by to check up on us most days but the guards don’t let them in!
We have the camp set up and now have a cook to wash up and prepare a main meal for us in the evening, it makes a big difference for people coming in after a long day.  The showers are set up and working well, cold water, but it does wake you up in the morning.  The generator starts up at 6am so it is an early start for everyone.

A couple of American school buses turned up the other evening, full of young people who were on their way to Leograne.  They had come from the north and were just staying in the compound overnight, mostly they slept on the bus or out in the open.  Today a helicopter landed in the compound to take on a young boy with two bad fractures.  He was being flown up to a hospital in the north where they had the facilities to deal with the breaks. The church is wondering whether to allow regular use of the helicopter for medical purposes and this was the trial. It added excitement to the day.

The food distribution which goes on each day from the church is delayed today, the food truck didn’t turn up until 2pm and people had been waiting since 9am this morning, it is very hot today.  I’ve been helping the pastor try and get some order into the registration system, it is time consuming for the volunteers for a few days, taking all the names and details, but hopefully will be better in the long run.  We’ve set up a coloured registration system because there is a high level of illiteracy.  Yesterday there were just under 400 families (with an average family size of 7) who came and collected supplies, so about 2,800 being fed.  Sitting here in the office the worship band in the church was playing as the people queued for food.  Many of the songs they are singing are ones we sing at home every Sunday.  Thousands of miles apart and yet joined by worship.

I visited the UN Munistah site yesterday for the first time.  It is the headquarters for the UN response prior to the earthquake and has now become very much like an IDP camp for aid workers.  Their tents are so close together and out in the bright sun, I’m told the MAF site is the same.  Water everywhere is a real struggle.  We are very fortunate and blessed by our leafy compound.  We may have helicopters and occasional shots outside but it is by comparison very tranquil.

I went to the first of my cluster meetings yesterday on hygiene promotion.  The discussion was mostly around the importance of consistent messaging with the government and all the different agencies.  There are concerns around water treatment.  It isn’t always clear whether it is treated or not and people are also getting confused with usage of aquatabs.  As with many education messages it is the application that is difficult, even if you know what you should do.  Latrines are a major concern.  With so many tent cities within Port au Prince it is not possible to dig latrines at all the sites, the ground just isn’t suitable, emergency measures using large water tanks are in use but the question of what to do in the medium term before people have new homes remain.

Many people are out now clearing rubble from their homes, but are beginning to rebuild from what remains, trying to create some kind of structure from the debris, it obviously won’t stand up to another quake and what will happen in the next hurricane season, only a couple of months away, is a real concern.  It is still very strange to go down some streets and see very little damage and then turn a corner and see massive structures just crumpled to the ground.

We’ve heard that the President has said no more tents should come into the country and only interim shelters should be built, how this is going to work isn’t clear.  There are so many tent cities, in any open space, it is hard to imagine what is going to happen over the next few months when the rains begin.