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.