We've been back from Haiti for a 1 1/2 weeks. It has taken this long to update the blog with the details of the trip because to be honest, the conditions there are surreal. The devastation witnessed by our team cannot be described in even the most articulate journalistic words. A one minute news video clip cannot do it justice. It is understandable that our host, Pastor Robert Compere, said "you must come see for yourself." Nevertheless, I shall attempt to give you some details of the trip and include some additional photos. It is almost a book due to so much information. But first, if you are in the California area, we will host a benefit concert for flood survivors on Saturday, October 25, 2008 from 6-8pm at Revival Center Ministries located at 910 Tennessee St. in Vallejo, CA. Featured will the awesome voice of Georgia Kennion accompanied by the Spirit of Revival Choir. A short feature video will also be shown from Haiti and there will be novelties available for sale in the lobby following the concert. All proceeds after expenses will go toward flood relief efforts in Haiti. The concert is in partnership with Water and Education Int'l (weihumanitarian.org) and Revival Center Ministries (revivalcenter.org). Now for the update:
The good news is that none of our Haitian contacts lost their lives or family members, however the majority of them lost all possessions and many lost their homes. In addition, the latest death toll from the storms was right around 800 when I last saw it, therefore much prayer is needed for the survivors.
There was a team of five of us which departed California on Sunday, September 28th on a red eye flight out of San Francisco. After a delay due to plane problems in Miami on Monday we were finally on our way to Port Au Prince. Let me insert here that for believers, there is no such thing as a coincidental delay; there are only divine delays. At the layover in Miami, a gentleman struck up a conversation with Pastor Brown. It turned out he is the president of a boarding school in Port Au Prince. The team was invited to visit the school which we did on our way back. The unique thing about the school that made this a divine connection is that the school is over 90% solar powered which is something we have been very interested in since one of our 2006 mission team members from Florida bought solar energy to our attention as a means of electricity for Haiti. For the fortunate few that have access to electricity in Haiti, it comes on at 6 pm and runs until 5:30 or 6:00 am. You must pay for getting a light pole and hookup for this government run power. I was personally extremely impressed with the school and may blog about the visit to the school which is called Louverture Cleary School later but due to content, I will focus on the results of the overall purpose of the trip which was to assess the damages.
Arriving in the evening to Port Au Prince on Monday, we were advised to stay overnight there due to the roads being too dangerous. There was no argument from our weary group. Fortunately a caterer from our church who prepared a lunch for the team to take in June felt God has given him to do so for future teams. Even more so than in June when we were delayed at the airport for 7 hours, this food really came in handy. Once settled in, we met up in one room and enjoyed this meal of corn on the cob, fried chicken, pound cake, tea cakes and "to live for" peanut brittle!
Refreshed the next morning, Tuesday, September 30th, we headed for Gonaives. Each member of our team had been to Haiti earlier this year with the exception of the camera man so we knew what the area looked like prior to the flooding bought on by four storms within a few week period (Tropical Storm Fay in August and Hurricanes Gustave, Hannah and Ike in September). Nevertheless we were speechless as we travelled through the areas. Entire villages were either washed away leaving ruins or still completely under water. One city named Cabaret which is located about 6-7 miles from Port Au Prince was still flooded. When the river overflowed it's banks around 11pm, most people were asleep. 75 people died, most of them children. In dry areas, there families now living in dome tents with USAid written on them. Said our host, "the river flowing now where houses were. The river makes it's own way." Literally we saw scenes like this repeatedly. The obvious ferocity of the waters wiped out everything in it's path creating rivers at will.
Continuing on, we had to detour as we approached the port city of St. Marc (55 km from Gonaives) where the bridge (recently built) is now gone. We stopped in St. Marc to purchase bottled water which our host said would be hard to find from this point on. The journey became interesting as we travelled on an old road that had been reopened. Winding and treacherous with virtually nowhere to pull over, we had a few hairy moments as our SUV seemed to play chicken with oncoming vehicles on this unpaved path.
Approaching the next town of L'Estere, all the rice fields were underwater. The marketplace there was full of mud, water and people still attempting to sell and buy. Continuing on toward Gonaives, we were saddened that the progressive roads that had been recently build and paved to connect to Gonaives was destroyed along with the nice new bridge. Once again we were on the back roads driving through areas that used to be populated with homes but now rivers with an occasional rooftop sticking out of the waters. Travelling over an old bridge we see a few people doing laundry by the water with still rapid currents flowing. Our host pointed out a dam area which he said was opened when the waters became strong but the officials erroneously thought the waters would go one way and instead they flooded Gonaives and everything in it's path.
Another disturbing picture was the newly built orphanage we saw when we were here in June that opened in July with 12 little children. Barely visible now is the top of the wall in a sea of water. Thank God, the children were rescued and are now housed in a temporary orphanage in Port Au Prince which we also visited on our way back.
The most difficult thing was the entrance into the city of Gonaives. Much of the city was unrecognizable. Quicksand type mud and water is everywhere. Many streets are impassable by vehicle. Many homes and businesses are either destroyed or heavily damaged. Mounds of mud are piled along the streets where those fortunate enough to still have a home or business are shoveling mud out. Piles of furniture are being washed in the muddy waters along the street. Furniture and people are on rooftops where many now make their home. Sheets are makeshift shields from the sun and the public. The second floor of schools that survived are now full of families with nowhere to live.
Arriving at our regular hotel we were informed that our rooms had been given away when we did not arrive the previous night as scheduled. The alternative hotel we found was clearly a safety hazard but thank God before the evening was over our regular hotel had done a rush job on a couple of the flood damaged rooms on the 1st floor and we were able to stay there. For you savvy travelers, our regular hotel, Heberson Paradis, is equivalent to a minus 5 star hotel but the alternative hotels make it look like a 10 star hotel. Enough said.
Heading over to the Love and Light mission compound, we found the road impassable except by foot with long boots. No problem however because the area adjacent is now a wide open field where buildings and walls were ripped away by the flood. Maneuvering the SUV across this vast area to the compound we see trucks that were swept there by the waters. Our compound is now wide open as the flood washed away all the walls leaving only the gates standing. A large railroad boxcar lies wedged against one wall, swept there from who knows where by the waters. Over a foot of mud is caked on the grounds and in the lower classrooms. The desks which were not in good condition to begin with are now a pile of rubble. Men are shoveling out mud and clearing out the debris. The medical clinic lost everything, the computer equipment is destroyed. The bakery is heavily damaged but the equipment is there and once dried out will be examined to see if it works. The sewing school is damaged and the 12 new sewing machines are salvaged and once dried out will also be examined to see if they work. The last food pedal sewing machine which survived the '04 flood from Hurricane Jean is now destroyed. The basketball court has been shoveled off although the lines are barely visible. Nevertheless the poles and new nets we put in for the sports camp in June survived and a few youth are there playing ball. The church members had already cleared all mud out of the church, cleaned up the benches and even hung new curtains. The water well is damaged and inoperable. The generator is destroyed. It's still Tuesday. The kitchen has been cleaned and the beans and rice which was distributed by a relief organization are being cooked to be distributed in one of the small areas only they haven't found a truck to get the food there. So the team clears our luggage out of the SUV, load up pots and off we go to a little area called Deseus. Once there, Pastor Robert sounds a loud speaker siren and people began streaming over to the porch of a little house where we have set up the pots. They had waited all day for the food and finally headed back home thinking there would be no meal. Approximately 110 adults and children were fed before the food ran out. On little boy stands out in my mind as we were driving away, he is walking down the road with his plastic bucket on his arm licking the last of the beans and rice from his hands. He gives us a big smile and waves as we pass him by.
Next we toured the area where Pastor Joseph Garcon lived. He is the director of the school in the mountain of Dechaos. His house is totally destroyed with just ruins left. He tells us that the waters pushed in the door then lifted the house up off the foundation and dashed it to pieces. He and his family, however, had fled to higher grounds just in time.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
We toured more areas of Gonaives, some of it on foot, beginning with the area where the land we originally planned on purchasing to build a mission house complex is. Once lush and green, we did not realize we were standing on the land until our host told us. The grounds are covered with mud. I could not find where the water well was. Many of the houses that were around the land are gone or badly damaged. Still standing however is the tree I call the tree of life. It's not large like some of the ones we saw ripped up from the root by the waters yet it sits in the midst unscathed. The small family that sit under the tree in '06 where members of our '06 team shared food with them still lives nearby. The mother shows us her ailing mom is suffering from severe diarrhea while informing us that she lost all her possessions. "I found the skirt I have on now in the mud, she says. We have no food and no medicine for my mother." After praying for her mother, the team begins to leave followed by a group of little boys.
At our hosts request, one boy rapidly climbs a tall coconut tree and throws down coconuts. Another young man uses a machete to open the coconut. Missionary Ann and myself bravely drink the juice which actually tasted good.
Next we walk through the mud over to Archange Derival's community. Archange often interprets for us. We survey the damage to his home which sustained mud and water but is still standing. Some of his furniture was salvaged but most of he, his wife and four children's possessions are gone. The team is delighted with his new baby, Ardens Ramsley, who was born in July. When the family was stranded on their roof for several days in the rain during the flood, they feared the baby would die. His wife told the team, the baby begin to turn pale from the rain waters and they prayed God would spare his life. Fat and smiling broadly, Ardens grins with the team as we take photos. Archange shows us his motorcycle some of the previous team members helped pay for which now is damaged from the waters. He and his wife are interviewed on camera and express their gratitude for surviving but express safety and security concern that the walls are torn down around their home. Behind is a cemetery where the waters have flowed over to his area from the above ground graves. The storm destroyed his garden he so proudly showed us in June but he indicates he will replant. The water pump in the front yard is being used by the community but he tells us the water is not safe. A previous team member from '06 sent funds which we give him to put in new pipes for the pump. Out of work as a teacher, he expresses concern about putting them through school and feeding his family. Although he is also a certified plumber and electrician, there is no work. Many people in his community also lost all and have no food.
Leaving the area, the team heads to the market area to purchase beans, rice and cooking oil. It isn't easy to find the way through the mud, people and vehicles sloshing in the mud and water. Finally finding a street vendor, hundreds of pounds of beans and rice are purchased along with plastic bags and oil. Back to the mission compound we quickly form an assembly line and begin bagging. A plastic bowl and a half of beans in a bag and the same process for rice. Once done, we load up and return to the the area. Word quickly spreads, and the crowd grows rapidly as we distribute the food. The crowd becomes unruly to the point we are forced to leave as soon as we've given out the food without being able to give them the oil. A fight even breaks out at one point. We were able to give some medication to the one lady to give her mother for the diarrhea who was obviously suffering dehydration. Getting to the end of the road away from the crowd, we stop again and open the back of the truck. Another crown gathers quickly with pans, bowls and even dirty bottles to get the cooking oil we're pouring. Again the crowd gets out of hand and we finally leave even though we've distributed all but a half gallon. Limited availability and price gouging has driven prices up so high that people cannot afford these basic foods.
There are food distributions by the police and other groups where UN soldiers are posted with riot gear and automatic weapons to keep the crowd in line. The lines stretch down the roads as people receive their 50 pound sacks of rice and carry it on their heads. Yet there are many that are still cut off from any form of aid.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Starting early, the team packs up medical supplies and head for three locations: Ennery, Dechaos and Bienac. The once mostly paved road is either completely washed away or we have to drive on one half that is still in tact while looking over at the newly formed valley type water bed that the flood cut out. Areas where modest mud type houses once stood among mango trees are wiped clean. Mango crops are destroyed thus the little roadside market we usually patronize to purchase the deliciously sweet fruit no longer exists. Arriving at the site of the bridge leading to Ennery and Cap Haitien, we're see the bridge broken down at an angle with the flood waters flowing pass. Our host, Pastor Robert, informs us that when the waters were at their height the people were cut off for days from any form of assistance because this is the only way to get to them. He then begin to drive through the swift flowing water much to the alarm of the missionaries. Making it safely across, we sighed with relief as we continued to Ennery where we visited the Good Shepherd school and church. Although the facilities suffered no damage, the families lost crops and those that had businesses in Gonaives lost all. The pastor's wife tells how she now owes the bank for her business loan and doesn't know what she will do because she lost her animals in Ennery and her business in Gonaives where she used to sell beans, rice and oil. In addition, her husband is suffering from a medical condition which limits his walking and they have four children.
Leaving Ennery, we head to Dechaos mountain. While we used to drive part of the way up and walk for 45 minutes to an hour the rest of the way up the mountain, we now had to park near the water and walk all the way. The rain waters formed in the mountains and flowed with a mounting force down cutting the wide swaths we passed taking everything, roads, bridges, homes, trees, crops and people with it as it swept into Gonaives. The path we normally travelled up the mountain is now steeper and full of hazardous rocks. Looking out over the beautiful mountains that were lush and green we now see white spiderous veins running down the mountains where the waters stripped away the trees and greenery on it's way down the mountains. Finally arriving to the school and church we find no storm damage. The school consisting of banana leaf walls, dirt floor and a chalk board is standing, but the people are hungry and many are sick. We find ourselves conducting a minor medical clinic inside the church. A 14 year old young man comes in with a nasty looking obviously infected wound on his leg. "I hurt it in the flood when a tree hit it," he says. Using peroxide and iodine we clean the wound and wrap it. He is given care instructions and some medical supplies to take care of it. Others come suffering rashes from the waters, infected sores resulting from mosquito bites, stomach pains and headaches. We treat as many as possible using the supplies we have although some complaints of eye problems, anemia and worms among other things we are not qualified or equipped to treat.
Heading back down the mountain trail we prepare to go to Bienac but must stop at Love and Light to get more medical supplies. Arriving at Bienac, we enter the little tin church building and interview the pastor who tells us how he crammed 20 people in his one room house to shelter them from the flood. The people began to file in with medical complaints. The pastor's baby girl has a fever. A little boy has sores throughout his head. Another little boy has pussy sores on his ear formed by him scratching insect bites thus infecting them. Others have rashes, stomach pains, diarrhea, headaches. Once man has a leg wound similar to the boy in Dechaos which he says he got in the '04 Hurricane Jean flood yet it is still painful. The team once again sets up a makeshift medical clinic inside the church. Finally the weary team returns to the hotel. That night a storms comes with heavy rain and lightning. My heart goes out to the many people sleeping on the roof tops.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Today we will leave and return to Port Au Prince to stay overnight before leaving for home. Rising up at sunrise, I watch the people on the roofs getting up preparing for their day. Reflecting over the past few days and rehearsing the various stories of survival and loss, it strikes me that although many of the stories are similar in nature, they have one thing in common which is they are all thankful to have escaped with their lives. Especially since many were asleep and barely escaped only what they were sleeping in.
What really strikes me is the resolve of the Haitian people. I've witnessed them shovelling out mud and carrying on their duties in the face of this adversity. I look out from the hotel this morning and watch as throngs of people are coming into the town carrying wares on their heads while a privileged few use sticks to prod ladden down donkeys to keep moving. They are heading to any area they can to either set up shop to sell their wares, or to find merchants selling what's needed. Sloshing through the mud, many remove their shoes. Large puddles of water have become truck and motorcycle car washes as well places to wash the thick mud off of shoes, legs and feet. This is their country and life goes on. They will overcome once again.
We finally say our goodbyes and head for Port Au Prince.
Upon arrival there, we check into our hotel near the airport and head out to visit the school with the solar powered campus that the man in the Miami airport told Pastor Brown about. We are given a grand tour and invited to join him and the principal in the mission house for lunch which we accept. Most impressive was the young people at the school who live there Monday-Friday and go home over the weekend. They are from poor families and attend tuition free. The self confidence and sense of ownership the students possess is evident. The school instills a sense of civic and community responsibility in the youth who have to do 30 hours of community service in the surrounding area. The older students are required to mentor the younger ones. On one wall is a quote from President John F. Kennedy which sums up the schools focus: "Ask not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country."
Next we leave the school and head to the location of the temporary orphanage. Walking in the door these darlings immediately swarm around us hugging our legs and showing us their toys and verbal abilities. "Mama, mama," they cry out to Ann and I. They are the most adorable children. Pastor Robert told of the conditions some of the children were in when first bought into the orphanage in July. One little boy full of personality had recently received a clean bill of health after having tuberculosis. Another little girl came with a swollen stomach from sickness but is now doing well. A little baby girl about 10 months old cuddled in my arms has a large sore in her head that they tell us the doctor is treating. Looking at them, they are happy in this loving environment.
Finally we head back to the hotel where we enjoy dinner outside near the pool. Still not a hotel with any stars but better than a rooftop.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
After a minor delay at the airport we depart Port Au Prince for Miami and then onto San Francisco. Home at last. Praise God.
Pastor Ollie Dixon