Just got back from Haiti yesterday! Whew! Sweating steadily for a week. It is really hot and muggy there and it is only May. Visited with about sixty of our close to 300 groups there and I can tell you that there is a lot of enthusiasm and activity in helping to rebuild the country and to rebuild the shattered lives of the Haitian people. The physical infrastructure is still in a shambles and the rubble seems to be largely still where it was when I was last there in February. But many many people are pitching in and the work is going forward. It is just such a big job that it is hard to see the effects yet.
While it could still happen as the rainy season increases in intensity, so far, a large and catastrophic epidemic has not occurred and there is some hope that it will not. But large numbers of families are still living in "homes" consisting of a single bedsheet with four sticks holding it up. That may keep the sun off, but not the rain. Yet the people are still smiling and friendly in spite of the often miserable conditions.
We were welcomed everywhere and even spent over an hour with one of Haiti's most prominent lawyers. He was very grateful for our assistance since the earthquake. He told us "After the quake, there was no hope left in Haiti. But then the Volunteer Ministers came and there was hope!" He is writing a book on the rebuilding of Haiti and is including our role as a vital part of that effort. A very prominent and internationally-known religious leader also met with our group and was extremely complimentary about the work performed by our Volunteer Ministers.
In the last couple of months, we have trained many thousands of the local people in how to assist others and these people have been organized into hundreds of groups that are now busy delivering assistance and developing and training even more groups. Thus, with a relatively small number of VMs from other countries (several hundred over the past few months) we have been able to directly assist between 250,000 and 300,000 people! The VM group leaders keep track of how many people are helped each day and this past Saturday, for example, the number was over 6,000! Isn't that amazing? We still have Russian Volunteer Ministers actively helping at the General Hospital every day. I renewed friendships with VMs I worked with several months ago and made many new friendships with VMs from Hungary, Russia, Mexico, France, the USA and of course, my Haitian buddies.
The Future of Haiti Orphanage (that was rebuilt and organized by a group of Italian VMs) is providing a safe environment, a stable home and a good school education to 150 children that would otherwise still be roaming the streets of Port au Prince after their previous orphanages collapsed in the quake. I met the children and I was very touched by their friendliness and affection. (Not all of the children have sponsors yet, so please visit their website and consider sponsoring a child, http://www.thefutureofhaiti.org/). I brought a backpack full of gifts for one child, a beautiful ten year old girl with the very appropriate name "Lovely". It made her very very happy and she wrote a very touching letter that I brought back with me to give to her sponsor (Ericka).
We have established a base with a large building, with running water and electricity (run by a generator most of the time). That doesn't sound like a big deal, but if you haven't been to Haiti - you have no idea! While I prefer hot showers and air conditioning and a real bed, our new base is a tremendous upgrade over the truly grueling conditions we lived in back in January and February 2010. A Hungarian VM who is also an accomplished artist, painted the VM logo and our motto "Something Can Be Done About It!" on the outside wall of our compound over the past few days and it is really attention grabbing! One of my brothers had donated a water purification system to the VM Haiti project some months back and I was happy to see it mounted on the wall of the camp kitchen. It provides an ample supply of safe drinking water for all the VMs. So, except for the local rooster who seems to be confused about time since the earthquake and starts crowing every morning at 4 am, we have a fairly comfortable, stable and very safe base to operate from.
A Haitian celebrity donated a walled & gated piece of property for use as a training facility. We have erected a large VM tent there and there are thousands of local people in that district who are waiting for our assist seminars to begin in that area. I, and the other two VMs in our party have promised the Haitian VM in charge of that area that we would see to it that they had the funds to provide benches for the people to sit on during the seminars. They need $800 to purchase the materials with which to build these benches. That's over one year's pay for an average Haitian, so it is beyond their ability to pull it off without our help. If you would like to help on this, please let me know. If enough people donate ten or twenty dollars, we can do it in the next week or so. Believe me, any amount at all is welcome.
As it is now several months after the earthquake, the news organizations have all left and Haiti has disappeared from the news and it is easy to forget that there is still much to be done there. So the flow of funds and volunteers has dwindled over time and many countries have now withdrawn their military and civil aid teams. If you would like to help, either financially or by going there and giving these people a hand, let me know and I will help you get there. It is tough and there is much that is unpleasant to confront, but it is truly rewarding and you will fall in love with the people of Haiti.
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