First impressions

Feb. 19
Edwin Upton, Fuller Center volunteer

My first impression was that this was like the staged buildings you see at Disney World.  The houses look like they are ready to fall down and there is junk everywhere.  The main difference is that Disney World is spotlessly clean and there was trash everywhere. 

My second impression is that this is like the steelmaking shop that I worked in for the last 14 years of my steelmaking career.  A steelmaking shop is hot dirty, dusty and has plenty of rubble.  I soon came to appreciate that the steelmaking shop is probably cleaner. 

After this, my impressions only got worse.  PAP (Port-au-Prince) has no trash service and no city water either before or after the earthquake.  There were piles of trash all around and rubble from the earthquake was all around including in the streets.  Somehow this trash must get removed but it is not clear how or by whom.  There are areas in the city that people go to get their daily water.  There are open sewers that trash accumulates in and is periodically washed to the sea.

There is no electricity to speak of.  At Grace International, there are generators to make the electricity.  This requires fuel oil or gasoline.  Gas was said to be $5 per gallon (we complain about $3 gas).   Progress on the removal of damaged structures is very slow.

Heather mentioned that the corruption in Haiti was a big problem in obtaining a good title to land.  You may buy a piece of property, but then other people show up claiming ownership.  It seems for a bribe you can get just about anything and that bribes are also needed to get some action on perfectly legitimate things. 

According to Heather, Haitians feel that we are here to make money off of them.   She said that they have limited vision since they struggle to survive on a day by day basis and cannot comprehend that we could come here to help.  They cannot believe that we could come here to help and expect nothing in return.

We arrived at Grace International and unpacked orphanage clothes and tools.  Before the earthquake, the compound had 12 acres of land with beautiful green lawns surrounding the Grace Center.  Immediately after the earthquake, 22,000 people made a tent city within the walled in compound.  This works out to about 1 person for every 23 square feet, an area less than 5 feet on a side.  Currently there are 15,000 people in the tent city.  Tents virtually touch each other. The grass has been worn down to nothing but rocky soil. 

Grace has organized the community as good as can be expected.  They have a garbage dump, a latrine area, a clothes washing area, and a water distribution area.  They also have set up a court to adjudicate disputes and control behavior.  Grace is planning to eliminate the tent city in 17 months.  It is hard for me to see how this land can recover to the former beauty.

There are so many other things that could be said about the deplorable conditions but despite this the Haitians people have survived.  The children all seemed happy.  The children were curious about us and wanted to touch us or shake hands.

We'd love to hear your comments!