My good friend Tony from Kellogg, aka "Travel Buddy" coined during our jaunt around southern Africa, is one of the many who are pitching in. He has spent 44 weeks down in Haiti working to provide access to clean water for those in the Central Plateau.
We met a kind woman on the plane (who recognized us from TV) that was traveling down to work in an Orphanage/School about an hour from the city. A Colorado native, she spends much of her time in Haiti educating and caring for children orphaned by the earthquake. We learned that there are makeshift-orphanages that solicit foreign donations, yet are not really an orphanage. They recruit neighborhood kids to pretend to be orphans while donors visit to check in on their investment. She cautioned us to check into any orphanages we might donate to.
Tony picked us up in the Port-Au-Prince airport on Friday morning. We had a jam packed day of meeting Tony's professional network. The fastest (but not safest) form of transport was mototaxi. We traveled in a gang of mototaxis from one meeting to another and it was quite the experience! I had never been on a motorcycle before but I trusted Tony's judgement on this one.
Saturday morning was spent with 17 kids at a local orphanage where Ernie played soccer with the kids, they sang and jumped rope. The soccer ball was so old and deflated, the ropes were several pieces of twine knotted together. Kids ages 4-14 ran around in knock-off Crocs in the most vibrant colors worn to the sole. We often take for granted how easy it is to stop by the local sports store and buy a new soccer ball or new toys, while these children really test the longevity of material goods because they have very limited access to them. I wish we had brought toys to donate, rather than cases of cookies and candy, although I'm sure they are grateful for anything we could have brought.
In the afternoon, we took a private "tap tap" (minivan) on a driving tour of downtown. The palace was crushed and crumbled, while the once beautiful green park is now covered in a massive tent city. Approximately 600 thousand people live in tents. It's been almost two years since the damaging earthquake, yet there is still vast reminders of the destruction. Roads are torn up with potholes every few feet, trash is carlessly littered everwhere and there's no goverment trash removal, houses with three walls and families still living inside. Devestation was everywhere, except on the people's faces. Haitians seem content, happy and faithful to their religion.
Off we were to the southern coastal city of Jacmel. A tourism company owner from last night's book club encouraged us to go. She said "it's like New Orleans with the Creole architecture." It may be Creole but there was little to no resemblance to New Orleans. We stopped at a lovely hotel for a lobster lunch. "The view was better than the lobster," Tony accurately remarks. The remainder of the day was spent with ex-pats on the beach eating fresh oysters and lobster (again) over lively conversation.
We met such a wide array of people, and thank them for their generosity. Meetings with leaders included the Haitian Tourism Board, American Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross, Cross International (thanks for housing us!), Save the Children, Caribbean Harvest Foundation, We Advance (a women and children's empowerment organization), World Vision, Rotary and perhaps the most inspirational of all - the Peace Dividend Trust. There's somewhere between 2,900-5,000 Non-Profits making a social impact.
Despite all this help, there's still no infrastructure for some of the basics like education, electricty, clean water or sanitation. I worry about the level of dependency the country has on foreign aid. A new political leader was recently elected so time will tell if the significant changes needed will come to fruition.