An hour and a half from Miami I look out from the airplane window at clusters of blue tents scattered about the dense city of Port-au-Prince, the outskirts lined with transitional shelters, and the rugged mountains towering just behind. We have arrived to Haiti.
Rafael and I landed in Port-au-Prince yesterday morning with excitement after nearly a three month wait. After clearing through customs we proceded outside where a local driver was waiting for us, and he drove us to the nearby Grassroots United compound where we are stationed as a base for our activites. There are many organizations and individuals working on all types of projects ranging from health and education, to construction and microfinance. We were welcomed in good spirits and spent the day getting oriented and meeting some of the fifty plus people staying here.
After breakfast this morning we tagged along with a volunteer to his work-site where he is helping to set up a school in one of the camps, and we piled into one tap-tap after another (modified pick-up trucks used as shared taxis) as we navigated our way through the maze of the bustling capital. After about 40 minutes we arrived at one of the shelter camps on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince called Canaan and were greeted by playful children who wanted to hold our hands as we walked around. The volunteer estimated there are 5,000 people living in small shelters scattered along the treeless hillside. This is one of the smaller camps, he said. The living conditions there are very difficult. With no electricity or running water, let alone a sewage system, there is almost no livelihood on site aside from some small garden plots where people grow what they can to eat or sell--and water is scarce. The people are not living here by choice so much as necessity. This camp is located about 25 minutes by tap-tap from any kind of market or workplace. ACF International has been distributing drinking water and removing human waste. When I asked someone what would happen if ACF International were to stop distributing drinking water, he simply replied, there wouldn't be any water. We met a man along the path who is living there with his wife and daughter. He invited us into his plywood house where he now lives. Almost in tears he told us about how he used to own a pharmacy, but since he lost his home and store in the quake he has not been able to find a job. Thankfully his wife still works at the hospital so they can buy food for themselves. Many families like this have no safety nets to fall back on. We showed him pictures of our shelter design, and he was very excited and supportive of our idea. With proper financing tools, he said, we would certainly find homes for middle class families still looking for the land titles to rebuild their homes on.
Tomorrow we are going with the founders of Builders Without Borders to visit a housing exhibition available housing unit designs for Haiti (Building Back Better Communities).