For Haitians, help is close, yet so far away

LÉOGÂNE, Haiti — Little Nadhi Adolphe lay slumped in the crook of her mother’s arm, her eyes dull, her feet dangling in tiny black patent-leather shoes as Habitat for Humanity volunteers hurried to complete a weeklong building blitz.

Nadhi’s mother, Rosemie Dodo, was to get one of the 100 Habitat houses. But she had a more pressing concern on this final blitz day than shelter. Couldn’t someone at this sprawling worksite, with its mess tent, its shipping containers of power tools, its air-conditioned bus and most important its medical tent tell her what was wrong with the baby?

The answer, at first, was no. The lone doctor on site wasn’t a pediatrician. Health care was not Habitat’s role. Dodo needed to seek help elsewhere.

This maddening scene played out earlier this month just as Habitat was calling it a week and celebrating one small victory in a country of relentless need.

It seemed to illustrate the conundrum of Haiti. So close to the U.S. (710 miles separate Port-au-Prince from Miami) and so far away in wealth (most Haitians lived on less than $2 a day before the 2010 earthquake). So close to help (about $4.6 billion pledged in post-quake international response) and so far away in actuality (less than half has been disbursed). So close to modernity, even in the neighboring Dominican Republic. So far away in basic measures like health.

The 400 Habitat volunteers experienced this somewhat in the reverse. They were in this coastal town that lost most of its structures to the quake. But their experience of life in Haiti was largely reduced to what they could see through a fence or out their bus windows: a view of a poverty so deep and vast that this effort would hardly make a dent.

It was a vantage point that offered no context, neither the progress that had been made in the nearly two years since the magnitude-7.0 quake nor the two centuries leading up to it that contributed significantly to the loss.

Many who have worked extensively in Haiti have referred to the quake as man-made. Nature might have caused the tectonic plates to shift, but unregulated, shoddy construction in the densely populated Port-au-Prince brought the buildings down. Add to that: the absence, largely, of public water and sewer systems, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure; a mostly deforested island that exacerbates effects of wet, tropical weather; an imports-dependent, expensive food supply that had children eating dirt cookies three years ago; a chronic lack of employment; and political turbulence and corruption. Then the quake becomes just one more lousy card Haitians are forced to play.

There was hope, at least, that the quake would be a game-changer for the Haitians in this positive way: it would seize the world’s attention and “build back better,” as former President Bill Clinton, U.N. special envoy to Haiti, has advocated.

Though strides have been made in critical areas — rubble is being removed, people are moving out of the tent camps — it appears that goal is a long way off.

Complicating the reconstruction effort is a mixed picture on aid and how best to use it. Foreign aid is tangled in its own web of bureaucracy, rules and turf battles. Most of the USAID money, for example, is earmarked for certain causes.

Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard University clinician and the deputy special envoy under Clinton, offered several reasons for the hold-up in aid: the bureaucracy and politics of donor governments, stiff competition for contracts and the weak Haitian government.

This, over the years, contributed to the proliferation of church-group, private and non-governmental organizations — some 3,000 by one estimate — trying to help Haiti. Donors long were concerned about the Haitian government’s wherewithal to spend donated funds appropriately and often bypassed the government to work with non-governmental organizations, known as NGOs.

And the NGOs have operated with mixed results. Another Haiti expert, Robert Maguire, chairman of the Haiti Working Group for the U.S. Institute of Peace and a George Washington University professor, said the NGOs “are not any kind of silver bullet or elixir.”
It’s not that Haiti wasn’t on the receiving end of, as Farmer has written, a “tsunami of good will.” Half of U.S. households, it is estimated, plus the U.S. government pledged or donated funds following the earthquake.

But NGOs do not have the capacity to undertake the massive public works projects that should be government-led, Farmer and Maguire argue.

NGOs like the one started by actor Sean Penn, called J/P HRO, say they are working around the clock to address the very pressing needs of shelter, water, food and safety.

Benjamin Krause, an Omahan who has been working in earthquake relief and reconstruction in Haiti since March 2010, is J/P HRO’s country director. His main job is managing the large displaced persons camp on what used to be a Port-au-Prince golf course. Krause said NGOs and the government fulfill important roles. But not even governments in the most developed nations can provide for all its citizens.

So back to that week in Haiti.

In post-quake Haiti, Habitat for Humanity is part of a larger collaboration of U.N.-led NGOs and governments working on the pressing issue of shelter.

The Habitat project is supposed to result in 500 homes by next year. Through its other post-quake projects, it hopes to serve an estimated 50,000 Haitian families.

Omahan John Bunch, one of the six Nebraska volunteers to spend a week there, said the project might seem small in light of the need. But what choice do donors have but to dig in and get to work?

“You do the most good you can,” Bunch said, “when you can.”

Bunch was one of three Americans trying to help Rosemie Dodo get help for her baby.

She had been watching the volunteers pack up and motioned to a reporter for help. The reporter snagged a French-speaking volunteer who had relayed the bad news to Dodo that the medics on site couldn’t help her.

Bunch, a TD Ameritrade executive, was floored that the best advice was to go somewhere else.

If it was a matter of a hospital bill, he said, he’d pay.

Then he, the reporter and a Haitian-American volunteer marched Dodo and her baby to the medic area where, through Haitian Creole and English, they patched together Dodo’s complaint. Little Nadhi had diarrhea for three weeks and was not improving despite the medicine Dodo had obtained.

“When she went to the hospital,” said Jean Price Vixama, who translated, “they gave her a solution. She thought she had to drink it because she had to breast-feed the baby. She’s been taking the solution for the last three weeks.”

The group of medics and the sole doctor began telling Dodo that no, the baby gets the medicine directly.

Bunch asked for some of the electrolyte packets Habitat was giving to dehydrated volunteers, and the medics told Dodo in Creole the dosage little Nadhi should get. Over and over they emphasized: give it to the baby directly.

So close and so far away.

But for that moment, at least, like the 100 Habitat houses mostly finished that week, it seemed a difference had been made.
Vixama later said that’s the prism through which to view Haiti.

“That’s the way it is,” said Vixama, a Haitian-born mechanical engineer from New York. “We can change a little bit of the world. We can’t change the world.”

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Former Omahan becomes Sean Penn’s point man in Haiti

A warning to parents of teenagers who want to serve the poor.

They might wind up like 1999 Creighton Prep grad Benjamin Krause (pictured above), who is actor Sean Penn’s point man in Haiti for Penn’s respected post-quake organization, J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

Krause landed in Haiti after a dozen years of mostly international service work that began with a Prep-led trip to the Dominican Republic, where Creighton University operates a community-building and health care organization.

Krause was an 18-year-old high school junior. He repeated the trip his senior year, found a college (Xavier in Cincinnati) with a strong service work component, spent summers in Latin America, served the U.S. poor and visited Haiti as a Jesuit novice. He left that to run an organization in Uganda, then pursued a master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University’s Washington, D.C., campus and then went to work for Catholic Relief Services in Africa.

Krause was wrapping up his development work in Ethiopia when the earthquake hit Haiti.

Two months later, in March 2010, the Catholic Relief Services sent Krause to Port-au-Prince on what was supposed to be a temporary assignment.

Like the many Americans, including a number of Oma­hans who showed up to help after the earthquake, Krause was shocked by the scale of ruin and massive need.

His principal work was in a growing tent camp, one of the capital’s largest, on a private golf course where Penn had been working with a growing staff. Krause and Penn worked closely together, and then Penn hired the 31-year-old to be country director of J/P HRO.

The camp population has dropped from a high of 60,000 in April 2010 to 20,000 now.

Penn hadn’t intended to start an organization; it evolved after he arrived with a cadre of medical volunteers who encountered so much need that the actor began to ramp up his efforts. J/P HRO has principally become the de facto manager of the Petionville Club Camp, coordinating the services provided there while also helping camp residents find their homes or make new ones.

The organization helped move several thousand camp residents, at the urging of U.S. and Haitian governments, to what was to have been a better location, called Corail-Cesselesse, outside Port-au-Prince. Government promises for that site never materialized, which attracted a lot of negative attention.

Penn has defended his role, and Krause said J/P HRO is one of the most nimble organizations when it comes to rubble removal.
Krause said the organization provides emergency medical services for 1,600 patients a week, schools for 400 children, community programming, small-business training, a recycling effort and rubble removal. J/P HRO has hauled out 10,000 dump trucks of rubble over the past 18 months, he said.

He said Haiti’s need is huge, so it helps to focus on specific, small goals and see forward motion.

Krause said his heroes are the Haitians, who endured the trauma of loss and are moving forward, “doing everything they possibly can to rebuild their country and help their neighbors.”

“The people I work with here are incredibly inspiring,” Krause said. “It’s why I continue to do this work. I feel they help me be a better person at the end of the day.”

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Erin Grace: Just the way you like it

I was wrapping up a story and thinking of the myriad loose ends.

The beans to be heated up for dinner (again). The facts to double-check. The stripped bed to be made. The e-mails to answer. The umpteenth trip to the grocery store. The floors to mop.

And a phrase I hadn’t heard in two weeks popped into my head: “And that’s just the way I like it!”

That’s what the head of Habitat for Humanity told some 400 volunteers in Atlanta earlier this month before a weeklong building project in Haiti.

Jonathan Reckford warned the volunteers that in addition to the emotions Haiti would stir up and the hard physical labor of construction, there would be inconveniences and lots of ways things wouldn’t go according to plan. Cold showers. Not enough drills. Long dinner lines. Army cots. When you feel a complaint arise, he said, tack this on: “And that’s just the way I like it!”

So in Haiti, when problems arose, you heard this a lot, often followed by a chuckle.

I thought it was a clever way to head off the small things, the things that when you’re tired or stressed, become big things. The things that can push you over the edge.

Plus, it was a good reminder that in spite of whatever foul-up we experienced, it wasn’t the kind of razor’s-edge crisis so many Haitians have been living before and after this horrible earthquake.

So, the catchphrase provided that niggling thing called perspective.

It’s the quality you hate when what you really want to do is vent about The Complaint Du Jour.

Sometimes that’s healthy — purging our systems of the bog, be it traffic, a sleepless child, the never-ending list of chores.

I never fell back on Reckford’s words during that busy, humbling week in Haiti. Other than a trigger-happy laptop mouse, there wasn’t much reason.

But I don’t think it’s odd that the phrase seems germaine now — two weeks and over 2,000 miles away.

As we enter the holiday crush with its expectations and hectic pace, I’m going to try to lean on things being the way I like them.

Yes, it’s red beans for the fourth meal this week. But few meals are better than red beans and rice. Yes, there’s some homework to do on a story. But I’ve got a job. And I happen to love it. Double bonus. Yes, the floors are littered with dog-hair tumbleweeds. But they’re beautiful wood and Jack is a forgiving and loyal (if undisciplined) friend.

Plus, God willing, beloved out-of-town family will be here soon to share a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. With out-of-this-world greens and stuffing, I might add.

Pretty good.

Truly, just the way I like it.

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Choosing between evils

Quake-displaced Haitians have so few shelter options that many are moving back into condemned buildings that could cave at any time. It’s estimated that half the condemned structures in Port-au-Prince are now occupied. This New York Times video shows just how precarious a situation it is.

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World-Herald: Omaha family changed by adoption

In Sunday editions of the Omaha World-Herald, Josefina Loza profiled the Becker family of Omaha. Amy and Thomas Becker adopted 3 children from Haiti two years ago.

Following years of paperwork and long delays, the adoption process was expedited after an earthquake devastated the island nation in January 2010.

We first were introduced to the Becker family two years ago when they adopted three children from Haiti. Mary Beth, 15, and Anna, 13, welcomed 6-year-old Vialancia and 3-year-old twins Jean (now John) and Jeannette. Their heartwarming story is a prime example of how adoption changes lives.

In honor of National Adoption Month, an appropriate time to celebrate family and blessings, we revisited the Beckers. The couple shared what’s happened since they adopted — their sweet, tender moments and the sometimes chaotic life that comes with having five children, including three from a different culture.

Read the story on Omaha.com to find out how the family has adjusted.

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Haiti: Hopeful beyond comprehension

This post was written by Benjamin Krause (pictured above), a 1999 Creighton Prep grad who is actor Sean Penn’s point man in Haiti for Penn’s respected post-quake organization, J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

It started as a normal all-staff meeting; my nearly 300 Haitian employees that are J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) were filling the small parking lot outside our office in Port-au-Prince and taking their seats on the rough wooden benches and mangled folding chairs we call office furniture.

Just as I bellowed my opening greeting into the megaphone, a tap-tap slowly rolled through our office gates and right up to my side. This brightly-painted pick-up truck normally used for public transport appeared at first to be empty, but as I started to question the driver as to why he was both interrupting AND trespassing, a loud, labored cry from the back of the covered truck bed answered. I caught a quick glance of an agonizing, sweat-drenched woman nearly bursting-at-the-belly, and I snapped back to the crowd calling into the megaphone for our labor and delivery team.

Within seconds our Haitian OBGYN and his team were gloved-up and crammed into the back of the covered tap-tap, and in fewer than five minutes, the woman’s screaming ebbed, and the heart-warming shrill of a baby’s first cries to this broken world filled the tap-tap and spilled into the parking lot. My nearly-silent staff erupted in cheers of joy.

After stabilizing both mother and child, the tap-tap pulled out of our parking lot and headed around the block to the field hospital that J/P HRO has been operating at the top of an ad hoc camp that we also manage. At one time this camp was the only golf course in all of Haiti. At its peak after the earthquake, as many as 60,000 homeless people –somewhere between the population of Grand Island and the seating capacity of Memorial Stadium – were living at the camp, and the golf course was completely covered from first tee to final turn. These days, the population of 20,000 is closer to the seating capacity of what I still know as the Qwest Center, and each week J/P HRO staff help another 20-30 families return home. The difference is quite remarkable.

I have been on the ground here in Haiti since March 2010. When I arrived at this camp, it was simply beyond comprehension. People EVERYWHERE in such desperate need that never in my travels through nearly 30 developing countries had I ever confronted anything comparable. To put the earthquake in perspective, in less than 30 seconds, in a city the size of Chicago, fully HALF of all the buildings were structurally damaged or destroyed and a population larger than that of all of Nebraska was either rendered homeless or dead.

When I arrived, two months after the earthquake, most of the streets were still completely covered in rubble – in some neighborhoods like “Delmas 32” where most of our camp residents used to live, the streets were buried in up to ten feet of debris for as far as the eye could see.

But nearly two years have passed – and mountains have been moved, literally and figuratively. J/P HRO has been on the ground in Haiti since the beginning providing emergency medical services, and we continue to treat 1,600 patients each week at our clinics. In addition to managing the camp and assisting families return, repair and rebuild their homes, we also provide free education to 400 beautiful children, community programming and small-business training to the residents of camp and the surrounding neighborhoods and we have begun the first phases of redevelopment by repairing clinics and schools and starting new solar-powered safe water points and recycling kiosks. Our goal is to provide comprehensive support to help families get back on their feet so to take those first few, most difficult steps towards home.

In this vein, our most notable accomplishment has been the nearly 10,000 dump trucks of rubble and debris J/P HRO has hauled out of the neighborhoods over the past 18 months. As we clear the streets and tear down the condemned buildings, we uncover where home once was and where it can be again for tens of thousands of families. We’ve recently ramped up this effort and will move 2x’s more rubble in the next year – and even then there will be mountains remaining.

And Port-au-Prince was never Chicago. It never had a sewage system, highways or a reliable power grid. It was the poorest capital city in the entire hemisphere BEFORE it was devastated by one of the largest disasters in all of human history. So yes, if you’re coming for the first time, you will be astounded, shocked . . . devastated. But if you had come the day before the earthquake, you would probably have felt about the same. It is not the earthquake or the delays or the politics or the coordination issues. It is the human face of injustice and poverty that leaves you so unsettled – and it should. It was all there before the earthquake – Haiti was twice as poor as any other country in our hemisphere BEFORE – and our heavy machinery is simply revealing it once again.

But for those of us who have been here for the two years since the earthquake, it is miraculous how far the Haitian people have come especially given all of the challenges since the earthquake – the most pressing today are the need for land tenure reform by the Haitian Government and the need to release dedicated funds held by the international community. Moreover, it is astounding how hardworking, happy and hopeful the people of Haiti are no matter how hot it is outside or how horrible the situation is at the surface. So much hope – infectious hope. Much of it is certainly merited given how far we have come since the earthquake, but for a Nebraska boy on a Caribbean island, the juxtaposition between where we are and how much hope I see is at times incomprehensible.

At around midnight I finally wrapped up my work and made my way to the field hospital to visit our newest arrival. I met baby Thierry and his mother resting peacefully in the temporary structure that is our maternity ward. Being born in a tap-tap may sound quite dramatic, but had Thierry made it to the field hospital, he would have been the 16th baby born this week in our makeshift shelter – only a slight improvement from a truck bed. As I try to get Thierry to grab onto my finger, his mother tells me how happy and hopeful she is. How thankful and grateful and blessed she is. I certainly feel the same.

Next month, our maternity ward and field hospital will be relocated to J/P HRO’s new permanent urgent care clinic in the neighborhood, the first of its kind for the people of Delmas 32 – just one more step down the road to help Haiti home.

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Photos from Seven Days in Haiti

A hard week's work.

Here are links to the daily slideshows from the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Léogâne, Haiti. About 400 Habitat for Humanity volunteers spent a week sweating and building homes. I sweated along with them, but instead of a hammer, I carried my cameras. Hopefully, you enjoy looking at the week of hard work the volunteers put in.

Also, if you don’t like the “autoplay” function, simply click on the “pause” button in the lower right corner.

Day One was mostly devoted to travel. We flew from Atlanta to Port au Prince, then drove to Léogâne. Lots of time sitting in planes and buses, and getting acclimated to our tent camp.

On Day Two, volunteers set about building the homes and adjusting to the heat and humidity.

Day Three was a difficult work day, but it was made interesting by a visit from Haitian President Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly and his security detail.

After days of looking through the fence at the world surrounding us, Day Four was notable for a 30-minute tour of the tent camp outside the work site.

Volunteers and Haitians started to bond as progress on their homes by Day Five. Plus, President Carter answered questions from the audience in the evening.

Volunteers worked late on Day Six, which was the warmest day we had seen.

Even though the houses weren’t quite finished, there were many smiles on Day Seven.

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Now what?

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Now what?

After returning from Haiti to the comfort of home, this question haunts me.

Certainly there is a moral obligation to do more. But what and how?

To those of you who have been to Haiti: Where best to devote the Herculean effort needed?

Also, are there any of you heading out on medical, educational or other missions any time in the next year? Readers are asking.

Thank you for following our trip. This site will remain up for now – and we’ll be adding to it where we can.

Please add your thoughts to the comments below or email me at: erin.grace@owh.com

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In Haiti, an ending, a beginning


The Habitat for Humanity volunteers who built 100 houses in Léogâne, Haiti, last week have made a start on what organizers hope will be a 500-house development next year. Nebraskans and Iowans were among the volunteers on the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. (Photo by Matt Miller)

LÉOGÂNE, Haiti — They gathered for the final time in Evêque Latouche’s new home.

What had been a 5-foot-tall outline in concrete on Monday was now a roof-topped house with wood shutters to cover the windows and a front door that swings open.
It was not a complete house yet, nor were the rest of the 100 houses that volunteers and Haitians worked side by side for a week to build. And in that way it was symbolic of the work at hand in this beautiful, troubled land where help trickles in slowly.

But enough on this Habitat build got accomplished that the promise of true shelter seemed at hand.

Latouche and the others would get their houses by January. They would move from a field of trash-strewn plantain trees to the first solid homes they’d had since the devastating January 2010 earthquake. And though the houses were not big and larger questions about what this effort would actually do to help Haiti hung in the air, this was a time to take measure and say farewell.

“We pray, Lord, that you bless this hard work, that you make this a good home for the people who live here,” said Art Mulkey of Billings, Mont., who had been the foreman of this 12-person crew that included Latouche and four volunteers from Omaha. “We pray, Lord, that the experience we had will never fade from our hearts and our minds.”

It was the message that Habitat hammered into volunteers all week: Don’t forget. Tell everyone. Many Haitians — and not just those displaced by the quake — need decent places to live.

Said Patrick Corvington, an Obama administration appointee-turned-Habitat-higher-up: “These 400 (volunteers) will go home with a story to tell.”

It’s why the international nonprofit made the decision to delay bringing volunteer labor to Haiti, a country that is as monumentally in need of jobs as it is homes. And reliable health care. And schools. And a public infrastructure to guide and support the often fragmented and uncoordinated work of so many good-will, nongovernmental organizations like Habitat.

For that reason, Habitat told volunteers not to come after the quake. The organization, which had been in Haiti for nearly 30 years, instead went into relief mode: handing out emergency shelters like tarps and better shelters like plywood and tin-roof structures. Workers also started to dig into one of Port-au-Prince’s slums to provide more focused help that extended beyond homes.

Habitat also hired 700 Haitians and set up a center that would train Haitians on construction and finance while it planned the build that took place last week.

It took nearly two years to arrive at this point. Now the organization has a start on what organizers hope will be a 500-house development next year. And they acknowledge it represents a small step toward the eventual reconstruction that will take the Haitian government and the rest of the world to make happen.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who worked on two houses last week in the build named for him, said he would lend his voice.

“I will be reminding people,” he said, “of the promises they need to keep.”

That includes the U.S. government, which like other donor nations has not sent all the funds it pledged in the frenzied months following the magnitude 7.0 quake, which killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians and displaced more than a million.

Volunteer Ilio Durandis, a Haitian-born chemist from Hyde Park, Mass., looked at the 100 homes and voiced what most had said at some point during the week: “It’s not the perfect situation, what Habitat is doing. But it’s a lot better than what the people had before.”

Durandis said he hoped Latouche and the others “won’t be placed here and forgotten about.”

“This house is not going to get them out of poverty,” he said. “It’s just a jump-start. There has to be other means. It’s not just aid that Haiti needs. We need investors … to come in this country and support the people.”

Corvington, Habitat’s vice president of volunteer and institutional engagement, acknowledged it may be an imperfect answer.

“What’s the alternative?” said Corvington, whose parents were Haitian exiles under the Duvalier dictatorship. “Is it to wait until the country gets it together and develops an infrastructure? Or is it to say here’s what we do: We’ve got half a million people who need houses. Let’s build houses.”

That’s how Melissa Booker, a 35-year-old high school physics teacher in Fairfax, Va., was drawn to the project.

“I needed to do something tangible,” she said. “I couldn’t just be this white liberal who talks about the poverty of a country over beers at a bar. I knew I couldn’t do much. I thought I could join this trip. I could educate my students about it.”

For most volunteers, the trip was no free ticket. Besides airfare to Habitat’s base near Atlanta, they had to raise at least $5,000 apiece — the symbolic cost of building one of these Habitat homes. (The actual cost was more like $18,000, considering the logistics of importing most everything from food to materials.)

Booker couldn’t just write a check, so she asked her former students and friends for money.

Volunteers ran the gamut: executives like Omaha’s John Bunch of TD Ameritrade; international volunteers like the Europeans from the Luxembourg-based steel company AcelorMittal and a strong Canadian contingent; and regular folk who seemed devoted to Habitat for Humanity or Haiti or both.

Three men on the Omaha build team fell into the latter category. Mulkey from Montana and John Messina and John Morgan, both of suburban Detroit, had spent more than a decade visiting Haiti’s Central Plateau city Mirebalais and trying to raise money for health needs organized by a church school there.

“There isn’t a single day that goes on in my life that Haiti isn’t in my mind or my heart,” Mulkey said. “My body leaves, but my spirit doesn’t.”

He’s so committed that he flew to Atlanta on Saturday with the Habitat volunteers and then boarded a return flight to Haiti for a different volunteer project.

The Omaha newcomers — Shannon Wallace, Mary Lopez and Don Browers — felt the pull of Haiti on their final day and wished they had been able to see more of the country. The Habitat workers had been confined to fenced-in build and camp sites.

Carter told volunteers on their final night that he didn’t think anybody had been persecuted more or had suffered more than the Haitian people.

But Haiti visitors saw the warmth of a friendly and resilient people and progress since the 2010 quake.

“The energy of this island will heat you in five seconds,” said Jean Price Vixama, a mechanical engineer from New York. “When you land and they open the door? Boom.”
Wilner Joseph, a Haitian-born UPS pilot from New Jersey, said people do go on.

“You can be poor,” he said, “but people are happy. Life can be tough, but it’s what you make it.”

Latouche had made it with little more than a tiny post-quake tarp-and-metal shack that held little more than a narrow single bed, a corner table and a bucket for water.

The 58-year-old appeared thrilled with House 319 and was effusive with the workers, offering regular hugs, handshakes and “Oui-ouis,” the only Haitian Creole that seemed to translate. He will live in the 280-square-foot space with two adult daughters and a 6-year-old grandchild.

Latouche stood among his soon-to-be Haitian neighbors in House 320, the Omahans and the two Johns. Mulkey said his simple prayer, which a young Haitian translated into Creole. Hugs followed as the group packed up to leave.

Latouche walked to a corner of his new home, put his hands over his eyes and wept.

Habitat for Humanity has a strict no-gifts policy. Officials say it creates bigger problems within impoverished communities when gifts are distributed individually.
But they didn’t say anything about left-behind tools.

Or scrap lumber.

Latouche, who earlier in the week had straddled the hot tin roof pounding in the final nails, spent part of Friday building a little stool for his home. The Habitat homes were designed to be added onto later — the foundation was extended beyond the home perimeter — as Haitian families are able.

This marked no ending.

It was, perhaps, a beginning.

“The only way the efforts are going to end,” Mulkey said, “is if we allow them to.”

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God bless the Irish

I’ve met many fantastic people this week, but I would be a terrible person if I didn’t single out the Irish. I know, the Habitat for Humanity group is in Haiti this week, but Haven runs our camp. According to its web site, Haven is an Irish non-governmental, non-political organization that focuses on community building projects and other charitable endeavors in Haiti.
 
A large group came last month to build 50 homes, and many of them are staying to help at Christianville, our camp. They do all the cooking. The meals have been superb and varied, surprising given the remoteness of our camp. 
 
When they came, they actually built a bar. They staff it every night, selling Prestige (a local beer), soda and cider. As you can see, it’s an inviting place to wind down after a long day.

Even though lights out is 9:30 p.m., the Irish group often goes much later. Last night, they stayed up singing around a campfire. One woman even performed a fire dance. Unfortunately for me, I called it a night about 11:30 p.m., and they broke out the Irish whisky at about midnight. You know, I was up at 4:30 a.m., so maybe I was fortunate. I know many volunteers here have felt fortunate for the hospitality and humor of the Haven staff.

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