The first week of mud

Trip Start Dec 07, 2008
Trip End Feb 03, 2009

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Flag of Haiti  , Artibonite,
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In my first week in Gonaives, I've contributed more positive work and met more fantastic people than in the rest of my 2008.  I'm still a little overwhelmed by all the stimulus, and without much perspective, I think it best to just set the stage.

There are about 35 of us here at any one time, and each day we work with 6-10 Haitian volunteers on 3-4 projects.  We have two tap-taps for transport, open air pickup trucks that we fit up to 20 people in, with five wheelbarrows, shovels, buckets, water, and our bags.  The roads are easily the most dangerous part of our day, but I've yet to see an accident.

The volunteers I've met here are from 10 countries.  Most have previous experience with a HODR project.  I'm one of the few who started looking for a way to help in Haiti, and found Hands On.  Most are disaster junkies that keep a close eye on the disaster assessments done by Hands On to determine the feasibility of a project.  This is HODR's 10th project since the 2005 work in Thailand following the Tsunami, and they have a very loyal following of volunteers.  The current challenge is to catch up the fund-raising to match the amount of work done on the ground.

The majority of the work we do is removing mud from homes.  I've worked on five houses so far.  The shortest we finished in a half hour with a team of six.  The longest, Natasha, has been four days with a team of 12, and we're going back tomorrow.  If the mud is dry but not concrete, not very deep, and we have someplace accessible to wheelbarrow it to, the jobs go quickly.  But some houses are hip deep in slop, and we have to build ramps with scrap wood, cinder blocks, an ironing board, or whatever is around to get the wheelbarrows in and out.  I spent an entire morning on my second day at Natasha's just building ramps up the mud pile so we could dump on the back of it.  I helped each barrower keep it, and them, from sinking.

We also got a bit of press attention this weekend, with two photographers from NEED magazine shadowing us for three days.  Paul Corbit Brown specializes in humanitarian, social justice, and environmental photojournalism.  And not surprisingly, when he showed me his West Virginia coal mine slideshow, I recognized Francesco and his portrait project.  Paul knew Francesco and Jordan, two friends of mine from Common Ground in New Orleans.  Paul and Bronson took thousands of photos and recorded interviews with volunteers.  When they asked me if I would go on record, I had to decline since I'd been here such a short time.  I'm still learning about Haiti and HODR, and I don't want to color the piece while I'm still forming my opinions.  But I hope we see ourselves in the February issue of NEED.
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