Friday, November 25, 2011

Picture from Haiti

I finally edited and uploaded my pictures, and here they are:

The Carter Work Project 2011 - Haiti - DAY 5

Wow, I can't believe our trip has already come and gone. On our ride in today you could see the roofs of all the homes finished and a real community taking root. Trisha and Garth left for home yesterday evening, since Garth was starting an MBA program at Oklahoma State today. I was a bit sad to see them go. It was such a pleasure working with each of them. Humble, gracious personalities were matched by their hard working attitudes. I have nothing but good things to say about working their both Trisha and Garth, and I wish them both continuing success. At about 10:00am about 15 people from the US Embassy to Haiti showed to help with the painting. They worked to about noon, painted half of each home, took a break, and went home. We, seasoned veterans, who had worked on these homes since Monday were not impressed. In another sense I couldn't help think this was symbolic of the work of most aide organizations in Haiti. In some places refereed to as 'The Republic of NGOs,' Haiti has had an incredible amount of organizations make pledges, only to run out of money, pack up, and go home. In our limited view of Haiti, we could see tent city tarps from aid organizations such as a Samaritan's Purse, USAID, China and Japan, but the presence of only a handful of orgs. Habitat, Haven, The Carter Center, a branch of South Korean military, and the UN were literally the only staffed organizations which could be seen. This is not to say other organizations weren't making efforts but it wasn't visible us. 
Midway through the morning the homeowners staged themselves outside our homes and began to sing for our volunteers (though probably mostly for President Carter). While I couldn't understand the words the sentiment and emotion was unmistakable. Theirs songs of appreciation and love carried through the area filling the already overflowing hearts of the volunteers. A bit later one of our homeowners, who was called 'Big Bear' (I'm not sure what his real name is),  brought his wife and 3 year old daughter by. His wife seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fanfare, which was completely understandable considering the cameras and secret service on all sides of us. Their daughter, named Lauryn after the artist Lauryn Hill, was incredibly cute. A bit shy, she never lingered more than 2 steps behind her father. After a an hour of pictures and a juice box she got a little tuckered out and fell asleep in her fathers arms. Seeing her peaceful sleeping face could make anyone smile. Worlds away from the United States, after all of the devastation touching this country, seeing Big Bear hold his sleeping daughter on the porch of his new home crystallized the reason we're out here.
In the United States it's easy and almost necessary at times to think of the poor, the impoverished, the starving, the thirsty, and other inhabitants of developing nations as this vague concept of a bad situation with no solution. It's so easy to forget that really what we're talking about are people, born into an impossible situation, doing what they need to, to survive. They're not the 80% of the population living on under a dollar a day, or the somewhere between 60 and 80% unemployment. Really, Haiti is Marie, who's now taking care of children as a leader of the Women's Group of Santo. People surviving in the midst of a failing government, and a shattered infrastructure. 
Leaving the jobsite for the final time it was hard not to question the impact we would would leave behind. Eventually this community would house 500 families, in safe sustainable homes which for many would be the best structures they have ever lived in. The hope is that by bringing in job training, schools and peace of mind we would enable, not just the community we built to thrive but really to create a force with which people could better their own lives. Is it a daunting task? Is their more work to be done? With 600,000 people still living in tent cities, could our work go unnoticed? Of course. If their is the possibility, however slim, that my actions could help, that's enough for me. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Carter Work Project 2011 - Haiti - DAY 4


Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were on site again today after returning from a trip to the Dominican Republic yesterday. They immediately got to work finishing up the front canopy with their sons. While they didn't do much of the heavy lifting ( most of that was done by an assistant named Dan Lee who works tirelessly seemingly running the Carters' whole life) it was still impressive to see them hammering and plumbing from the ground. In the morning Garth, Jim, and I finished the roofing. Compared to the hurricane clips of the first two days the roofing was a breeze. Well, it was still hot, and we could have used a breeze but it was better than pounding our thumbs putting in Hurricane clips.

Midway through the day I got a chance to take a walk around the whole site. Though the whole place is lined by high fences with angry looking barbed wire, and patrolled by guards with automatic shot guns, they have included a grazing area and some animals. Wandering over to a block of homes completed by a Irish build before we had got there I got a chance to see what the finished product would be. Though small, the insulation and sheathing made a very noticeable difference from the outside temperature. Painted with bright colors chosen by the homeowners the new homes would be an incredible upgrade. One one side of the build site some of the Haitian encampments could be seen.  Several women walked down the road. Some carrying large 5 gallon buckets on their head, and holding other containers of water in each hand. Further along the fence a group of kids who looked to be about 10 were playing. They seemed to be as curious about me as I was with them. Though they were of similar age to the kids who attended the school near the compound, they were not in uniform and did not seem to be upset at missing school. As one of the kids came up the to fence to talk to one of the guards, I snapped a picture. My intent was not to minimize the role of the guards who patrolled the compound, but at the moment the picture was taken it seemed a bit excessive.
On the bus home from the site a fellow volunteer asked me if the presence of so many guns on site made me feel safer or less safe. To his surprise I comment that I felt safer. I feel confident that Habitat would only resort to armed patrols if it were absolutely necessary. I then asked him if he or the other volunteers I talked to would rather not have the armed guards on site. To this he paused and agreed that they were necessary. It seems, it is easy to condemn the presence of guards, guns, and barbed wire but much harder to confront the reality of their absence.  
 In the evening there was a brief question and answer sit down with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. A stark difference from the taskmaster on site Jimmy was a fantastic public speaker with and undercurrent of kindness and a complete knowledge of the real issues plaguing people around the world. Discussing his work with the the Cater Center, we got a sense of the incredible scope of work which the center has undertaken. Some of their accomplishments have included the near eradication of two diseases, monitoring of several elections, and facilitating peace in some of the most highly contested areas in history. When concluding his remarks I expected a plea for donations that has become inescapable when dealing with charity organizations, but there was none. Instead the Carters discussed the need for each of us to return to our spheres of influence as advocates for Haiti, and developing nations across the world. Next up was a question and answer period with the director with Habitat for Humanity Haiti, and his affiliate at the Habitat International office. This provided a really interesting look into a lot of the questions which had been lingering in my mind about our efforts. First and foremost they discussed family selection for the homes of our new community. In order to select the families which would be living in the new homes, Habitat worked with  different leaders of the community to identify and cross reference the individuals who had been most affected by the Earthquake. Leaders of the current and new community were then presented 15 different plans on how the community could be laid out, and working with the Habitat selected the home and community lay out which lent itself best to their way of life. Future developments in the community will include 26 wells drilled in and around the area, a school and a job skills training facility. Originally Habitat's mission was limited to simple decent housing for all, but recently it has become clear that this is no longer sufficient. Moving to a focus on entire community development including housing, advocacy, job skills, and education will touch so many more lives.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Carter Work Project 2011 - Haiti - DAY 3

Today we got it done. Aided by a couple extra volunteers to replace the couple we lost ( the Carters are meeting with  the president of the Dominican Republic), it was really time to get the Carters' house on track to the first done. One gentlemen would had been working on the Delta airline team, who clearly had some military experience at his back, directed Jim, Garth, and I on putting in the metal deck. If I thought working up in the trusses was hot yesterday, it was nothing compared to working around insulation on the roof today. Midway through the morning I was approached by Phillip Jordan, the person at Habitat World who I had been corresponding with. A young, very approachable guy, we got along well. He asked if I would be interviewed a Habitat videographer. Of course I obliged. During the interview I was asked all kinds of questions about who I was and why I was here, not in the metaphysical sense just the physical; I won a contest, Habitat flew me here, Garth is fun to work with, etc.. . I tried to answer as best I could though stand in the sun, and with a spare roof panel pointing at me for better light I was really feeling the heat. A few of the questions were a bit leading (Doesn't the homeowner smile all the time? Aren't you happy to be here?), but if you're going to see out to an organization Habitat is not such a bad one. Walking away from the interview I felt I could have done a mug better job if I had had a juice box and granola bar in me, but that's life. I look forward ( or not) to seeing myself up on the Habitat website soon.
At one point today Shannon, another hard working Global Village Team Leader, working on a nearby house informed me that in our wall panels the doorways had been constructed 2" too low. We would need to spend time knocking them out, and reinstalling them. While I found this to be an inconvenience, Trisha was particularly upset. She had some words for Nevil, a kiwi who ran a big part of the build, when he walked over to our site. She was never rude, but it was such a departure from her laid back fun demeanor it seemed like a funny situation.   

The Carter Work Project 2011 - Haiti - DAY 2

     What a day. I think I've hammered enough hurricane ties to have a minor in hurricane strapping technology. It's so incredible to stand up on our scaffolding and see hundreds of houses being built at once. The new blocks stretch nearly to the horizon and are staffed by volunteers helping each other lifting, hammering, and aligning. The weather was hot and humid. After experiencing a few summers in Texas I feel well prepared, but as each of the team members took care of the team at some point it didn't seem to negatively affect our work.
      There are always set backs to construction. Today the president of Haiti stopped by and walked a few blocks with President Carter.  The eight secret service guys in jungle vests whom stand around our paled by comparison to the crowd of full fatigue military personnel surrounding the Haitian president. As they walked past the lunch site many or the Haitians who have been working along side us rushed to see the president and began to clap excitedly. I could understand what they were saying but if I was to guess I would the president is very beloved by his people. Hopefully his candidacy will be the jump start Haiti so desperately needs.
     Earlier in the opening ceremonies it was discussed how working with the current government our new community would act as a blueprint for how to move forward with a focus on both job skills and housing. While it would be incredible for communities like this to develop around all of Haiti I wonder if the cost might make that impossible. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Carter Work Project 2011 - Haiti - DAY 1

 In an effort to get all of my mini Haiti journal up on the blog I am going to try and post one day of Haiti per day. Here is day 1, and some of my pictures from the trip.

     Plane was great. Habitat hooked me up with a first class seat and it seemed like every time I turned around they were feeding us. The ride from the airport to the compound was a bit shocking, a bit saddening, and a bit confusing.
tent city in Port-de-Prince, Haiti
      For the first 15 miles nearly every stretch of flat land was filled with tent cities almost to the horizon. Some were large tents (similar to the ones we would be sleeping in), while others were more of corrugated metal siding seemingly tenuously leaning against wood poles. One encampment was more well established individual homes which looked to be about the size of a tool shed. In comparison these looked to be the Cadillac of homes. As we drove by most greeted us with stares, nearly devoid of emotion besides hurt. Some flipped us off, and one child shook his butt at us. Though I'm not familiar with Hatian customs, I suspect this gesture shows he has the utmost respect for us and our mission.  Portions of the road were missing completely while others were clogged with broken down trucks and buses which seemed to occur every 200 ft.
the writing on the side of the truck says "Patience"

The work ahead is clearly a daunting endeavor. With the infrastructure in shambles and tent cities in all directions seemingly becoming the way of life, it was hard to imagine the road ahead. We had been told to remind ourselves that we are here to do good, and our city with both decent shelter and livelihood training was going to be the model for recovery, but still the reality seemed stark.
Currently I am laying in my tent, a large three person structure with cots and even a fan it seems hard to fathom living here for 2 years and we have more convinces and fewer people than most. The camp itself has an air conditioned mess hall with wifi, showers, bathrooms (with real porcelain toilets), and a small stage area. It's simple but has our needs well met.
this is where I will live this week
     I had come in knowing only Shannon, a fun woman whom I met on my Habitat Global Village training. The number of people I know and am friendly with quickly grew and grew. It seems everyone I meet is a kind friendly person, open to sharing about their experiences with Habitat. A woman I met on the bus ride illustrates a comic called Stonesoup which features a character going to Haiti right now. She'll be building on the Women's Build site, a co-sponsor of the project. The guy sitting next to me on the plane, Craig, who I actually met at the bar last night, is a block leader. He seemed to know people in nearly every chapter, and his relaxed yet strait foreword demeanor made it easy to see why he was chosen to lead so many homes.
They are going to be serving dinner soon, though since the organization cooking is based in Ireland I'm not looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trip has been posted, and the other trip is right around the corner!

We're officially on the website, which means we can officially start accepting applications! HERE is the new trip write up, and to apply go HERE then  click the giant blue "Apply Online Now" button at the bottom. This is all moved so quickly, but I can't wait for our trip (now about 170 days away).


The other thing on my mind is Haiti. It's a little under three days away, and I have been a bit more nervous about this trip than any others. Sure the rampant violence, and medical threats (cholera and malaria) are present, but that's not even it. From everything I've seen, the devastation and poverty griping the country is unimaginable. While I can't put my finger on exactly what my reservations are, I expect the contrast with the luxury with which I live in now will surely have a profound  impact on me. The expression, ‘‘ignorance is bliss” surely applies to most of the people I interact with everyday, but I have always chosen knowledge over ignorance. I can only hope my apprehension comes from predicting that while in Haiti I will truly understand the gravity of the situation, and that will weigh heavily on me. An odd thing to hope for but then again who takes vacation time to travel to an impoverished disaster zone to build houses for 10 hours a day?

Also the malaria medication has been giving me bizarre, vivid dreams for the past couple weeks, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Costa Rica is good, but how about HONDURAS!

After submitting our trip proposal to our Habitat GV Volunteer Engagement Specialist, which I believe is like Habitat's explosives and demolition equivalent, we've been instructed that the Habitat affiliate in Costa Rica is in the midst of training and restructuring. BUT the Habitat affiliate in Honduras is ready to go and was recommended. Our next step was to select the location in Honduras we wanted to go. After some convincing Alexia, my co-leader, argued me into La Ceiba, Honduras, a city hailed as the Eco-tourism capital on the Caribbean coast. Though the access to mountain biking, rafting, beaches, and kayaking worries me, I will do my best to cope.  Now we're just waiting for them to approve our trip flyer and officially post the trip on the website.

Also I can't believe how close it's getting to my trip to Haiti. I've got plans all set and my bags just about ready to go. Here comes adventure!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Costa Rica April 2012!

Well, not to take away any momentum from my up coming trip to Haiti, but I have started planning my first Habitat trip! After putting a post up on Facebook and talking to waaaay too many friends to find out where everyone wanted to go I finally settled on Costa Rica! It's not too far away from the US (flights about $700). And of course it's booming eco-tourism industry includes: rafting, kayaking, hiking, repelling, zip lines, hiking, volcanoes, beaches, and rainforests. Pretty much all the things I like to do. I spent some time looking up videos today and got even more excited! 

In other yet very related news I will be co-leading this trip with one of the wonderful people I met while on the Team Leader Training! Alexia Allen approached me about co-leading our first trips and suggesting dates close to what I had expected. Alexia has done a number of trips including Ecuador, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. She will be a wonderful resource as we muddle our way through figuring out our first trip.


Friday, September 30, 2011

Moving Forward, not Giving Up

Well it has been about 5 months since I returned from Thailand. My initial intention of blogging about every day of the trip, complete with pictures and color commentary, was a bit too ambitious. And so since I haven’t been able to finish blogging in months I have decided to quit and begin focusing on my future trips. Below you will find the first 9 days of my trip and here is a link to an album with hundreds of pictures from my trip. While they may not tell the whole story they will do a wonderful job of showing the rich color and amazing adventures. If you would like to know more about anything just write to me!

Now to fill everyone in on the past couple months. My trip to Thailand was incredible. It was everything I could have hoped for, and has truly made a lasting and substantial impact on my life for the better. I has renewed my thirst for adventure and spurred me to reinvest myself in making positive changes in my life. The trip was so impactful that I immediately applied to be become a Habitat Global Village Team Leader. After a couple months of review I was selected and I jumped on the very first two day training weekend which was available. In early September I flew to Portland and with 17 other new GV team leaders attended a two day training course covering everything from what team dynamic to what to do when there is a militant revolution in the country where you are building. It was fantastic and I really enjoyed meeting the warm people who chose to pursue becoming trip leaders. I even got some great ideas on where to go next. I never thought Jordan or Zambia would be high up on my list, but now who knows. Habitat Team Leaders are not paid however their plane tickets and trip cost are included in the fees of the participants. Leaders are responsible for putting together a team, interviewing potential participants, coordinating with Habitat and the host program, and direction of the team while on the ground.

In addition to looking into becoming a team leader, I came across a photo contest in Habitat World, the Habitat international magazine. Having taken thousands of photos while in Thailand I was compelled to apply. After a few months of waiting (where I almost I forgot that I had applied) it was announced that one of my pictures was selected as the winning photo! Along with the photo appearing in the December 2011 issue, I have also won an all expense paid trip on the Jimmy Carter Build to Haiti in November! This build is an yearly build which brings together hundreds of volunteers in one location to do an immense amount of work, as well as building alongside Jimmy Carter. I am overjoyed at the opportunity to aide in the effort to provide shelter to this hard hit area.