Monday, November 15, 2010

Teach a man to fish...

RMU economist Brian O'Roark recently traveled to Haiti to help build a water treatment facility with his church mission group, and to promote sustainable development there. Below is his account of the trip. For more background, check out this story at the RMU web site.

We flew from Pittsburgh to Port-au-Prince on Saturday. The tent cities were prominent, but they seemed somewhat orderly from the air. No cholera outbreaks in the capital at last report. We landed and were trucked to another terminal for our flight north to Cap Hatian. The dust was thick as we exited the terminal you could feel it on your teeth. People were calling from the other side of the fence, begging for “something”. We entered the terminal for Tortug Airlines, a national airline where the planes had two props and no cockpit doors. We were only slightly comforted when the pilot placed a Garmin on the dashboard.

Cap Haitian was about as third world as you could expect. Animals roamed about with abandoned. The trash on the side of the road was ankle deep, but the goats and pigs seemed to enjoy it. What appeared to be burned out busses gave the scene a Mad Max look. Our expectations were lowered as we left town in the back of a Daihatsu pickup for the 35-mile trip to Fort Liberte.

We were pleasantly surprised to see much less of the chaos in Fort than in Cap. Housing was better than expected, even sleeping on the roof.

Work was hard, consisting of a lot of cement mixing, carrying, and pouring for 11 to 12 hours a day. The sunsets were stunning and some compensation for a long day in the mid 90s, with high humidity.

The Haitian men we worked with were some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. The were being paid fairly well, and they responded in kind. After a day or so we were working together despite language barriers to lay cement blocks and construct the building we were sent to complete.

The hope for the development is that some day, after the homes are built, the residents will be able to drink water from the tap. This seems like a minimal goal, but in a country like Haiti, it is a significant accomplishment and one that would save countless hours of work, not to mention improve the quality of health.

The entire experience was eye-opening and life-changing. From a narrow view of the world, you expect people in an impoverished place to be very different from you. That isn’t the case with Haiti. They want to improve their lives; it’s just much more difficult with the limitations on job opportunities, education, and basic amenities the people face. I hope I can return soon and continue the work we started there.

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