This morning I went to church, where some 300 people had gathered in the shadow of their collapsing church building, in defiance of the tragedy that had so clearly touched so many congregants’ lives.

Port-au-Prince –

Day 5

This morning I went to church, where some 300 people had gathered in the shadow of their collapsing church building, in defiance of the tragedy that had so clearly touched so many congregants’ lives.

A choir belted out a chorus, people swaying and calling out responses, while the dust of destroyed buildings and the faint smell of decomposing bodies hung in the air.

The service was very powerful. In many ways, it better expressed what has happened – more poetically, more raw – than the dry technocratic rhetoric one would find in a U.N. report on the situation.

After the service, we visited another school supported by Outreach International, with the local director of the schools program. He is a kind, gentle and professional man who bears the pain of what has happened with dignity and grace. His home has collapsed, and his eldest son had to have his arm amputated due to injuries sustained in the earthquake.

From the outside, the school looked fine – it was still standing and had little recognizable damage. However, entering the building, there were enormous cracks in the walls. I doubt that the building is salvageable. This is perhaps a metaphor for the deeper underlying social, political and economic problems that sometimes lie hidden beneath the vibrant surface of culture and street life in Haiti.

Inside the school blackboards still had writing on them, displaying French grammar lessons and an exercise on square roots. One classroom had an art corner where the children had been painting flowers.

The poignancy of this scene – a once joyful and productive place now riven with fractures – motivated to everything that I can to work with the local people and supporters around the world, to get schools like this one back up and running again.



Day 6

We got up early this morning and piled in the car to drive to the city of Jacmel on the southern coast of Haiti. It was not a quick journey – the first half consisted of sitting stuck in traffic.

We were surrounded by brightly colored buses, decorated in splashes of blues, greens, oranges and reds, with funky shaped windows and paintings of celebrities, religious figures and political slogans.

We passed by the port where many aid supplies are coming into Haiti. It was guarded by armed Canadian and Sri Lankan troops. Floating just offshore was a hospital ship with an enormous red cross painted on the side.

Passing through the town of Leogane, we then turned south into the mountains. Here the road became quieter as it wound through dizzying heights on twisting narrow roads. In many places these roads were partially blocked by landslides provoked by the earthquake.

High in the mountains, it was easy to see the staggering environmental degradation Haiti has suffered. In the 1950s, the rural and mountainous areas of Haiti were primarily covered with lush forestland. Now, most of that forest has gone, as poverty, international sanctions on fuel, and unsustainable farming have encouraged the denuding of the hillsides.

This has contributed to Haiti’s disaster-prone situation – there have been over 20 internationally recognized disasters in Haiti over the last 15 years. Mudslides, landslides and poor land management have all exacerbated the effects of hurricanes, flooding and the recent earthquake.

That said, the scale of the earthquake’s destruction is not as visible in the rural areas as there were fewer buildings to fall down.

I also suspect that the small wooden houses were less susceptible to tremors than a large concrete building.

This, however, raises the question of whether aid agencies will focus their money on reconstruction or development. Reconstruction operates on kind of an insurance model – it is about rebuilding what existed previously but was destroyed. This favors people who had infrastructure prior to the disaster but lost it.

In contrast, development is about creating something new, raising up those who had little or nothing before.

In running an aid program, these two approaches can sometimes lie in tension. Is it more important to build a new school, for people who have never had access to one, or rebuild ones that have fallen down?

Outreach International will try to balance these two concerns as it works with local people to rebuild what was lost, but also look toward a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future in Haiti.