Thursday, August 11, 2011

First days in Leogane: Initial thoughts

I've been here working with Sustain Haiti for almost three full days now, and as you may guess, I'm having the time of my life. Sustain Haiti is based in Leogane, a relatively quiet town about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince. This is the town that was closest to the epicenter of the earthquake of January 2010 that so devastated the lives of millions here in Haiti. The effects of the quake are seen everywhere. Tent cities, each made up of several hundred families, can be found all over the city. Some people stay because they have nowhere else to go, having lost their homes, while others stay because they're afraid to be inside buildings. Badly damaged structures that need to be razed have a large red "X" across the front gate, but people rarely can afford to have their homes razed, let alone rebuilt. Most importantly, everyone here in Leogane lost a loved one. In fact, every one of the four young men who regularly attend my intermediate English class lost one of their parents during the terror.

Marvens and Vaguy, two of my stellar English students.
However, this is not a story about pain and devastation. This is a story about hope, and a brighter future for this community. The more I get to know of the people here, the more hopeful I feel for their future. About half of Sustain Haiti's volunteers are Haitian, and the other half are American or Canadian. Our Haitian volunteers are simply fantastic. They're the ones who do the real work, and we Americans just back them up however we can and keep things organized. Every day, we get up at 5:00 to go teach English classes, which have about 200 participants. Most are school-age, but as in the U.S., it's summer break. I don't know too many American kids who would wake up at 5 A.M. to go to extra school during their summers, but the kids here love it. After we finish English classes, we break up into small teams of two or three people, each working on a different project in the community. Some go teach health or business workshops, while others go work on agricultural or water and sanitation projects.

Most of my work has been focused on mentoring people in developing plans for small businesses, which is truly one of my passions. The deadline for submissions to our second annual Business Plan Competition is on Friday, and on Saturday, a panel of successful Haitian entrepreneurs will review the plans and select the winners. So far, we have nearly 80 plans that have been submitted, and we expect many more to be submitted by Friday's deadline. As I've been working with some of these entrants to refine their business plans, I've been amazed by the creativity and passion they show once they know that someone believes in them. I can't wait to find out who this year's winners are and what they're going to do with their businesses.

Hiking through the river on the way back from Zoranje.
The highlight of my trip so far has been a visit to a community up in the mountains called Zoranje. In order to get to Zoranje, you hike up a valley for an hour or so, crossing the river 10 times. At the first crossing, where the river is deepest, you're wading in up to your waist, yet somehow mototaxi drivers still manage to make it across successfully. Along the way, you get to enjoy absolutely gorgeous scenery. The best part about it, though, was how eagerly this community was to have us come. There was a group of about 55 people, all ready with pen in hand when we arrived. We taught a basic first aid workshop, including what to do if you suspect a broken bone. We then reviewed and collected their business plans, 22 in total, and we expect another 15 or so by Friday.

In the posts to come, I'll introduce you to some of the great people here in Leogane that I've had the chance to work with, and show just how much of an impact a small organization like Sustain Haiti can have. As for now, it's time to get to work!


No comments:

Post a Comment