Like any life’s journey it’s all about your focus. And how you look at things and what is revealed to you. I hold in my hands the remains of one building that still lays crumbled and flowed over onto the sidewalk and into the street of this quaint little beach town Anse-à-Galets, on the Island of De La Gonave, Haiti. (French: Île de la Gonâve. Remnants everywhere by the devastation of the 2010‘s relentless earthquake, three years later I am at the epicenter of the disaster admiring the resilience of this city and it’s people.
The journey that got me here was my brothers journey, much longer than you would truly know. God gave his hands the power to build and he does it with all his might. The wind has pointed his life in the direction to help others with his gift to build. This week will be his one year anniversary of being here in Haiti building a Childrens Village.
He has been on many missions; two to three week missions in Africa, Jamaica and on the mainland of Haiti, but this time he has been left to manage this major project on his own, but not alone. The children who will occupy this village are many who were orphaned after the disaster because their parents died. Some left behind.
This amazing woman (Mme Soliette, the inspirational leader of the new orphanage) stepped up and started looking after them, soon she had over 70 children. As crowded as they are in the safety of this 3 story home, they seam to find little joys, playing games with each other. As I walked up they were playing a game singing a song in French (their native language) and holding hands walking in a circle, when they stopped, they all stared at each other. The first one to smile was out of the game, then they started singing walking in a circle again and stopped again, until the last one was standing being the champion stare’er. A much different perspective then what I have seen from people who cover Haiti. Yes, they are all cramped up in this building. 70+ but they are kids and find their fun. My guide entertained the boys with a short cartoon on his cell phone. Obviously enthralled with the technology and the cartoon they have never seen, in a city that barely has electricity except by generators and small solar panels.
I took photos of the location and couldn’t help but wonder about the doodling on the chalk board of a ship with smoke stacks, on the ship is a basketball player shooting hoops. How is it they have seen this image to draw it on the chalk board? It makes sense the building has bars to protect the children from falling 3 stories down and to keep out, outside predators from coming in. But you can’t help but feel for these cramped quarters. Soon this will all change.
My mission was to document the process and the people my brother works for, Extollo International. My personal mission was to find the beauty in what so many call a ‘3rd world Country’?
Back to my brother. Haiti has different standards in buildings. On this Island it seams the only standard for many of the buildings is you have to stay within your property line. What you build is what you build. But who can prepare for a relentless earthquake? Haitian’s know how to build, buildings are all around and they are quite resourceful. That is an understatement. But earthquake standards are very different and expensive, and have been almost unnecessary until it shook the Capital of Haiti to the ground.
Pan-o-rama; Rue de M. Laporte and A Michelle road. Anse-à-Galets, De La Gonave Island, Haiti By Stacy Poulos ©2013 http://www.dermandar.com/p/deZLVD/rue-de-m-laporte-and-a-michelle-road-anse-a-gal
This panorama is near what they call the Saline’s, an area close to the water in Anse-à-Galets. Anyone in America would love to live this close to the water and pay big dollars to do it. However, here it is considered the poorest area on La Gonave to live because during storms it gets flooded. I guess it’s all how you look at it. Several of the people who work for Extollo live in this area. This is Innocent probably on of the most gracious men dedicated to his family and job.
This town reminded me of Santorini Greece where the buildings are made of brick and cement. In hot areas they stay cooler and hold up to the battering of storms that tropical Islands often get. They are quaint buildings and a photographers pipe dream. I don’t think much about how they live, I just think, ‘Oh my God another photo opportunity on every corner’. Every inch. Here comes a Donkey holding supplies. You think ‘Oh my God what a great moment to capture’ next thing you know 5 minutes later another two are right behind. It’s the way a many of locals get their supplies home or too their store. Some of the ‘Stores’ resemble what Americans know as a small fruit stand along a country road. Some have actual buildings that host their products. Many are no bigger that a 7×10 foot room.
Those who do not have donkeys, wrap a cloth in the shape of a donut and place it on their head and then place things on top of that, like a gigantic bowl or basket on top of that to help stabilize it on their head. Or box, or ice chest (good to know), or bag, pretty much any container. It’s easier to carry things long distances in this way. Inside these containers is charcoal, or fruits, vegetables, fish, what every you would carry in your hands to get to your car, they carry on there head, men, women, children. On top of that, some put more than what one would put in a shopping cart. Some will take it off their head and present to you what is in it, because they are selling it. Kinda like the ice cream truck pulling up in your neighborhood. Others who have motorcycles will load it down like you’ve never seen before. Tided to the back seat and rack, held in their lap, and on the front of the bike. There’s usually always 3 people on one motorcycle. It’s Island living.
The building colors are mostly off white with natural stone colors with an occasional beach town colors my favorite turquoise, salmon pink, blue, yellow and green. I absolutely love when some layers of stucco fall off revealing the brick or stone underneath. (Something many Italian restaurants try to duplicate). Of course these would never pass American standards but have 100 times the appeal. Many of the fences are long sticks tied together exactly what you see at the Oakland Zoo or Disneyland. Some of the shack like buildings are made of sheets of left over old plywood, left over fragmented and rusted pieces of corrugated metal roofing sheets. Some buildings have brown or blue plastic tarps. Somehow, it’s all order in chaos that represents a beautiful mosaic of living. It’s 90 degrees out side most the time, so protection from the sun is bliss.
Every were you go along the roads are these “Banko/ Loto” written on the side where you can exchange money and buy American Loto tickets. They are a little bigger than an out-house and look like a shack. Usually the bottom half is painted turquoise green, and the top half white with red, black and yellow lettering. It’s kinda funny because there are so many it’s like a chain store. Pretty close to these Bankos are gas stations. In La Gonave, usually a chair sitting on the side of the road with what ever can fit on it or a very small. The gasoline comes in containers of semi see through gallon jugs that look like antifreeze bottles a little shy of being filled up. Some are on small sheltered tables. But that’s it. That’s your gas station. And for 450 gourde you can fill up a motorcycle.
The infrastructure however has not been able to rebuild it’s self, like cleaning up and hauling off the broken buildings. While I was there, they were re-building some of the roads. But in this town, the city of Anse-à-Galets there is only one stretch of paved road to the boat dock. I love this little island! It’s a pain to get around in a car, (one of the reasons I rented a dirt bike) most all the streets are dirt roads with cracks, pits and mounds of dirt and gravel, pit holes and such. But I love it. There is no easy way to get through town. Who are on the streets? People, donkey, goats, chickens and pigs running free. By the time you get to the one stretch of paved road you want to speed like you are free from the terrain.
Before I show you what my brother built. Here is a video of the journey to get supplies on a hand made sail boat…
(I had to add this photo of Eko Depo, no relation to Home Depot, they get a lot of their supplies here on the main land Port-au-Prince, then the big stuff it trucked to the boat dock where they pick up his supplies and bring it over to La Gaunave ).
I’m going to show you what one of the people he and other volunteers trained to built. Besides fulfilling a contract to build a Childrens Village with Extollo International, his mission with Extollo was to train and employ locals to become carpenters, share techniques we (Americans) learned about earthquake building standards. Hopefully to help survive another earthquake.
So, in between a break in construction, he lost one of his workers going into construction business for himself. This man was contracted to do the mason for another building. Which was Extollo’s mission in the first place. Although they are sad to see such a great worker go, he is ecstatic to know his mission is accomplished through this man’s work. This room behind them resembles planting a seed in someone. Faith in their abilities, and the opportunity to do it. So the money that flows in to rebuild Haiti will go to Haitians to rebuilding it themselves. And that is priceless. It fulfills their economies. Not just by us going over to Haiti and buying their food to feed Americans while they do their work. But by feeding the economy by hiring and guiding the Haitians to do it themselves so they can feed their own family and economy. This was the brain child of Sherman D. Balch the founder of Extollo International who entrusted my brother to see this project through and represent the integrity of this project, Steve loves it here and wants to live here. He feels they are more appreciative of the little things. Of course I don’t want him to stay.
Extollo couldn’t have picked a better man to do the job, he has always taken great pride in the integrity of his work to the smallest of details. I have driven down the city roads with a few people in Anse-à-Galets, but when you’re with Steve you hear out of a distance as he drives by “Steve”… “Steve”… from both sides of the road everywhere you go. Even in the dark night where there is no electricity you will hear coming from the bungalows. “Steeve”. I don’t know what it’s like being in the presidential car, but this is what it feels like to me. Many Haitians have somewhat of a hard look when it comes to Americans because they feel exploited and are intrusting of Americans and foreigners gifts… or as they call us ‘blonds’ – for ‘whites’. Rightfully so. Haiti is the first Country to be independent from French colonization. They know we don’t help them unless they have something we want.
But if I mention Steve is my brother or friend a new face appears of welcoming joy, following with a sincere two handed hand shake and/or hug. I am the el presidente’s sister. It’s quite entertaining that he has such a status since he’s kinda of a quite guy, not much for the lime light. Usually he is absorbed in some project building some amazing thing.
So here is the Childrens Village almost complete. The grand opening where the children can move in is April 5th 2013. I’m sure it will be a little getting used to the open space and the freedom to run around. I am looking forward to learning about the new games they will play. The boys will be on one side of the Village and the girls on the other. Rain will be captured into a gigantic tank and treated for drinking water. They will also have electricity coming from a generator and solar panels. I loved meeting the people who work for Extollo, I have been to a few of their homes and I am humbled by their grace.
There is so much more to tell. I will blog about the things I have seen and their fascinating way of life. I hope that my photos tell the rest of the story. But please do not look with judging eyes. These people are good people, they are resourceful, they work very hard and they live a simple life we all can learn from. Most people I know would whine to walk a day in their shoes. I hope and pray they keep the charm of this city as they rebuild it. And if they modernize anything, that it will still maintain the character it has now. Progress doesn’t always means ‘progress’ I think there should be a balance. …to be continued.