Slightly Delayed Blog Entry From My Time in Port-au-Prince
Today marks the one-month anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti and marks the beginning of a three day period of mourning and remembrance. The usually busy streets of Port au Prince are quiet while the churches are full of people praying and singing in unison. We spent most of the morning distributing water that we purchased to the church services going on in Cite Soleil, where aid has been slow to come. We then drove out to the municipal garbage site, where we saw human waste being mixed with medical waste and garbage. We saw puddles full of worms and used syringes near where children were playing and people are living. This is the site that has been selected for all of the human waste to go from the tent cities. In the afternoon we drove through downtown Port au Prince, where damage from the earthquake is most intense. We went to the national cathedral which was completely destroyed and where countless people died. It was like a scene from the apocalypse, I felt like we were the last people on earth and the only ones left to witness the destruction. But the city is full of life with the songs honoring those who died and giving thanks for those who survived filling the air.
Looking back now on the week and a half that I spent in Port-au-Prince with SOIL in February I want to reiterate what Sasha has previously written about fear hindering the relief efforts of major NGOs. Creating zones based on perceived threat creates an environment of hostility that lessens the effectiveness of aid. The almost monthly rotation of aid workers keeps the development of cultural connections from happening and perpetuates this cycle of fear. We saw people being replaced who were just beginning to develop a real connection to Haiti and its people. Like Sasha has said, the violence and looting are isolated incidents that should not be representative of the Haitian people as a whole.
It is up to smaller organizations like SOIL without security restrictions to reach the people and places that are in great need but are not receiving aid. There are many smaller communities of displaced people that are not being recognized by larger NGOs.
As SOIL transitions from addressing immediate earthquake relief needs back to focusing on ecological sanitation, we will be able to build a presence in Port-au-Prince that lasts. This is an opportunity for Port-au-Prince to create a better sanitation system and build a better city than was previously. While there is much to mourn, there is much to be thankful for and much to look forward to such as the first SOIL composting toilets in Port-au-Prince.