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Haiti Recap

Well, I am back in NYC.  Fundamentally and profoundly impacted.

Yesterday was the final day in Haiti and I am so overwhelmed trying to process all that has happened that I feel almost incapable of expression.

On our last night (Saturday), we had a ‘going away’ party and there were many fascinating conversations. Two of our fellow volunteers who are of Haitian descent asked us if we had ever been to Haiti, and if we would have ever come here without the disaster. For most of us (myself included), the answer was no to both, and they expressed how inspired they were that we would choose to volunteer in a place where we had no connection.  I have been thinking about that for the entire trip and the best explanation I can come up with is that my view of the world is like an ant colony – an incredibly complex organism consisting of countless component parts that each have a critical role to play.  The colony can only survive and thrive when all the parts are healthy and functioning well. I believe that it is in my Self interest to contribute in any way I can and in this case, that meant hauling rubble and clearing home sites for new houses to replace the ones lost.

In all likelihood, I will never know the difference it made for those families, and it is hard to think about the 6 sites I worked on relative to the roughly 500,000 structures knocked down.  But I always go back to something that my dear friend Brett once asked – “would you rather be someone who says I could have, or someone who says I did?”  I feel privileged for the experience of being there, and thankful that an organization like HODR will have more than 1,000 other volunteers working  there for the next 6 months, and that dozens, if not hundreds of other NGO’s and non-profits will continue working to build up that country.

One of the biggest challenges we all face is helping out in a time of need without creating a system/culture of dependency where a large part of the country has an expectation of being supported.  That is an immensely complex problem which I could not hope to tackle.  However, I was very impressed that nearly all the organizations (HODR prominently among them) have strict policies in place to minimize that.  For example, all the sites we cleared had family members participating – sometimes more enthusiastically than others, and more often the younger kids than the adults.  But considering that for most of these families, those 37 seconds killed loved ones, wiped out all their possessions, and erased several generations of personal history.  So while I may view each home site as a tangled puzzle of rubble, rebar, and debris, these family members are watching us tear apart and cart away the last evidence of what was effectively their whole world.  For the volunteers, we sing songs and make jokes to ease the back-breaking labor, and it is probably a good thing the language barrier prevents them from understanding our humor.

I will be adding more posts here (some of them back-dated because I did not get them uploaded in Haiti), including pictures and video once I get those uploaded.

Thanks for all your interests and your comments.  I will try to address the various questions over the next several days.

Video: Volunteers at HODR Base in Haiti, enjoying lunch, spouting philosophy

To keep the volunteers fueled up, a full time cook prepares hot lunches and dinners 6 days a week.  This is a great opportunity to decompress and reflect on the project at hand.  Neil is a ‘repeat offender’ with HODR, having done time in a number of exotic locations around the world.  He eloquently conveys his Carpe Diem philosophy in this video.

YouTube: Volunteers at HODR Base in Haiti, enjoying lunch, spouting philosophy.


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