Today we woke up with the sun and drove a few hours to a school that also acts as a church. That happens a lot here: the community centers that are used for religious purposes are also used for educational purposes. These are the places where people come together. These are the spaces where people learn – not just to ingest information, but also how to work together as a community.
Hand written across the wall above the pulpit is
“ASSEMBLONS-NOUS POUR NOUS FORTIFIER ET SORTONS POUR SERVIR”
Which my High School French tells me means
“We bring ourselves together to strengthen ourselves, and leave to serve.”
When we come in to bring shoes to these people, we aren’t an external force that is somehow adding some strange dynamic from the outside – instead we are fitting into a larger construct that is already built. They all lean on one another. They require their community to build, and their community gives what it can.
The country has been built by hand, and is held together by the same hands. Every advertisement is painted on the side of building by hand, the public transportation is pieced together by creative welding, the buildings are built by hand –even the cinder blocks with which the buildings are build are made by men street side with shovels and molds.
This afternoon we went into Port au Prince to learn what little we could about Haitian history. Their history was paid for by the lives of innumerable men and women who were slaughtered during the slave trade through their years of fighting for independence and the following years of turmoil as they discovered the civics that would serve them best.
When you go to the governmental center of Port au Prince you find busy streets and fences. A few new buildings, some modular prefabs and a lot of rubble. When the earthquake hit only a few years ago, the government lost three quarters of their buildings – and in losing the buildings lost a lot of the people who were working in them. Their government was crippled and has only been half rebuilt. The palace doesn’t exist anymore, it’s just a pile of rebar behind a fence. But this is by design. The President would rather spend the money getting his citizens into homes than rebuild his own lavish home.
The square that we walked through, with artisans selling their paintings and maracas, was very recently a tent city. The fountain wasn’t painted blue, the statues weren’t visible. But those tents are gone now, and in their places are men and women happy to describe the monuments and the Haitian Flame of Freedom – “As long as it burns we cannot be slaves.” This is a people who have paid dearly for their history, and they’re proud to share it.
Not all the tents have been emptied. There are vast numbers who are still without homes. The credit that the government has offered to those who lost their homes isn’t enough to rebuild. So, many wait. They use their credit for rent or are going to use it as a piece of what they require. Property has been claimed by different people, foundations don’t exist to rebuild. There’s a lot of tension, and a lot of anger.
Most of what was lost in the quake wasn’t buildings, but the infrastructure not only of the government but also the economy. Without a home, they need to find a place to sleep. Without a place to do business, they need to find an income. If you lost your parents, your family, there’s no net to catch you anymore.
A woman who teaches at the school we were at this morning, Nadege, has started an orphanage for a few girls. Not long ago she only had three. Now she’s up to twelve. They’re finishing a second floor that will double her available beds. Her girls are happy, they’re well educated, clean, and well kept. They smile more often than not, their laughter echos through the cinderblock walls, out the empty window frames, and through the locked gates protecting them from the dangerous neighborhood around them. They love stickers, sunglasses, and hair bows. Nadege has stepped in to be the net to catch the girls whose parents cannot afford to offer a healthy life, or are not around to even make that decision. She’s accepted the girls who don’t have a family to bed, feed, or educate them. She’s come home to give a home to those who don’t have one.
The tents are disappearing, and the rubble is being put aside in waiting for the new buildings. But first, Haiti is worried about they’re people. And it’s a task they’re equal to. They have a long way to go, and many have still gone untouched by aid, but it seems that the focus is strong and well placed. Things are changing, however slowly.