Léogâne, Haiti. I am sitting in the office of Belo Water in Léogâne, Haiti, on the first morning of my 21st trip here. This is my second trip since the terrible January 12 earthquake described by Ban-ki Moon as the worst natural disaster of our times. Having been in Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the Tsunami, and seen how bad that was, I have to agree with the Secretary General. Haiti is sadly even worse.
I am here with the heads of two departments of a major American university, exploring ways to build out American education in Haiti, and to hopefully provide scholarships to some of the high school graduates we identified on our last trip who we have committed to training for a year in college preparation, English, and cross-cultural awareness. If all goes well, we will place ten of these students in a university in Beijing next year – and we are discussing with several other major universities in New York to assist the others. The American Ambassador here has promised to work with us to get them U.S. student visas if they qualify.
It is nice to travel with sophisticated and global citizens. One of the professors is Canadian, and the other Iranian-American. They have seen the world before, and they are able to eat the food, drink the water, and appreciate the local culture. Unlike me, they both speak fluent French. The head of Belo Water took us out to a new restaurant in Léogâne last night. It opened only in the last week, and is the first real restaurant to open here after the earthquake. There is another just outside Léogâne which is very nice as well.
The well-regarded Belo Water Company of Léogâne is hosting our trip again.
They had opened their resources to the community after the earthquake.
Haiti has moved forward in the last two months since my last trip. We were here during the Recovery phase of international aid, and now we are here in the Reconstruction phase. Much debris has been removed from the capital’s streets, and although Léogâne was the epicenter of the quake, even here one can see signs of improvement. The feeding programs have mostly stopped and I feared what would happen, but somehow the Haitians seem to keep going. I honestly do not think we could have survived this trauma in New York, although there is no way a Times Square Bomber could create as much chaos as the earthquake did here.
Herby, who lives in the refugee camp adjacent to Belo Water, has overcome all obstacles.
Another theme of this trip is to plan the technology needed to turn our partner school, le Ecole de Rédemption, into the center of connectivity for Léogâne — and to explore ways to build housing for the extended families of the orphaned children in the care of Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW). I founded OIWW more than a decade ago, and made my first trip here ten years ago. Haiti has suffered so much since its independence 206 years ago as the first free slave nation in the world. Nations that once held slaves have not been kind to Haiti, nor has the upper class that rules this nation. Over the last decade I have witnessed Haiti zigzagging between bad and worse under a series of leadership including Aristide and Préval. The earthquake has obliterated anything achieved in the last ten years. The worst conditions in the world have become drastically more untenable – almost impossible to comprehend.
The professors on this trip are pleased with the enormous family structure offered by
our partner Evens Anozine. His family is connected to virtually every sector in Haiti.
Today we will breakfast with our director, a nurse with ten years administrative experience. She left an NGO where she was working in a refugee camp to be able to lead Orphans International Worldwide Haiti. Following breakfast we will interview several candidates for teaching our high school graduates who hope to gain entrance through scholarships to the world’s universities. The 40 students in the program, the core of our Leadership/Mentorship Training Program, will meet with us after that. They are a particularly able group of students, many of them with an interest in engineering and all of them with the desire to move Haiti forward. Their overseas education should prepare them for this life mission.
The author at our partner school in Léogâne, one of the few that survived the Haitian earthquake.
As I finish this piece, the professors return from touring our three-story partner school, le Ecole de Rédemption. They had hoped to find it in even better condition following the quake, but realize that here in Léogâne it towers above any other structure. They note that the repairs it still needs are relatively minor. They are also particularly pleased with the size of the school grounds and believe that so much programming can occur there with support of the international community which we are tapping into.
I am being called to our breakfast with our director. She will meet our expanded team members and update us on her progress over the last two months. She has finished interviewing the extended families of our 30 Orphans International Worldwide Haiti children who we have arranged to be in family care and will be supporting through our child sponsorship program. The needs of this great nation, now on its knees, are immense, but so too is the resolve of its people. Haiti does not want a hand out to move forward, but it needs a hand. We are here to provide it.