from the field: what it means to be a neighbor in Haiti.

Please install Flash

“We started Friday morning at JFK airport, boarding the second commercial flight into Haiti since the earthquake. Only four hours later, we were standing in the dust of the deadliest earthquake in 20 years.

Tents have become fixtures in the city, sprouting up in open lots and in between broken buildings. People buzz and shuffle along, selling goods, washing laundry and carrying on. Behind the activity –- which appears somewhat normal –- is a backdrop of colorless ruin. Here is proof of the new paradox in Port-au-Prince: bright clothes, loud music and a hustle reminiscent to NYC but instead against concrete rubble and ashen bricks.

We’re now two hours outside of the capital, at Zanmi Lasante in Cange, in the Central Plateau. Zanmi Lasante means “Partners In Health” (PIH) in Creole. They have been working in Haiti for nearly 25 years, implementing comprehensive primary health care and social services. charity: water has partnered with PIH/ZL to fund water points in surrounding villages.

It’s 9:30 pm on a Saturday evening, but the medical campus is abuzz with activity. We’re sharing a couch with two medical doctors from Ireland who are fighting exhaustion to complete patient notes before the next group of volunteers arrive tomorrow. It’s five weeks after the quake and a church next to the hospital is still serving as a trauma center for the overflow of patients. While they have been working around the clock with patients, today we started our mission to assess long-term water needs in the rural areas where hundreds of thousands of Haitians have migrated from Port-au-Prince.

This morning started with a visit to Roche Pab 2, a community of 150 families without clean water. Since the quake, they have taken in 300 additional Haitians from Port-au-Prince. There we met Mirline and her two young children, who fled Port-au-Prince after their house crumbled and the factory where she worked was destroyed. They spent three days sleeping in the street before hitching a ride to Roche Pab 2. They left Port-au-Prince for her mother’s home, where there are no jobs, schools or clean water.

Mirline’s story is echoed throughout the country, wherever Haitians are rushing to help each other. Later in the afternoon we met Luc, a proud father of eight in a village called Simon, where his family drinks from a contaminated pool of water along with 350 other families. When asked how the earthquake has affected him, he surprised us by stating that he donated his savings of 25 Haitian gourdes ($3.50 USD) to help survivors. “They are our brothers and sisters,” he said. “And they would support us if we were in that situation.”

In a country where one-third of all Haitians lacked clean water before the quake, Luc has shown us what it means to be a neighbor.

Tomorrow (Monday) we will be visiting more communities in need — we’ll take a boat to the Island of La Gonave to see the work of Concern Worldwide. Stay tuned.”

Becky Straw, water projects director,
Amanda Schwartz, PIH development associate,
and Esther Havens, photographer

Follow @beckystraw and @estherhavens on Twitter for live updates from the field.

Previous from the field: en route to Cange, Haiti. Blog Home Next from the field: hope for Treasure Island