Preparing to travel to Haiti for a week

Time to take a break from projects of my own, and also from working at McMaster… to travel south.  Far south, to the oft-stricken isle of Haiti.

A preparatory bit of history

I must admit to not knowing as much about Haiti as I would like.  I knew it is a country of severe poverty in many places; exacerbated by horrible, breathtaking corruption in a succession of governments and leaders going back over many decades.  Much more recently, the island nation was rocked and ruined by the huge earthquake in 2010 – and as recently as this month, it has been again revealed that the corruption spiral continues, with very little of the aid sent actually helps those in need.  Malaria, typhoid fever, and a general lack of vaccination abide… so the country is often sick in finance as well as in body.

So: things are tough, and are likely to stay that way for some time to come.  As much of the research and coursework I have done on the subject of international development work called out… it is tough to help a country when its government obstinately stands in the way.  That is a big part of the reason I am looking forward to this small-scale trip.  We won’t solve any of the problems there, but for those individuals and the community we go to help, we will aim to make a sizable difference in their quality of life, however we can.  One of the more alarming facts about Haiti’s troubles: unlike the Dominican Republic, a nation which shares the same island, Haiti cut down a HUGE percentage of their trees in the 1920’s, and in so doing they ruined the island’s ability to retain healthy soil… and thus agricultural viability plummeted.  This is one of the best examples I am familiar with, for the dangers of attempting short term gains at the high cost of long term loss.  I am hoping, as part of our trip, to be encouraging towards actions which help the short term at least a little, but are aimed towards long-term wellness (call me pastorly, but that is my goal for people and myself in general!).

That said, some of the reading I did to prepare the trip has also highlighted for me the strength of a proud culture, one which has bested unbelievable odds in the past (for instance: it is both the only country in the western hemisphere founded from a successful slave revolt; and also the only country in the west to have defeated three major imperial powers as a former colony, going up against Spain AND Britain AND France… and winning!  Another interesting historical note: Haiti’s stubborn defense and the power of disease against Napoleon’s soldiers… was central to his exasperated decision to get out of the empire business in the Americas, and indeed to effect the Louisiana Purchase by the young United States.).  The local culture, art, and cuisine alike are said to be spicy and delightful, and I look forward to sampling those and the hope they promise for the future.  Things at the top may be consistently bad, but I would like to think that small person to person or group to group aid like our trip can eventually make a big difference in the aggregate.

History aside: my week will be spent in and around Jacmel, a town on the southern border of the island.  I will learn a bunch more once I am there.

The general plan for the week

According to my brother Steven, who is the organizer and indeed leader of multiple back to back trips (consisting of mostly Ohio State University students, his peers), we will be doing… a wide variety of things over the time there.  The list includes, but is not limited to, the following:
* swim lessons (surprising, but something there is a deep need for)
*some brief vacation Bible school’esque classes for the kids
*working on the wall around the church and guest house property
*feeding the hungry
*simple nursing visits and also a clinic
*in my case, I will be bringing down a fair amount of computer repair stuff, mostly software-related.  Many people there experience major problems with computer viruses rendering their machine useless; it is my hope to switch a bunch of people over to the very lightweight (and therefore high performing on those old donated machines for many down there) version of Linux called Lubuntu.  This will hopefully help keep those machines running better and for a LOT longer, as Linux installations are ultra-reliable systems which are going to remain unaffected by the VAST majority of computer viruses (unlike Windows, or even Mac these days)

There will be other work done as well, I am sure.  Regardless of specifics, I look forward to doing whatever I can to help while I am there.

Preparing myself and my stuff for the philanthropic goals ahead.

So, doing my travel prep in stages, I got my passport in January; I called for donations from coworkers in April (and had an AWESOME response…

MANY donations!

MANY donations!

… which I will struggle to fit into two suitcases!); and as life sometimes does… the lion’s share of the packing took place the night before the morning flights began!

A very few clothes for me; my Pentax camera and lenses (with some special dessicant from work, to try and keep the humidity from invading the optics as they are stored down there); and the computer tools I will bring down… and then ~95 pounds of donations.  A passport and tickets… and call me ready to go right to Jacmel.

ALL of that said: Steven warns me that the 2-4 hour drive from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel will be harrowing.  “2-4 hour” is a wide variance, and I am told this is because we will be traveling through some SEVERE mountains.  Google Maps is not a topographical service by any means, but those small “hill” markings here on my red line path…

the path to Jacmel... is a bit hilly.

the path to Jacmel… is a bit hilly.

… are filled with drivers in ramshackle vehicles going 60mph around hairpin mountain turns and switchbacks, apparently.  I am an avid amateur photographer and would LOVE to capture as much of the scenery on that trip as possible… my brother warns that he got violently carsick on this demolition derby of a trip across those mountains… so from the very start of my time on the ground there, I suspect things shall be… exciting!

Depending on JUST how photo-crazy I go, I may follow the pattern of my Zambia experience and do the blog posts for this trip as a diary-style chronicle (one post per day).  Stay tuned, as I will apparently have internet connectivity down there, and may post while there!

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