Report from 02/05/2010 – 02/08/2010 Trip to Haiti
Our team, consisting of David W., Alan Lutz, and me, arrived via Delta flight from Atlanta to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Friday afternoon between 2 and 3 pm. We were met at the airport by our orphanage director, Pastor Jean Paul, and by his newest acquaintance, Fransisco, a young Haitian-Dominican whom Jean had asked for directions. We spent our first night at a hotel in Santo Domingo in order for Jean to have a much-needed break from the grueling previous three weeks. We also knew that he had traveled some 8 hours to reach us from La Plaine, Haiti.
Fransisco is fluent in both Creole and Spanish, and has a basic grasp of simple English. Throughout our time in Santo Domingo, Fransisco provided us with translation, directions, and help with locating the best marketplaces for Jean to purchase food for the orphans. One of the most important accomplishments during our trip was providing Jean with funds to purchase bags of rice, bags of beans, and many pounds of sausages for the children. Food, you see, is more plentiful and roughly 50% cheaper in the Dominican Republic than in Haiti at the present time.
After purchasing food for the orphans on Saturday morning, we began the long drive from Santo Domingo to the border with Haiti. The road is well-paved and maintained for several miles outside of Santo Domingo, but soon begins to narrow and to show more wear and tear. It was not long before we found ourselves traveling through many small Dominican towns with road detours, crowded streets, and frequent speed bumps! Well into the trip Saturday afternoon, we were traveling a part of the roadway shaded by giant trees on either side. I just asked Jean to slow the van down so that I could get a photo without a truck in front of us blocking the scene, when there was a loud "bang!" indicating we had a flat tire. With David and Jean providing much of the muscle, we worked together to change the tire, wrestling along the way with a very badly-designed jack! While changing the flat, some local Dominicans emerged from the banana field nearby and handed us some just-picked, rather ripe fruit.
Near the Batay
The Dominican countryside along our route featured many hills and mountains, punctuated by well-kept sugarcane, pineapple, banana, and tomato fields. We were told that there were also many coffee fields at the higher elevations. A little past half-way along our trip, we passed by the batay (large plantation) where some Haitians have been resettled in the Dominican Republic to work in the sugarcane. Jean Paul has an outreach to this batay, known as batay number 4.
As we neared the Dominican-Haitian border, we passed many Dominican checkpoints, but were never stopped. Jean told us that the Dominicans were used to aid workers traveling into Haiti along this route. He also said that the Dominicans would be much more interested in examining us when we were traveling in the other direction on the way back.
We crossed the border into Haiti late in the afternoon and again were waved through by the Haitian border officials. Our route took us past an unusual salt-water lake to our right and past mammoth limestone-quarry mountains on our left. The scene was like something like an extraterrestrial planetscape as all of the trees were covered in white.
Haiti Home in Ruins
As we began passing through small Haitian villages on the route to La Plaine, Jean pointed out – first only rarely – but then more and more frequently – homes, businesses, churches, even cemeteries, which had been destroyed by the recent earthquake. Nearing Jean Paul’s rental house, we witnessed up close several large private homes that had been absolutely leveled in the disaster. And in most cases, all those inside had been killed.
The sun’s light was beginning to shorten in the western sky, when we turned down the street which leads to our compound’s neighborhood. Again Jean pointed out time and again this or that structure brought low by the quake. In particular he pointed to a Baptist church, of which all that remained standing was a beautiful tall concrete tower. Thankfully, that church was not holding services when the earthquake struck.
Jean shows us the rubble.
The orphans welcomed us warmly when we pulled into the compound. Jean had not told them that we were coming to visit and so they were joyfully surprised. As the light was quickly fading into twilight, we hurried to get photographs and to hug the children and assure them of our care and concern. Jean was anxious to return us to his rental home before nightfall, as he was concerned for our safety in the light of the unrest and the escaped Haitian prisoners.
When we arrived at Jean’s home, some of the ladies from the mission prepared a delightful Haitian meal for us. We then set about unpacking and organizing the medical supplies, which had been provided by a donor from South Carolina, Reformation Hope and by Midway Presbyterian Church. Jean quipped that many so-called pharmacies in Haiti did not have as many first-aid and medicinal items as he now had – thanks to all those who had given so abundantly!
We tried to sleep that evening on the air mattresses we brought for the orphans. I have to confess that I for one did not sleep well. Besides the constant crowing of roosters throughout the night (which I am used to in Haiti), in Jean’s neighborhood there were also many yelping dogs, bleating sheep, loud goats, and frequent aircraft noises. In the morning we ate a light breakfast and rushed off to the compound.
After five years, safe, abundant and free water.
During the bumpy travel back to the compound, I began to feel ill. By the time we reached the mission site I was quite sick to my stomach. Never-the-less, we needed desperately to collect photographs and video for our donors and partners concerning the work in Haiti. I managed to photograph and to video cam Jean with the orphans and with the ruined school building, as well as capture the children at the new well!
By the time the Sunday morning worship service had started, I was not sure if I would be able to preach a message which I had prepared on Revelation chapter 2 concerning the church in Smyrna. But thank God I was able to complete the message and to remain for the full regular service. Alan Lutz also preached a message for the gathering based upon the words of Jesus before He raised Lazarus from the dead.
We had planned after the regular service, to read many of the letters and cards from our donors and from the children in the U.S. who have been so concerned for our Haitian orphans. Part of the way through presenting these items, I became thoroughly sick and asked Jean Paul to complete the reading of the cards. I do believe that our Haitian brothers and sisters were moved by the outpouring of support from all our U.S. partners.
After the service concluded, everyone enjoyed a delicious meal, then David W. and Alan Lutz shared many treats with the children which we had brought. David also taught the children a game which they had never played before – dodge ball. It was so very encouraging to see the children drinking from the new well. The water flowed abundantly. After five years the children have easy access to safe drinking water. And soon we will be sharing that water with the neighbors as well.
Fully restored wall.
It was also amazing to see that through the giving of several key donors to RHI, the wall, which had partially collapsed, was fully restored and again serving to protect our children and the work of our mission in La Plaine. The wall provides such wonderful security that the U.S. Marines now visit the compound almost daily and distribute relief supplies from our site.
At the end of our time on the compound and along the way back to the Dominican Republic, Jean shared with us more fully about the new plans for rebuilding the school and for adding another building for use as a church. The anticipated cost for both of the buildings to be completed will be $125,000. The school as currently envisioned will again consist of two stories, but the first floor will have ten classrooms. While the second floor will be concrete with rebar, the roof on top will be very light-weight – the whole designed with greater structural flexibility in mind. Jean also expressed the urgency of rebuilding quickly so that we are not delayed by the rainy season, and so that we can resume schooling the orphans and the children in the neighborhood as soon as possible.
The return trip to Santo Domingo was long and difficult. Our group was already tired and I was continuing to suffer from nausea. We were also stopped frequently by the Dominican checkpoint guards as we passed through some small towns close to the border. The Lord was very good to us, however, and we arrived back in Santo Domingo very late on Sunday night.
Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo
Monday morning we arose and visited a small historic area – the Zona Colonial – near our hotel, while Jean again traveled with Fransisco to purchase more food for the orphans and some new tires for the mission’s van. We rejoined Jean and Fransisco at the hotel around noon and departed for the airport. Our flight back to Atlanta was extremely smooth – landing around 6:30 pm.
The entire team was heartened by this trip. We see much progress already in renewing hope to our Haitian brothers and sisters. The long-desired well has been successfully put into operation and daily blesses many in need. The partially destroyed wall is again standing strong and complete, acting as a foretaste of the complete rebuilding of all that was lost in the quake. And now we have a plan to replace the school building and add yet another.
We want to thank each and every one of you who have partnered with us so far in bringing real and certain hope to Haiti. Your prayers, your insights, and your financial gifts have been crucial, and they will continue to be even more crucial in the days of rebuilding ahead. Let us all go forward together under the banner of Christ, restoring hope to Haiti!
Rev. Martin L. Hawley
Reformation Hope, Inc.
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