Turkey’s eastern Van Province was rocked by a 7.2 earthquake on October 23rd, leaving 604 people dead and 28,000 houses uninhabitable. Following severe aftershocks this week that caused further collapse many people are afraid to return to buildings which are not damaged for fear of further seismic activity.
I haven’t managed to find a single organisation accepting unskilled or unaffiliated volunteers (as usual) but there is certainly much to be done. Turkey sits on two major fault lines and has experienced many large and devastating earthquakes in its history. Having been spared for a decade the country is well prepared with stocks of tents and other relief items. Neighbouring countries have also offered equipment and experts to assist the community. Heavy equipment has moved in quickly and with a particularly young local population, labour is on hand as and when the rubble clearance begins in earnest.
Given that Turkey is well developed and that the response to this disaster is well-coordinated and well supplied, it seems like the local community could support a handful of experienced and intrepid volunteers wanting to start digging through the rubble that the machines can’t reach. Much has been made, and rightly so, of the potential negative impact that unsolicited volunteers can have on local resources, including housing and food. Remembering that temperatures are well below freezing at night, a decent tent, some water purifying tablets and a giant sack of Pasta ‘n’ Sauce should ensure that you’re not a burden on this particular disaster-impacted area.
Pack a wooly hat and a shovel and let me know how it goes!
Accompanying my friend to the hospital to have her huge pus-filled armpit swelling lanced I took the opportunity to ask the doctor about a mysterious rash of red dots that have spread over the last couple of days, from my left hand, up my arm, across my back and down the other side! Fearing that my pillow was infested with bedbugs and would therefore have to be burned – bear in mind there’s nowhere to buy another and I sleep on the floor – I was happy to hear that either I’m being bitten by ants and need to move my bed or I have an allergic reaction and need to wash more often. Considering how often I’ve been showering – read: not a lot – I’m going with the second one and am now making a concerted effort to shower at least once a week – joking, once a day. Probably.
Sorry All, Haiti has this strange effect on me. It is an all-encompassing place. There is always so much going on, so much work to do, so much fun to be had that blog-writing has definitely taken a back seat since I arrived. Well, not even taken a seat really!
I have been planning and teaching an advanced English course to some of our staff and volunteers, preparing reports on natural disasters around the world for All Hands and spending the weekends in Port-au-Prince working in a bar, bringing in some cash so that I can keep volunteering. Today I’ll be accompanying two volunteers to the local clinic with minor complaints, calling the Canadian Embassy about a lost passport and working on this week’s English classes. In other news, we discovered a new bar last night, mere meters from base, with a large selection of flavoured moonshine – and for only 25p per eyelash melting shot. As they say here in Haiti, “Oh-oh!” (emphasis on the second ‘oh’ and with a higher pitch).
I started my new job last night. I’d forgotten how tiring working in a bar until 2am was! Still, I had a blast. Running around like a crazy fool seems to be something I’m good at. Then it was up and out by nine this morning to revisit my old home in Leogane. The same great people seem to show up again and again on All Hands projects and it was great to see so many familiar faces. After finding there are a couple of things I could help with here I’ll be staying a couple of days before heading back to the capital for another shift and more endless rounds of mohitos. More to come after the celebratory drinks at Joe’s tonight. I might even serve a couple, just to keep my eye in!
I love working with All Hands because of the clear positive impact of the work we do. The success is obvious when a team of ten motivated individuals jumps down from the truck, shovels and sledgehammers in hand, and leaves behind a clear slab where the ruins of a house once stood, or a clean basement where mud and debris sat for weeks. The needs of the community are clear to see, and while our volunteers can’t address them all, they are often the only ones doing the careful manual clearance and deconstruction which can make such a difference to homeowners – foundations remain intact, materials are able to be reused, safer spaces are opened up for temporary shelter.
I recently came across a blog written by Greg and Caroline Spira who are documenting those same tangible successes in the development field, which can be must less clear-cut. Their photovoice posts are a space for local people to express their opinions on the efforts of development organizations to improve conditions in their current home, Cameroon. The theories and intentions behind projects such as micro-finance, vocational education and training opportunities are described by those who become involved with these well-intentioned programs. We all know what the road to hell is paved with, but in this case those creating the programs are brave enough, and smart enough, to ask the communities they work in how it’s going. See for yourself how various VSO initiatives are effecting positive change, through the words and pictures of those both reaping the benefits and helping to spread the success throughout their communities. Click here!
Oh this crazy world I find myself in. Even here it seems it not what you know but who you know. After heading out to a party on Friday, we met back up with friends from the night before Saturday morning and drove out through the maze of backstreets that make up Port-au-Prince, bound for the beach house of the bar owner. Three hours of driving, first out of the city, then along the coast, the up and over the mountains of Haiti’s southern peninsula, and we were in Jacmel and at a lovely beachside bungalow. Perfect for someone looking for a bit of downtime after the experience of bouncing from disaster response to disaster response all summer, we spent the weekend lazing and drinking and chatting and BBQing, all with a fantastic Caribbean sea view behind it. I also found a job! The bar owner is looking for people to help with training, managing and serving. Check, check and check. I start on Wednesday. If anyone is in country, send me a message and stop by for a beer!
Just a quick update to let everyone know I’ve arrived safe and sound in Port-au-Prince. I’m guzzling water and sweating profusely but it feels great to be back. There’s still a good crew of my old friends here so I’m going to spend a few days hanging out and resting off the last 6 months of non-stop project and when I make up my mind what to do next I’ll let you know! Tonight it’s out for drinks in Peitionville, tomorrow a couple of hours down the coast and over the mountains for a weekend at the beach. Looks like I arrived just in time.
Yesterday I booked my plane ticket out of New York and am finally leaving the states after an amazing summer of disaster response with another wonderful group of people. Way back in July I went to St Louis for a couple of weeks R&R, expecting to get right back on a plane to Japan. I left everything useful in Ofunato and therefore showed up on Project Minot without a single pair of trousers or anything resembling a closed-toe shoe. Nevertheless, as is the magic of an All Hands project, everything came together and the weeks on the prairie went by in a happy blur of volunteer recruitment and beers and basements. Next stop New York in the fall – just stunning. So many hills and trees and bends in the road that I feel like I’m in a completely different country! And now, as the wintry weather really sets in, I get to go back to the glorious warmth of the Caribbean for a month or two. Bliss. Big thanks and much love to everyone I’ve met and re-met this summer and see you all again somewhere in the world sometime.
Speaking of new friends made, and old friends revisited, the Haiti picture used in this post is by another former All Hands Volunteer, and good friend of mine, Keely Kernan. To see more of her award-winning shots click here.