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New Faces, Old Friends

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!

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The Difficult World of Development

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!

Everything Falls into Place

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!

Bonjou Tout Moun!

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.

Adios America, Hello Haiti

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.

The Mud Taxonomy

Project Gonaives brought dirty to a whole new level. Volunteers spent every day of the 5+ month project shoveling the mud swept into houses by landslides. As different thicknesses and consistencies of mud necessitate different tools and techniques a glossary was put together and words like slud (wet mud found on the top of the stack) and cludd (“mud infused with clothing/bedding/masonry ceiling panels” etc.) entered the All Hands vocabulary – along with the “claw”, a term for the muscle cramps that prevent you from uncurling your hands after a long day of shoveling or sledge hammering. More mud followed in Leogane in the wake of Hurricane Tomas and in both Minot and the Catskills on the domestic front. We’ve added grud to the list (mud with a high gravel content) and found plenty of examples of the rest! We also all learned through numerous lessons, never to open a fridge that’s sat, unopened and full of food for many weeks. The weak of stomach have lost breakfasts over it and halfway through a killer job site the last thing you want is to lose your fuel.

Our two field teams here in upstate New York are starting the week in a couple of particularly nasty basements, complete with mud, bathroom fixtures and moldy insulation. What’s the betting they look as happy about it as the mud team below in a back yard in Leogane lat last year?!

Jubilation after another house is Leogane is cleared of mud and sludge.