"Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive...then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
Howard Thurman

Sunday, January 30, 2011


T-shelters are transitional shelters.  They are meant to get people out of camps and back into their original neighborhood. For people that remained on their land but are living in tents, it provides more stability and security. They are designed and built to last from 2-5 years, hopefully holding up until a permanent option is found.  With land ownership rights still a work in progress at higher levels, t-shelters are considered "furniture", meaning if we build for someone that ultimately isn't the legal property owner they can take the materials and leave.  Because documentation of land ownership is not available in most cases, we work with neighbors to get verification.

I have been leading an amazing team of 49 employees that are finding the land where we can build,locating the families that own or can rent the property, and then writing applications and contracts.  It has been very rewarding to watch them gain confidence, find their voices and work together as a well run machine.  The neighborhoods are so tightly packed it becomes a puzzle with houses that need to be torn down, piles of rubble from people that have demolished their houses and in between it all are tiny parcels of land that they find.

The construction team started building almost two weeks ago and they are steadily making progress.  Over 60 families are now moved into their new homes.

Coordination between organizations providing the same services is almost a full time job.  With 100,000 families in need of t-shelters we are working hard to create a better map and stop working in the same neighborhoods.  Right now we seem to be writing contracts with the same families. 

Training my new team on site

Classroom Training

More on site training.

Our first T-shelter family - mom declined the photo opportunity.

As neighbors see the opportunity for a new home they begin clearing their rubble.

The rubble is taken to the street where a partner organization of ours takes it away.

Some of my team leaders - Marco, Magloire and Jeanel.

A team gets paperwork together for another family.

Immacula interviews a family.

When we have houses that need to be torn down, like the one shown here, we partner with another organization to bring in heavy equipment.  It helps to make the neighborhood safer and provides space for more T-shelters and hopefully soon, permanent housing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More from the land of contrasts

The Healing Hands for Haiti board met at one of our favorite beach resorts over the weekend.  All reports were positive that real progress was made and I was happy to be a part of it all, with a little extra time with friends and a good book on the beach. 

View from my chair at the beach
We arrived back in Port au Prince last night at almost the same moment the news hit the street that Baby Doc Duvalier had returned to Haiti after 25 years in exile. In yet another moment that reminds us to never be surprised at what can happen in Haiti, I'm still truly astounding that a) he is really here; b) he wasn't arrested on humanitarian rights violations the moment he landed; and c) there are people that remember the "order" he created and are happy to see him, somehow leaving out the actual facts of his "reign".  Of course we'll be watching developments closely but for now everything is quiet and he seems to be staying close to his hotel.
On a brighter note - Al, Healing Hands and the Haitian amputee soccer team received some nice coverage on the CBS Sunday Morning Show.  It's the stories like this that keep our hopes for a better Haiti alive!  Watch it here: 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

One Year Later

 The description that Sasha Kramer, co-founder of SOIL wrote about yesterday really resonated with me:

One year ago this morning millions of Haitians rose to greet the cool January sunshine. They walked the streets of Port au Prince, on their way to work, through the damp corridors of the capital. The National Palace towered over Champs Mars and the bells of the National Cathedral greeted the market women who gathered long before sunrise. Thousands of mothers kissed their children goodbye for the day and hundreds of schools throughout the capital echoed with the voices of students eager to learn after the Christmas holiday.  The parks of the city smelled of fried food and charcoal smoke.  It was Tuesday, it could have been any Tuesday, but for over 200,000 people it would be their last.

Twelve hours later as the sun dropped into the bay of Port au Prince the city collapsed. In just 30 seconds over 50% of the buildings in Haiti’s capital city were reduced to rubble, dust filled the air and hundreds of thousands of voices were silenced under the weight of crumbled cement.  In Champs Mars survivors rose from the ground and stared in horror at the National Palace, the once proud building reduced to a shell of its former glory, the bells of the National Cathedral lost forever in a heap of twisted metal and shattered glass.  Mothers ran through the darkened streets frantically searching for their children, imagining them as they walked off in the morning sun, starched uniforms, smiling faces.  Schools which, hours earlier, bustled with the energy of youth lay in ruins and the pages of children’s notebooks floated in the nighttime breeze, rising above the rubble like lost dreams. The shocked and injured flooded the city parks and the smell of charcoal smoke was replaced by the smell of fear and smoldering ruins. 

Now one year later and the streets once again echo with voices.  It is Wednesday, but not any Wednesday, it is a day of mourning, a day when everyone in this city rose with the names of their lost loved ones on their lips.  We woke with the sun to the songs of grief and praise that filled the streets. In Champs Mars the parks are filled with tents and tarps and the National Cathedral has been replaced by open air churches.  Mothers hold their children close and the schools which are still standing are quiet, closed for the day in remembrance of all that was lost.  The parks of the city are still home to the hundreds of thousands of people who remain homeless one year later.

But if you could hear the singing that fills the air on this January morning you would understand that Haiti’s spirit can never be reduced to rubble as her buildings were. It is as though those that lost their lives one year ago today have returned to sing with their brothers and sisters who survived, reminding them that Haiti will never perish.

To all of our friends and supporters around the world, we ask you to hold Haiti in your heart on this day of remembrance. Take a moment to hear the songs radiating from the heart of the Caribbean and join me in appreciating what Haiti has to teach the world; that no obstacle is so great that it cannot be overcome, that those we have lost will always walk alongside us and that we must never lose our humanity.

For two of the stories that we were a part of, links are posted here:

Al on the Today Show:  http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/41037668#41037668

Deb on CBS TV in Minneapolis:  http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/01/12/giving-up-life-in-minnesota-to-help-haiti/

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy New Year!

We're back in Haiti after a great break.  It was very energizing to have time in the frigid great north woods with as many friends, our kids and family as we could fit.

We're frantically looking for a new French tutor as one of our commitments for the New Year is to finally advance our language skills more than we have been doing on our own.  

Al had a fun moment at the Prosthetic & Orthotic clinic today when a little girl we met five years ago showed up.  Her name is Martine.  She lives in an orphanage Healing Hands has worked with over the years.  She seems to be doing well and is even in school!  Photos are below.

With the one year anniversary of the earthquake coming up next week we're noticing more press here and you can be sure to see Haiti stories everywhere.  I am hoping someone takes the unusual angle of actually reporting what positive things have happened here.  I'll keep reading and will post any stories that are especially accurate. 

I'm off to do a little yoga and try to maintain the zen feeling I began the year with!

Martine, before her Healing Hands funded surgery in 2006

Martine in 2007

Martine last week (2011)

Martine last week (2011)