Sterling's Haiti Adventure

Note from Shelli: Last week Sterling and Megan returned from a weeklong trip to Haiti. I invited him to guest blog about his adventures there.

We have a neighbor, Ken, who is an excavator. Right after the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year, he traveled to Haiti and, because of his experience, was assigned on a team to help with clean-up. While doing that work, he heard about an orphanage down there, got involved in the project, and fell in love with the kids. He’s returned three times since then to work on the orphanage, and although he’s not a professional fundraiser, I’ve never seen anyone so committed to a cause or so in love with a people, especially those Haitian orphans.

 

The orphanage is designed to house approximately 200 orphans, who are currently living in two small homes and some tents, because a third home was destroyed in the earthquake. The new orphanage (which didn’t sustain much damage in the earthquake) is a three-story (7,500 square feet on each floor), concrete/cinderblock building, which is nearing completion. It’s taken several years to fund and construct the building.

Awhile back, I was talking to Ken about the project. He seemed particularly discouraged; the swell of support following the earthquake had died down, and the entire project seemed to be grinding to a halt. The construction was nearing completion; what is left is “finish” work—painting, some wiring and plumbing, installation of plumbing and furniture, etc.

“We’re so close,” he said. “We just need to get the project finished so the kids can move in.”

I told Ken my schedule was flexible, and I was willing to help. “Let’s go make it happen!” I said.

Ken jumped at the chance. I called up Megan, who had talked about trying to go to Haiti to help out ever since the earthquake had happened. She was eager to join us.

What an adventure!

We got all our shots, took malaria pills, and packed our bags, which contained minimal clothing and just the necessities. Instead, we loaded our luggage (including several huge duffel bags) with toys for the kids and painting equipment (airless sprayers, brushes, rollers, tape, wands, etc.). Ken said there was some paint on the property, and we planned to purchase the rest down there.

We arrived on Friday, ready to get to work. But you know that nothing ever goes according to plan, right?

We spent all day Friday and Saturday and part of Monday tracking down paint and the rest of the equipment we needed! (Sunday we went to church and spent the day with the orphans; what a great experience—we now understand why Ken has fallen in love with those kids!)

We finally got everything lined up to start working by mid-Monday. Now we were ready to go!

NOT.

We had dinner at the hotel on Monday and Ken and I discovered that chicken skin isn’t the best thing to eat in a foreign country! Megan ate the chicken, but not the skin, and she was fine. I got to spend most of Monday night and all day Tuesday pretty much not daring to go further than a few feet from the bathroom. ‘Nuff said.

FINALLY, on Wednesday, we were at the orphanage in full force—and we painted like crazy for the next three days! There was a group of local Haitian boys there (several of them were older boys in the orphanage) who were helping sand the concrete walls in preparation for the paint. They had 50-grit sandpaper and were sanding the walls by hand. The language barrier proved to be troublesome; they split up and sanded haphazardly all over the building. It was difficult to get them to understand that, because we could paint much faster than they could sand, it would really be most helpful if they’d work together as a group and concentrate their efforts in one effort and then move on to the next area.

Eventually, we did get a bit of a system worked out. The locals sanded, I prepped the primer (some of it was so old that I had to mix and thin and strain it before it could be used), Ken painted, and Megan worked with some of the younger boys to clean the used buckets and tools so they could be re-used.

We got all of the second floor primed, and half of the third. We had hoped to do much more than that—our original plan was to finish the entire inside and start on the exterior. But considering everything we ran into, we felt pretty good about what we accomplished!

I’ve posted a few pictures I took while in the car. We took lots of cute pictures with the kids; some of my favorites were the boys who helped us paint, covered in white primer and dust. But we were asked not to post any photos of the children, which I can understand and respect.

I enjoyed experiencing the culture. It was an interesting contradiction—in the midst of the chaos and clutter and even filth that the earthquake has created, the people themselves are as clean as they can be. The people we worked with at the orphanage arrived in clean clothes, changing into work clothes on the site, and working all day. Before going home, they showered and changed back into clean clothes.

There were tent cities all over the place, and the brief glimpses I saw inside the tents revealed clean, organized interiors, while outside was squalor.

Progress on the orphanage is still going slowly—Ken keeps us posted, and Megan and I now totally understand why he is so driven! We are hopeful that the building will be completed soon. I plan on going back in October. Hopefully by then the painting is done, and I’ll be involved in the final installation and finishing touches.