Love in the Time of Cholera: Update on My Work in Haiti

20 01 2011

My time Haiti has left me little opportunity to blog, tweet or keep in touch with friends, but I wanted to give everyone a brief update:

As many of you know, I focused my relief efforts on a small tent city called “The Courts.” The name comes from the fact that they were set up on outdoor basketball courts nested in the upper hills of Port-au-Prince. It was the only flat area in a sea of rubble.

The Courts were cut off from the rest of the city. It took months before any semblance of a road was opened, and even still, most access is on foot. I concentrated my attention & resources on them mainly because they were so cut off from everyone else. They became family.

My initial efforts were to make sure they had the basic necessities; medicine, food, clothes, and clean water. In my naivete I expected the situation in Haiti would get better and relief efforts would be wide sweeping. Unfortunately, after 10 months the improvements were very little.

Then cholera broke out.

I knew the people at the Courts had a safe and steady supply of bottled water. It was the first thing I established. The also had decent sanitation, so I wasn’t that concerned of a cholera outbreak unless it was brought in.

But the devastation of cholera is more than the actual disease. It is the fear, panic and disillusionment that it creates. Compound that with the election and violence that broke out along with flooding rains and what was hell turning into a living nightmare for everyone.

I had come back to the states for a short break to help with raising funds for the election when the cholera outbreak first occurred. I headed back immediately in mid-Oct and have been there ever since.

When I arrived I quickly realized outside relief was never going to come in any sizeable degree for at least another year, and probably longer. That realization made me change all my efforts. I decided there must be a way to help these people that I have come to know and love, start a whole new life outside of the Courts, and outside of Port-au-Prince and even Haiti if necessary.

I called in my partners, Boz and Rachel, and our dear friend Grace, to come down and help me in my efforts. Without their support the safe relocation of the Court families could never have been done and I can’t thank them enough.

I am happy to report that since I returned in October, The Courts did not have one new case of cholera. And those who were sick have all made full recoveries.

I am also happy to report that in the last three months we were able to relocate 122 families out of tents into decent homes. Some of the homes were newly built. Some were homes purchased in outlaying cities. And some were obtained through negotiations with other agencies. They are not great homes, by any stretch of the imagination, but they are warm & dry. And every child is attending at least twenty hours of school each week.

My current goal is to find employment for everyone from The Courts that I can. I am back home discussing ideas with business associates on how to establish a sustainable enterprise in a completely unstable situation. Hopefully there will be good news to announce soon.

Meanwhile, I wish what we have accomplished at The Courts could be done for everyone who is suffering in Haiti. I know it will never happen. But I also know that any one person, who sets out to make a difference, can achieve more than they ever thought possible.

There is a saying by Mother Teresa that has always inspired me: “Find your own Calcutta.” The Courts of Port-au-Prince have been my Calcutta and I am forever thankful to the people I have come to love. They showed me, and taught me, courage, strength, and conviction that I never knew I had. I didn’t save them. They saved me.