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Clearing the rubble in Haiti

Haiti, July 11, 2010

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It’s my second trip to Haiti, and I’ve been especially vigilant this week in Port-au-Prince to discern signs of progress. I know that people back home will want to know: Is rebuilding happening?

The answer is yes, but incredibly slowly. The city is still a picture of devastation, with crumbled and flattened buildings and huge piles of rubble. But these ruins are now a backdrop to the life that is now resurgent in the country.

The United Nations Development Programme estimates that there is 20 million cubic meters of rubble from the earthquake – it would fill 8,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

As I travel through the city, I see workers in the midst of these collapsed buildings, clearing and sorting through rubble. The vast majority of these workers are not sitting behind the controls of heavy machinery though, they are instead bending over in the hot sun, moving rubble with buckets, with gloved hands, chipping away at it with pickaxes. I cannot imagine a more daunting task. But there they are, working by hand. It is what they have.

And then I begin to see evidence all around me of their labors to sort through the rubble and deconstruct the wreckage. I see tangles of salvaged rebar; stacks of gates and other metal works leaned up against walls; planks of wood and scraps of metal piled on the ground. I see at first what seem to be just piles of rock alongside the road, and then I notice how neatly conical the piles are, and then I see that there are rows of three or more piles, each containing a different size rock or cement chunk: fine, medium and coarse. I realize that this has probably been someone’s labor for days.

Across the street from where I am staying, there is a construction site. All day, laborers walk back and forth on the lot carrying buckets, filling them with rock and carrying them out of sight. Then returning again with the buckets empty to fill once more.

Haitians are a determined and entrepreneurial people. I have no doubt that they have the spirit and strength to rebuild their country. They are doing it, stone by stone, with all they have.