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The hot, hard work of helping Haiti

Haiti, February 3, 2010

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Today was a flurry of activity, and I got to visit a variety of Mercy Corps’ Haiti response work.

I started off on the grounds of École Nacional du Frères (primary and secondary school), which have been transformed into a makeshift camp of approximately 300 people. This is the site of our first cash-for-work program. We’re paying people a fair wage to work six hours a day to clean up their camp, and clear debris and water drains.

It was scorching and dusty in the camp, but people were working nonetheless. Camp leaders have been extremely helpful in organizing this program and helping us gain the confidence of people living there; we wouldn’t be able to do this without them. Today the camp received tools — previously they’d been working with just their hands and rudimentary brooms.

Needs at the camp are vast. People are happy to have work, but they also need tents, food and water. Everyone asked me for these items. I talked to one woman who lives in the camp with her six children, ages 6 through 22, and two of her siblings. Her house, she told me, is broken. When I asked when she thought she would leave, she and everyone around her looked at the ground and shook their heads. “We have no idea.”

Today we also packed up plastic sheeting provided by USAID that will help people in the same camp at least get some better shelter. Each need we can fill makes us feel better.

Later, I went to see the installation of the first of several high-volume water filtration units donated by our corporate partner ITT. Mercy Corps’ water expert Mugur Dumatriche installed the machine on the grounds of what’s called “Lope Hospital,” a medical facility erected on top of the ruined Lope Tennis Club courts. Lope Hospital is run by our partner Merlin, a medical care provider, and it’s the only hospital in the city that’s providing plastic surgery for patients after the earthquake.

The water filtration machine will provide clean drinking water for the hospital’s 40 patients. Installing the bulky water unit in the Haitian afternoon sun is hot (90 degrees Fahrenheit), hard work but Mugur seems to have boundless energy. I thought, how does he do it?

I turned to leave and I ran into a little girl with her hand and wrist in a cast and smile that was a mile wide. Then I understood Mugur’s motivation.