Port-au-Prince Earthquake Relief & Rebuilding

by Project Esperanza
Jun 13, 2010

Pulling out of a Dangerous Situation

I should have written this update sooner. We have had to remove our community organizer, Celony, from Port-au-Prince for the time being. Actually, he removed himself after being violently robbed. I have had such limited computer and internet time since finding this out which is why I did not report sooner.

After my last update, Celony spent some time having some success explaining our plans and goals to the people at Plas Mozole, dividing houses and tents into groups of 25, and holding meetings among the groups. However, as was reported to me by himself in person and two others on the ground by phone, one day he was attacked, beaten, and robbed. The details of the beating differ depending on the sources and not that the details matter that much, but if I had to choose someone to trust, I would choose Celony out of loyalty, although his side of the story is more extreme. The other sources mentioned that Celony was beaten at Plas Mozole and robbed. Celony says that after taking money out of the bank, a truck pulled in front of the bank and he was forced into the truck, then driven far away into the country. He was beaten and at one point put into a large water tank and apparently left there for more than a day. After being robbed, beaten, and left in the tank, they then left him on the side of the road. He managed to make it back to the city then to his family's house in Goinaives, about three hours up the road from Port-au-Prince. He rested there for a few days and then returned to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, where our organization is based and where he lived before traveling with us to Port-au-Prince. He came to our apartment at that time and shared his experience. He was missing two teeth which he has now been able to remedy with fake teeth, had marks on his face, and was in obvious discomfort or pain. He declared that he'll never return to Haiti.

This has caused us to rethink our plan. If executed, it would undoubtedly bring about positive change in one tent city and could be then used as a model and replicated in others. However, executing the plan is dangerous. After further considering the situation after this attack, however, I think one modification is necessary for the plan to work. People in as desparate and uncomfortable a situation as those in Plas Mozole don't seem to be, as a whole, able to focus on organizing the community, holding meetings, and elections, without having some sort of relief to their basic needs. Furthermore, the people of Plas Mozole seem unable to trust that we are attempting to organize the community in such a way without doing anything for their basic needs. But it is a large operation to meet their basic needs. In a park of around 600 families, even distributing a glass of drinking water to everyone is a mess. Nonetheless, I think we have developed a possible and practical solution.

In both Haiti and the Dominican Republic people have small businesses of cooking and selling food on the side of the road. There are also small cafeterias with good, home cooked meals available. Our plan is to set up something similar in the tent city in conjunction with the community organizing efforts. This would show that we, Project Esperanza, are concerned about meeting daily needs, but we also want to develop long term solutions. We would once again, need a building of some sort. We would then need a stove (either gas or charcoal), some pots, and some large iron spoons and knives. We would begin by purchasing enough rice and food products to cook a hearty meal for everyone living in the area. A few women would be hired to cook. Residents would then come with their own plate or bowl and purchase a healthy serving at 5 or 10 goud. This meal would normally cost 80-100 goud. The profit from this first day at 10 goud per serving would be enough to purchase the rice for the following day. The other ingredients would have to be funded from another source or perhaps servings should cost 15 goud. If cooks can be rotated and work voluntarily with the understanding that the community is benefiting from their volunteer services, this could almost be turned into a sustainable effort.

Of course there is risk of theft of the money. Through our trips and Celony's extended time in the area, we have determined a group of about four people we believe to be trustworthy. We could form a committee out of these people and put them in charge of this operation. I am not sure that we will be able to do this and the ability to do this depends on more than just funds. The attack Celony endured is not to be taken lightly but we also don't want to be scared or threatened away from the efforts. However, if we were attempt to do this, it would not be within the next few months and start up costs would be at least $1,500 USD to purchase the materials and food to last one day.

How could we assure our safety to execute this plan after what happened to Celony? These sorts of attacks normally can be understood as they follow a certain pattern. If this follows the pattern we have seen while working with Haitian street kids in the Dominican Republic, many members of the group were likely frustrated at our presence while not receiving anything tangible. They did not trust that we would ever bring any tangible benefits to their lives and decided to get what they could out of the situation while we were around and steal. At first, many other members of the group may be pleased that someone went on and robbed us. After sometime the majority of the group will realize that we are not returning and were perhaps indeed genuine in what we had talked about doing. The act will then receive negative feedback from rest of the group. The group as a whole may regret what happened if given long enough, people will be humble and responsive to our presence and plan. If given too long people will become disillusioned and our initial efforts will have lost their impact. The key is to find the window between two little time and too much time.



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Organization Information

Project Esperanza

Location: Winchester, VA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.esperanzameanshope.org
Project Leader:
Caitlin McHale
Winchester, VA United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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