Sunday, November 4, 2007

Haiti... how blessed are we?

Well, I can tell without doubt that two things are happening. Your prayers are being answered and God is blessing me.

Week 3 was a very good week even through a hurricane. Week 3 started off a very difficult week because of the uncertainty of the approaching storm. With all the rain and wind, the driver and workers on the truck said they would not be able to work. After much dialogue, mostly with hand gestures and some broken english and creole, (can you imagine, me speaking creole?) we agreed to at least attempt a run to St. Catherine's Hospital. You can not believe the joy and appreciation from Vincent, the director of St. Catherine's Doctors without Borders when we showed up. He was so relieved because he was very low on water and did not expect us. He expected many people coming for help but did not expect us. St. Catherine's delivers 20-40 babies each day... regardless of what storms might be approaching, the need for water is great. We were able to deliver 5 additional loads Monday but only one load Tuesday as the storm worsened. We were still able to deliver another load to the hospital before we lost electricity that powers the pumps that fill the truck. Wednesday as the storm passed, rain continued to drench the surrounding area... we were only able to deliver three loads to the hospitals in Cite Soleil before we were forced to quit.

By Thursday, we had filled most of the cisterns for the week and went to work delivering badly needed water bucket by bucket. I prayed, and so did others I can tell, to be able to manage the crowds and lines when delivering water to people who have been without for four days. I know God answers prayers, in everyday life, and again, He answered my prayers... crowds previously very aggressive and rowdy, seemed to line up and wait their turn... when I told people, "la line, la line" they understood I was saying "the line, the line" and most moved to the end of the line. There were still some who sought preferential treatment, but I was firm. I'm hoping that as weeks go by, they will learn coming to the front of the line no longer earns them a bucket full of water. For some, I am not a very popular person, for many, I think they appreciate someone sticking up for them and one person who actually speaks broken english came up to say thank you for "giving us respect and managing the lines for the people".

How does God bless me? Buy giving me the opportunity to serve others, by giving me a calling, by blessing me with the rewards found only in serving others... peace, satisfaction, compassion, and even the challenges in trying to answer God's call. It is amazing how putting God at the center of my life... and then others in need... can bring so much fulfillment... everybody is born with a God size hole in their heart... and it doesn't matter what we try to stuff in there... new cars, houses, career... it never fills that God size hole... I learned the hard way... there's only one thing that will fill that hole... it's God.

By coming to Haiti, it has helped me forget about all the "little" problems in my life that that I thought were important. When I've put others first, my problems seem to dissipate or even disappear. I have found there's absolutely no magic to getting rid of my problems... simply focus on the needs of others and my own problems seem to become very minor.

I've attached some new photos of the last week... mostly of the last few "bucket by bucket" days...

Oh, and one more revelation this week. I've done a great deal of walking... and it has helped me realize how difficult life is here... many roads are very difficult to walk and people have to do it every day... as I walk down roads, I realize how easy it would be to turn an ankle on the many stones that are in many of the roads here... there just seems to be no smooth path for these people... every path seems to be a rocky road... here are some pictures of the path I walked this week...

To me, this looks more like a river bed than a road... but this is from a road walked everyday by hundreds of people...

The UN Stops the Water Truck
Another highlight of the week was when the UN stopped us and asked us to help wash the floors of Ecole Nationale in Cite Soleil, a school about to be reopened in Haiti for the first time in three years. We filled the truck and poured 3500 gallons onto the floors of the school as many helpers "brushed" the concrete to clean the floors. Here is an article about the opening of the school after we helped prepare it for opening...

From no-go areas to 'Disneyland':
Haiti emerges from a nightmare
UN troops have brought calm to one of the most dangerous places on earth. But some wonder how long it can last.

Tom Phillips in Port-au-Prince

Friday November 2, 2007

The Guardian

Children sing the Haitian national anthem during a ceremony to mark the reopening of the Ecole Nationale in the Cite Soleil shanty town, Port-au-Prince

It was one of the biggest slums in the northern hemisphere, the poorest area of the poorest country in the Americas, a seaside shantytown described by the UN as one of the most dangerous places on earth. Teenage gangsters armed with assault rifles would cruise the streets, picking off enemies in gun battles and kidnappings. Shootouts and murders were everyday fare. During the worst of the excesses, with Haiti still recovering from violent uprising, Cité Soleil was off limits to outsiders, even to the authorities.

Article continues
Now, however, a year after police were able to enter Cité Soleil for the first time in three years, things seem to be on the turn. All the signs of conflict remain: the gaping holes gouged out of the area's concrete shacks by automatic gunfire, the cinder-block walls peppered with bullet holes. But for now at least the sound of shooting has receded, replaced by the hustle and bustle of a busy market and the screeches of boisterous children as they career from street to street on battered BMXs. Indeed, the only images of violence are the ones being touted on pirate copies of Massacre in Cité Soleil, a controversial film that serves as a chilling reminder of the slum's recent history.

Today the SUVs that race through the slum's dusty streets are driven by UN security chiefs and aid workers. A two-storey market that previously served as a hideout for local gangsters has been turned into a UN stronghold.

"Twelve months ago there were areas of Port-au-Prince where the government and its different representatives, including the Haitian police, were incapable of operating," said Luiz Carlos da Costa, the deputy special representative of the UN secretary general in Haiti. "We have a situation of greater stability at the moment but it is still very fragile. We need to remain alert to this."

One former UN military commander in the country said that compared with one year ago Haiti was now "Disneyland". Colonel Carlos Jorge, a representative of the Brazilian portion of the Minustah force, said that since June there had been only one murder registered in Cité Soleil, following a fight between two women. Not one shot had been fired there since February, he added, pointing out that the "strong presence" of the UN troops had temporarily scared the gangs into hiding.

But though the new president, René Préval, claims Haiti is bidding farewell to its status as a "failed state", the authorities face a massive challenge to rebuild a country that has been brought to its knees by decades of political squabbling, corruption and violence. Despite the apparent improvement in security the Caribbean country remains one of the poorest in the world.


According to World Bank statistics, life expectancy is 57, compared with an average of 69 in Latin and Central America. More than 80% of the population live on less than £2 a day. Huge piles of litter, in which children play alongside goats and pigs, still line many of the city's thoroughfares, a constant reminder of the challenges facing Mr Préval and his government. Unemployment rates remain staggeringly high, as do levels of HIV infection and domestic violence.

Merlain Marc Guerrier, a 29-year-old resident of the La Saline slum, laughed off the idea that the calm would last. "There is still no real security," said Mr Guerrier, who works informally as a telephone attendant in a squalid portside market. "We need food, we need jobs. Out of 100 of my friends maybe three have work."

Finding people jobs, in a city where working as a gardener in a UN base for $5 a day is currently one of the more attractive options, will be no small task.

"We used to have tourists," complained Pierre Andrégené, a 52-year-old who works as a UN interpreter. "Now, as you can see, all we have is rubbish."

Mr Costa claimed Haiti was faced with a "job creation emergency". "Development is the biggest challenge," he said. "Fifty per cent of the population is under 20 years old. We need to create jobs for these youths. One generation lost the right to an education and we have to resolve this."

Others question whether the gangs really are a thing of the past. One UN military official said as soon as the UN pulled out the gangs were likely to return to the streets.

The burning roadblocks and gunfights may have been replaced by a fragile calm, but for Haitians such as Exil Marcel, a teacher at the Ecole Communautaire in the Cité Militaire shantytown, the uncertainty remains.

"To have security you need the military, of course," he said, looking around at his school's ramshackle corrugated roof. Outside, clusters of ducks waddled around the school's football pitch, a wasteland dotted with heaps of rubbish and pools of raw sewage.

"But if we don't educate our children we will never have real security."

Not far from the school's rickety door, a message had been daubed onto one wall in spindly red lettering. "What we need now?" it read in English. "Peace - Jobs - House."

and pictures of our work at Ecole Nationale...

Finally, some people have asked if I have a "blog" going with the emails I've sent. You can find the emails of my journey at "".

We are all so blessed. My prayer tonight is for us to realize how blessed we truly are. May God continue to bless you and your family this coming week.

Jeffrey Gacek
Executive Director
Connecting people who have much and need little...
to those who have little and need so much.

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