Haiti Diaries #4
As the construction of the compost toilets took place in the capital Port au Price, Rise Haiti had little chance to visit other parts of the country. Therefore, it was with interest and curiosity that the team accepted the suggestion of Jorge, the administrator of Foi et Joie, who offered himself to bring us to Canaan. The biggest slum in Latin America, Canaan was initially meant to be a temporary solution for the thousands of people that lost their home during the hurricane, more than 5 years ago. The slum extends for kilometers and partially covers several of the dry hills that align throughout the whole area; the houses are assembled with emergency materials and offer a striking contrast with some of the more modern facilities that have been built just across the street. There are no precise data regarding the number of people that actually live there, but rough estimates point to more than 30’000.
There is a big metallic gate to separate the school that we were to visit from the rest of the neighborhood. Once inside, we were introduced to the kind principal of the school, a Porto Rican nun that dedicates her life to rise and educate the more than 500 kids present in the facility. The school facilities are built in a semicircle, and in the middle there is a football field.
Notwithstanding the rocks on the ground and the heat, the children demonstrate an incredible mastery of the sport, making the surroundings lively with their cheers and screams.
Saying that the fist impression of the place was incredible would be an understatement. The contrast with the clear poverty and the life within the students, the willpower of the teachers and the general cleanness of the clothes was surprising. Jorge showed us around and, shortly after, we were greeted by some of the youngest students that, absolutely not intimidated by the height of Benedikt, quickly started to climb up on our legs, wanting to take pictures and play with us. We then got to see the finished handwashing facility started by SIM10: the stable construction is decorated with colored tiles and provides the children with running water.
But the work in Canaan is far from being concluded: as the high number of the students does not allow the construction of compost toilets, Foi et Joie started to envision the construction of hydric toilets, that would take the actual sanitation situation to the next level. Other maintenance projects regarding the expansion of the backyard garden and the safety of the football field are on the table.
After a very educative tour around the school and its facilities, we got some “free time”, when we were immediately approached by semi-laughing and semi-scared children, all around 10-16 years old. With a funny attitude they broke the ice by showing us their drawings of the national flag, by politely commanding to take pictures with us (they do have a great posture for pictures!) and finally by directly challenging Pascal to sing the German National Hymn, before they sang theirs. Even though our heart goes secretly to Pascal, there was no competition: they 100% won.
Tired of beating us in singing competition, they then dared Benedikt for and handshaking challenge, quickly mixing feet and hands and feet again – yes, we did feel old in that moment.
Luckily Jorge came at our rescue, saving us from probably another failure – Benedikt did defend himself quite well.
We then took a tour of the garden they are growing locally, with the hope of one day becoming self sustaining – we are yet not sure which exact species were all those plants, but Jorge guaranteed they are fully edible and actually growing strong.
Quickly the time to go came, and after a last goodbye to the nun responsible for the whole school, we got back in the car.
This experience was impressive; not only for the living conditions and daily struggles that are being faced every day, but also because of the strength demonstrated by these people who fight for clean water and safer facilities and, above all, by these children who go to school daily, with braids in their hair, gathering in 5 around the same shattered speaker to listen to what sounded like Vivaldi’s 4 seasons.
As we got back in the car, waiting for the gates to open, the atmosphere somewhat had changed from the previous trip. We stayed silenced for a few moments, looking back through the windows to glance even just one last sight of the pink and blue of those uniforms, of the sandy field and the general squared shape of the classrooms.