Letter From Haiti: It’s a Beautiful Day

Madeleine Philbin is regional director for CRS-Midwest. She is based in Chicago. You can read previously published sections of this series here.

We had driven upward to get to visiting these folks, and from this vantage point, that’s when I first saw the beautiful blue waters of the Port-au-Prince Bay.

One of the realities in this very much damaged neighborhood (Christ Roi) is removing the rubble. It’s not so much that people can’t figure ways of building temporary shelters for themselves—but where? The ground is covered either with a) damaged homes or b) rubble. People have been moving rubble from their home area and piling it in the road by hand or by wheelbarrow. There are some functioning city services which have removed about 25 trucks of rubble in this neighborhood, we were told. But there is beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup remaining.

Madeleine Philbin

Madeleine Philbin. Photo by Richard Anderson for CRS

One of the things we are trying to figure out how to do through this Partnership Unit (my temporary duty) is how to be of assistance to the groups like the one we were visiting, to do small good things, while elsewhere CRS might be doing large good things.

For example, we could without difficulty get this particular group more plywood shelters, if that’s the assistance that’s going to help them in their own efforts to organize recovery of the community. We could help them to get hundreds of transitional shelters out to this community. The challenge is figuring out how to clear the rubble.

Later we mention to a colleague here about the folks we met with, and he says he knows them well. “I’ve seen these guys organize clinics and serve more than 1000 patients in a week,” he says. He’s excited about the idea of our working together. I said it was a beautiful day, and I guess not just because I got out and not just because of the sunshine. So I suppose it affirms my community organizing/settlement house predilections—it was a good day because it was heartening to me to see such ‘natural helpers’ out doing what it is they know how to do—and what we know will work.

I’m somewhere past the halfway point now, and I have more of a sense of the beauty of the place, seeing the surrounding hills, and looking down on the bay. And more of a sense of the damage to the place, like someone had randomly swung a wrecking ball about, chipping, smashing, destroying buildings right and left. I have more of a sense of the shambles of the place, the many “tent cities” in what were formerly open spaces, the stacks and piles and cairns of rubble. I have more of a sense of the people in this place who are doing what they can, with what’s right in front of them.

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