Haiti Editorial-Cate Newberg, Director of Marketing-Iowa Soybean Association
By Cate Newberg, Director of Marketing Iowa Soybean Association (Feb. 14, 2012)
I traveled to Haiti earlier this month as part of a delegation of Iowans involved in “Special Delivery. Homes. Help. Hope. For Haiti.” The campaign, coordinated by the Iowa Food & Family Project and Iowa Soybean Association, was launched in November and seeks to help the neediest of the needy. My journey took place with no expectations at all. I really had no idea of the devastation beyond a few pictures I have seen and a recall of the earthquake news on TV two years earlier. So it’s easy to ignore what you don’t really know. And, pictures do not do justice to the destruction and tragedy that happens each and every day in Haiti.
The trip itself is a journey going from Des Moines to Dallas to arriving in Miami at midnight followed by a flight out at 8 a.m. the next day to Port au Prince, Haiti. Landing in Port au Prince was like entering a whole new world. More people, garbage and despair than I have ever seen. People were everywhere. Garbage was everywhere. And there we Iowans were in the middle of it all just staring and wondering “How does this much destruction happen in one place?” We left Port au Prince in van headed for Les Cayes the next day. The van, fit for about eight people, was packed with 12 of us and the ride was approximately four hours. The devastation lessoned somewhat as we left Port au Prince as there were fewer tents and garbage strewn about. The poverty, however, remained.
When we arrived in Les Cayes, we went directly to the Global Compassion Network’s orphanage. The buildings were shipping cartons made into dorms, a kitchen, bathrooms and school. Thirty-four of the cutest little girls greeted us. They were so happy and content with life. They smiled and laughed and sang to us. I brought a suitcase full of toys and treats for them, so they were even happier to know me! We played ball and took many pictures (I’m not sure they had ever seen themselves before). It was amazing to see how this orphanage was self-sustaining on so many levels. They built a compost bathroom, grew plants, raised animals and lived off the land. My first reaction was to fill out papers and adopt ten of them right away!
Ken DeYoung, a farmer from Laurens, Iowa said, “Our goal isn’t to have them adopted, our goal is to educate them and make them responsible, educated Haitian citizens that will grow up and be the next change for Haiti.” At the end of the day, we traveled to our hotel about eight miles away. That’s the equivalent of a 30-mile drive in Iowa. The roads in Haiti are gravel or boulders, or filled with potholes and water, or a riverbed you have to cross to get there. We rode in the back of a pick up truck everywhere we went. The hotel was fine. Very basic accommodations with a bed and a bathroom only.
The next morning, we went to the village of Hope to begin constructing the homes donated courtesy of “Special Delivery.” The process is daunting as it takes forever to do anything there. The tractor to clear the land didn’t work. We were waiting on the land planning for four hours. Finally, at about 1 p.m., we decided to build. As we began building the first home, about 20 or so locals walked over to see the action. By the time we were done about 40-60 people had shown up to watch us and help us. It was about 90 degrees and hot. The materials were heavy and hot to touch. If it wasn’t for lots of helpers it would have been impossible. After about eight hours, we left and went to hotel and ate. The food was ok. Your choice was a chicken leg and rice or plantains or goat. That’s all.
We had a reflection time at night and in morning to go over thoughts, reactions and so on. We were up early the next day. Our intentions were to build more, faster. That’s always the goal but not always the result. As we arrived, there were already at least 100 locals waiting for us. We quickly started to set up teams and build three homes at a time. The locals jumped right in to help. More than we needed. They wanted to help so much. And, they wanted to be the ones selected to help and get paid. But even the ones not getting paid helped. Sometimes they took the tools out of my pockets and just did it for me. We left and did the same thing the next day. I took several breaks to go play with kids and take pictures and they loved that. One older woman came up to me yelling and then pushed kids out of the way and wanted me to take her picture. I did and then she followed me the entire time. Sunday we attended church and then hit the beach with the 34 orphans and had a blast playing in the water. The beach was about an hour away. Thirty-four girls and 18 adults all packed into the backs of 2 (that’s two!) pick up trucks. After a few hours we took the girls home and went back to hotel.
Our dinner choices were limited, but it was fine for nourishment, but this night one of the people GCN works with; Eduardo, from the United Nations and Pastor Wadsene of the Village of Hope invited us to dinner at Eduardo’s home. His home was nice with windows, a door and rooms and a roof. They had cooked a buffet of choices for us and that was amazing to us all, as it resembled food more than we have had since we arrived. Ken DeYoung said “this is a life changing event for the good.” It changed my life. Would I return? In a minute. I would like to return in a few months to build and maybe stay a little longer and then again at end of project. It would be great to chronicle the site from beginning to end. The steps we took to building this village are very basic compared to what it could be in the matter of a year. The homes will make a huge difference, learning agricultural processes and building wells for clean water will change their lives and those following them in years to come since these are transitional homes only.
What Iowans and the Iowa Soybean Association are doing with this group of collaborators is amazing to see in action. It also proves the point that there is a huge need out there and not just in Haiti and even though we might only be adding one little drop in this vast ocean of despair, this one droplet can create a ripple that could help someone or create change. I never expected to change the world. But I had no idea the world needed this much change.