Feature Blogger – Craig Kielburger

Our guest blogger for every Wednesday in February is Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children. Craig will be blogging from on the ground in Haiti to give you the real story. To date the charity has built nine schools providing education to over 1,000 youth.  Part of the trip to Haiti will be assessing the damage of the schools built.

Day 1

Our convoy had just crossed the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the town of Dajabón when we picked up a new member of our team.

His name is Kettelen Napoleon, an off-duty police officer who prefers to be called KK.

KK had little hope left when we found him. He had yet to make contact with his family and assumed they were dead. But, the burly man was eager to help. With no central body organizing Haitians, he didn’t know how.

Unable to get hold of anyone in the chaos that engulfed Port-au-Prince, KK offered to accompany us as security the instant he heard our convoy was coming. 

“Le pays est brisé,” he told us. “The country is broken.”

He had a point. Government buildings and schools were hit by some of the heaviest damage. Education Minister Joël Desrosiers Jean-Pierre reported 90 per cent of schools were destroyed. The city’s infrastructure hasn’t fared much better. When Port-au-Prince shut down, so did the rest of the country.

Since the Armed Forces of Haiti were disbanded in 1995, there is no military to keep order. Widespread looting has occurred in the streets. At this point, the U.S. Military was trickling in to restore order to the streets and the congested airport. It was reported 10,000 troops were due to arrive offshore on Monday – three days from when we met KK.

This is the situation we are finding everywhere. For all the promised aid, there is little getting through.

The day prior, our group flew into Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to a jubilant atmosphere.

There was no cursing over a lack of food or fuel from the tourists who boarded buses destined for all-inclusive resorts. Here, the airport ran smoothly and efficiently while the all-you-can-eat buffets remained stocked and ready for consumption.

We headed out to the stores and buy the supplies necessary for the duration of our stay.

Our purpose in Haiti is to check on the status of the schools Free The Children has built since establishing a presence in the country in the late 1990s. We are also hoping to connect with our partner on the ground, an organization called Partners in Health, to give them medical supplies.

They were there before this crisis occurred and will be around afterwards. Because they are not a global brand but doing such incredible work in Haiti, Free The Children has been using its charitable status to raise funds for their work. The next step will be looking at long-term support for education, clean water and alternative income. 

We received reports that since hospitals in the capital were destroyed, Partners in Health was extracting the injured from Port-au-Prince so that they could receive treatment a couple of hours outside the city. We hoped in reaching them that we could provide medical supplies to assist in their incredible work.

Our small convoy made its way to the northern border crossing of Dajabón. We prepared ourselves for long lines and the possibility of having to bribe officials to gain access to the country.

Instead, we found nothing.

The border crossing was a virtual ghost town. No lineups of trucks brimming with food or bottled water. No doctors waiting get to an operating table.

The guards, who were all too happy to chat, informed us that there has actually been a decrease in trucks crossing the border. The roads in Haiti were too difficult to traverse so few had arrived intent on leaving. Everyone coming in, they said, was headed to the congested airport at Port-au-Prince.

That’s the problem with this strategy of delivering aid. There’s no emphasis on buying locally. Not only are North American goods expensive, the logistics of actually flying them to Port-au-Prince, unloading them and then finding security to get them to the people is downright inefficient.

Yet, in the Dominican Republic, aid was available in abundance while the crossing guards sit ready to process shipment through.

Soon after we started driving, KK received a call on his cell phone. He answered with trepidation and his face broke as he listened.

His family was alive. His mother, brother, kids. They had been unable to reach him due to clogged cell phone networks around Port-au-Prince. This is a difficulty we could attest to. Already we learned it was easier for us to contact our office in Toronto than it was our partners in Haiti.

For each of these people, disaster relief will last long past when the immediate crisis is over. Coming out of this, we need more aid organizations to follow his example. From KK to Partners in Health to Guerby, they were on the ground before the earthquake struck. Each of them will be here afterwards, working to rebuild the country.

Check back next Wednesday for more on Craig’s journey through Haiti.

This is Vervegirl Unedited, signing off,