Bruce French ‘On the Ground’ in Haiti
by Bruce French, Petionville, Haiti
Mar 26, 2010 | 1569 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I've been in Haiti for just over five weeks now. Some days ago I let my (nonrefundable) return flight from Port-au-Prince take off back to the U.S. without me.

When the time comes, in another month, or whenever it makes sense, I'll worry about manifesting a plane back home. (Thanks Daryl and Weston for coping.)

Meanwhile, though, somewhat worn down by heat and long days and a bit drained by post-traumatized desperate energies, in the big picture I'm physically and mentally holding up well and without complaint.

Coming to Haiti wasn't really on my radar, this all just sort of opened up. Nothing I'd heard or seen prepared me for the initial shock of the destruction that greeted my bus just inside the land border from the Dominican Republic. Then it got unfathomably worse as I found my way to some friends already settled in here.

I'm embedded in a camp in Petionville, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, lending my chi and post tsunami experience to coordination/camp management efforts with Jenkins/Penn Haiti Relief Organization, a NGO set up by Sean Penn, who set up operations here three days post quake, providing relief services and efforts within the camp and with the UN coordination clusters, for micro and macro perspective initiatives, short and long term.

I'm sleeping on a cot I found in an army surplus-screened bivy sack, in a large communal tent (gave my own tent away the first week) on land that was once a “golf club” – surreal on the fringe of slums climbing out of the Bourdon Valley. Below us, between 45,000 and 50,000 souls are crammed right on top of one another, existing on precarious, often muddy hillsides perched above deep, flash flood-prone washes draining the mountains above. Families are taking shelter in random tents, under cloth, cardboard, wood, tin scrap, anything that can be scavenged. The rainy season typically doesn't start for a few more weeks, but last week we found the camp awash with our first torrential rains and flash flood. We were fortunate, though some injury, no lives lost.

We have all the social and psychosocial problems of any city this size. Violence, crime, etc., also humanity coming together in beautiful ways to support this spontaneous community. 

Since arriving, friends, clients and acquaintances have emailed to ask how they can help.

Now that my boots have been on the ground long enough to make heads from tails of some of this, I think I can direct funds and donations with mindful due diligence.

J/P HRO is the managing organization of what has become the largest IDP (internally displaced people) camp in Haiti. We're operating a field hospital servicing up to 400 patients a day (to date, 62 babies born!) with a weekly rotation of international doctors and medical staff, and also supporting a handful of local medical clinics and hospitals, sharing resources and staff. We're directing sanitation, drainage and disease control measures, all with the ultimate goal of decongesting the size of the camp before the looming rains. The most vulnerable first: those living in flood zones and unstable hillsides. Elderly, pregnant, widows with kids, handicapped or amputees. With assist from engineers, we're identifying area houses habitable or repairable, and facilitating site clearance with cash for work programs to help Haitians rebuild for themselves; getting families out of the camps into some semblance of normality, while still providing support services such as satellite classes from our camp school, children's safe zones and "strike-force" roving medical teams.

With partners, we have very solid options for longer term, self-sustainable, transitional settlements. By the time you read this, we're hopeful the hosting land allocation challenges will be sorted out and we can begin this larger scale relocation. This is all incredibly daunting, but the time for real change is now. Donations can be made at

Personally, I'm in the process of sourcing shelter needs: tents and wood for shelter frames, tarps, duct tape, rope, steel stripping, and equipment from the Dominican Republic. Setting up funding for micro businesses to enable site and rubble clearing. It's impressive what a difference a crew with some wheel barrows, pry bars, picks and shovels can make, while sustaining the cash for work model. Also needed are generators, grinders with cutting discs, acetylene torches, and bolt cutters. Once sites are cleared, temporary shelters can be built within two to three days. (A wooden structure, able to withstand a class 1 hurricane, with a three-year life expectancy, costs about $500 U.S. dollars).

Every bit helps; sheltering even one family makes a huge difference.

I am happy to channel any Telluride contacts, resources or aid. There's a BRUCE FRENCH HAITI account at Alpine Bank if anyone would like to help.

Thanks for your support, juju and prayers.

– Bruce French, Petionville, Haiti

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