Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 32: On The Cusp of Kickoff

And here we are, one day away from kickoff when it comes to the BSF project. This last month has been prep work - putting the budget and structure in place, hiring our supervisors, training them, identifying our first donor communities, hiring the remainder of our staff, training them. The pieces that have to be in place before this BSF program can spring into action have, for the most part, all been put in their places. Tomorrow in the morning I'll be piling into the back of Kepler's tap-tap (our designated BSF driver) with the team and heading out to the Barrier Jeudy & Vilaj Jasmin communities of neighboring Carrefour Dufort. I wrote about that community in my last post, and included some photos.

I'm excited. The team we hired are proving to be a pretty exceptional group of people. Many of them have experience working in WASH projects before (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) so they already know many of the core concepts we need to be getting across to our beneficiary communities when it comes to safe water practices and other ways to prevent the spread of cholera and other waterborne illnesses. At the same time, biosand filters are new to all of them, so it is fun to watch them really begin to wrap their heads around the technology and think of cool ways to get people and communities excited about them. I'm sure once we hit the field we'll have a few kinks here and there to work out, but by and large I have total confidence we picked a great group of Haitian men and women to handle this project. I look forward to mentoring them for these first few weeks then taking a step back and letting them do their thing. Having a blan (foreigner) present during community assessments and when the team is talking to community members can change the nature of the interaction, and that's not something we want. It can affect what people are willing to tell you, or the truthfulness of what they say. The idea is to have me in the field with them, but in the background, to serve as a resource for them when they have questions or want to get some advice on things, up until the point they feel they've got it locked in. Once that happens, I imagine I'll transition into more hands-off role, although what that looks like at the moment I'm not entirely sure of. Regardless, that's the ideal situation. As is the case with all of the All Hands projects running now, the goal is to get the local staff trained up to the level that they can run the projects free of our help. We're not going to be here forever. This is their country. They'll be the ones to make lasting change happen, if it is to have any chance of happening at all.

So yea, work is great. On a personal level, being back here has been both wonderful and challenging. Besides the simple fact that this place holds many memories that bring back feelings for people now gone (although my good friend Simon, whom I stayed with when I was in the UK in January & February, returned yesterday), Haiti herself can wear you down. She is both exhilarating, and exhausting. Silence is near impossible to come by here, and silence is something I value when I need it. There is a seemingly never-ending barrage of motorcycle horns blasting, dogs barking, music blaring, roosters crowing, engines growling. Haiti is a raw country, exposed for the simple fact that she has no other option, and her soundtrack reflects it. I, like many of my fellow volunteers, rely on my iPod to escape when I need to. At the moment I'm two hours into the epic final podcast episode of a six part series on the decline and fall of the Roman Republic. Being an ancient history dork, Rome has been my focus for a while now. It serves as both brainfood and distraction, both equally enjoyable and needed. So yes, if you happen to be a history dork like me, check out Hardcore History (cheesy name, awesome podcast).

We're celebrating Fourth of July one day early here on base, seeing as we have work tomorrow, so later this afternoon we'll be gorging ourselves on BBQ'd chicken and other as-of-yet unknown delectables. It is a much needed respite from the endless barrage of rice and beans that keeps this base running. As such, the day, as is often the case on Sunday, has been mellow. It's nice. I've been sick with some fun flu since shortly after I got here, so having a bit of downtime is a good thing.

So then, enough rambling. A few random photos for you, and until next time...

Paddy, Reginald and me eating lunch, or maybe posing, out in the field.
A woman and infant sitting at Little Venice, one of our local watering holes.
Same infant, same place, different woman.
Leogane sunset.
In Barrier Jeudy, Reginald & Elivert explain to a local man that digging a hole near the river to filter the water won't protect from waterborne diseases such as cholera.
Kepler, our BSF tap-tap driver and all around badass.
Another example of the holes people dig in the river in an attempt to filter water.
Jenni, a good friend of mine from LA and the only friend thus far to follow through on her statement that she'd like to come to Haiti. Props to you chica!
The BSF team learning how to build biosand filters. Mixing concrete by hand = sweaty work.

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