PART 3 – Algonquin College & Save the Children: Relief efforts in Haiti

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On Feb. 15, two students from Algonquin College’s Documentary Production program (Suma Suresh and Christian Roblin) along with four Civil Engineering Technology students & their teacher (Matt Philip, Shane Barteaux, Marek Szymborski, Brian Watson & John Barteaux) landed in Haiti to participate as volunteers and journalists alike.  Hosted by Save the Children, the engineering students were there to train Haitians in building Housall shelter systems, all the while being captured on film with gear rented from Vistek.

Save The Children will be using the completed documentary for fund raising and plan to air the documentary on regional and local broadcast outlets. There are also plans to enter the Save the Children documentary in student and other film festivals.


Feb 16

I awoke this morning to a meeting taking place right in front of my tent.  Kicking myself for sleeping in until 8am, I rushed outside to see what was taking place. It appears that a giant pothole just around the corner from the entrance to the Save the Children compound is posing a security risk. Because the pot hole is on a very steep road and you must come to a dead stop to pass over it, it provides the perfect spot for car jacking to happen. Staff here at Save the Children have noticed gangs hanging around the area scooping out the pot hole, so the Engineering crew from Algonquin offer to fill it in.

Running like chickens with our heads cut off, Suma and I grab our camera, do a split second equipment check and take off out the gate following the engineering crew.

The exhaustion and blur of yesterdays’ arrival hide the huge contrast that hits you when you walk outside the gate of this compound. Instantly you are confronted with crumbled buildings and rubble.  While walking down the hill, Suma and I find a spot that offers a view of the entire city. Only here did the reality and tragedy really hit us.

Being pros at what they do, the engineering team (consisting of John, his son, Shane, and Matt) instantly identify materials at the side of the road that can be used to fix the pot hole. Calls on walkie-talkies are made, and a truck with some quick-dry concrete and shovels is confirmed to be on its way. While we wait, the team directs the local onlookers to start filling the available wheel barrels with stones to start the filling the base of the hole. As they get to work, Suma, Miles and I decide to walk back up the road to get some establishing shots.

While speaking with some of the local children, Miles get a walkie-talkie call from John down at the pot hole saying there is trouble brewing, and that things might come to blows. Peering down the hill we see a mob is forming… first 10, then 20, then 30. We arrive to a shouting match. Apparently, the local administrator of the area is unhappy with the stones he sees in the hole. He wants a permanent fix and is not happy about what he sees as a temporary solution that will wash away at the first rain. He is a rabble rouser and is starting to work up the crowd. Being one of the only people present who speaks French, I speak with him and try and explain that the work has just started and that we are waiting for concrete. Unfortunately, there is no pleasing this man and, as the crowd grows to about 40 angry locals, John calls it and we start walking back up the hill. Half way up we stop and wait for a coming truck to give us a ride. I take this time to really listen to what the locals are saying, and I learn something very important.

Haitians are a very vocal people, they shout often. But when you listen to what they are saying, they are a very reasonable people. Half the group was upset that we started a temporary fix, while the other half were saying that behaving the way they were was not going to make them any friends and that they needed all the help they could get.  After waiting for the truck for another 5 minutes, the angry portion of the crowd starts gravitating up the hill towards us. Just in the nick of time the truck arrives. Before I hop on, one of the townspeople tells me that it is the people at the bottom of the hill that need work and money, that they don’t get to go up the hill to stay in the compound.

He makes a good point.

Lessons learned about security and how important it is here: you can strike sparks anywhere in Port-au-Prince

When we get back into the compound, we are greeted by Peter who has finally made it here. He missed his cargo flight, so he had to fly into Santo Domingo D.R and join a convoy to Haiti at 2 am.

While Peter gets the briefings we all had the night before, Suma and the Houseall team head down to scope out the warehouse where we will be building/filming tomorrow.  I take the afternoon to figure my way around the various technical/firewall/internet issues we will have navigate to get our material out.

Internet here is spotty at best, firewalled at worst. But it’s surely a challenge that can be overcome.

As night falls, the whole team heads to bed early. Instead I stay up going through pictures and dealing with technical issues.

Tomorrow will be one long day.

… to be continued »»