Monday, May 24, 2010


How was Haiti? I am asked this often now that I have returned from my month there.
The organization that I worked with for a month as a volunteer in Leogane Haiti, Hands On Disaster Response accomplished much real and productive work.  In my month with them I also accomplished much.

So how does the future look for Haiti? I am also asked.
David Campbell the founder and director of Hands On Disaster Response, says that typically there are three stages in the perception of the host citizen's to the presence of disaster respondents:
At first they say:  Thank you for being here.
Some weeks or months later they ask:  Are you licensed to be doing this?
Then after some more time they ask: Are you taking my jobs away from me?

My perception being in Leogane on the forth month after the tragic earthquake was that we were somewhere in the second stage approaching the third stage.
We were asked by the more industrious Haitian young men if we could give them jobs.  When we explained to them that we were Volunteers and not getting paid, and that they could join us if they were willing to work also for free, there was this look of incredulity and disappointment.  They just could not understand or accept that we had come down to their country to do hard work and sweat without pay of some sort.  I think they believed that maybe we were not getting paid then, but surely we go a big bundle of money when we got back to the US.  Perhaps this explained to some small degree the lack of involvement by a large portion the able bodied Haitian men and women in the immediate work required to get done in order to bring any order back to their lives.
But then perhaps that lack of involvement is a result of not being able to believe that things are ever going to get better.

Why would they have that lack of hope?  In my opinion this is a direct result of the total lack of presence of a government and no sign of the functions that we are accustomed to expect from a government.
I saw almost no evidence of any sort of planning, organization, or direction given to each individual person.  Every individual is totally on  their own to act in ways that help themselves survive and eek out some sort of living.  From where they poop, to what shelter they live in, to what they do to make money is entirely unregulated and unorganized resulting in continuing chaos and lack of movement towards progress.
We all knew that Haiti was poor, but I was surprised by how dysfunctional it is.

Unemployment was said to be 75% prior to the earthquake and now 90% after.  But how this is quantified is uncertain because there is no one doing the counting.  Aimlessness and lack of direction is evident when in the mornings you see young men dressed in good clean clothes sitting on buckets by the side of busy roads waiting, waiting.

HODR has begun a Haitian Volunteer Program welcoming Haitians willing to work as volunteers along side the responders from other countries.  One enticement for the Haitian volunteers is that working within HODR they will learn skills that will allow them to then get paid positions with other well financed NGOS.

Leogane, Haiti’s second largest city has not had an operating water system for over five years!.  So where do they get their water from?  Two sources that I observed: Shallow wells and large rubber bladders mounted on raised platforms at some street corners.  These bladders are filled regularly by water trucks with large letters UN painted on the sides.
As far as medical care, there seemed to be much quality available.  Many organizations were rotating medical personnel in weekly tours, so the doctors were fresh and eager.
One day when I was with a structural engineer and a Haitian translator I was attracted to initiate communication with an older man and what appeared to be his son who were sitting outside their shack next to the pile of rubble that had been their home.  The younger man began asking me (in sparse English) for money explaining that he could not work because he needed an operation.  When I looked at him quizzically, (I had heard that statement before as an excuse not to work), he lowered his pants to show me.  His testicles were the size of a small watermelon or a large squash!  Imagine the pain?  I was later told that another man had been brought to the field hospital next to the HODR base with those tender body parts the size of a not so small watermelon!  Apparently it is a mosquito borne decease which is a form of elephantitys that affects that part most tender part of men’s bodies.

So that is Haiti.  There is a tremendous amount rubble to be removed just for them to get back to seeing the base of what used to be their buildings and homes.  And this can be a metaphor for the country itself: there is a tremendous amount of work to be done just for the country to get back to having less than it had before the earthquake.
And what is lacking and in most need is a government which the people respect and believe in to give basic services, organization, and planning for the future.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010



1. Poor is when your daily work is as a human mule moving materials through town pulling a heavy cart that you have to rent because you don’t even have enough money to buy one.

2. Poor is having a stand on the sidewalk selling any little thing that you were able to buy for slightly less. Soaps, hair extensions, trinkets, sugar cane.

3. Poor is when you can’t even afford to ride in a tap-tap and so hitch ride hanging on to the tailgate of a truck full of sacks of rice. A tap-tap is a small pick-up with benches on the back with as many as 26 people seated and hanging on. The name comes from the signal to stop or start which is literally a tap-tap somewhere on the metal body.

4. Poor is living in a shack made from tarps and pieces of wood and metal scraps in a field full of similar shacks, and not having a home to think about for your foreseeable future.

5. Poor is spending your days washing clothes in a tub so that you can look clean.

6. Poor is bathing with a bucket drawing water from the public gutter, and you are a woman who is topless even though you are on the edge of a main roadway.

7. Poor is having a shack down a long trail far away from any road, isolated and totally relying on being able to raise a crop on the terraced hillside from which you stripped all vegetation so you could grow beans.

8. Poor is having to carry on your shoulder ten plastic jugs tied on a rope a one hour walk to get water for the week.


You know the saying: “but they are such happy people!” Well, these are my observations.

• The young men riding on their Chinese made motorcycles wearing clean clothes seem to act content.

• The women in contrast; I would say look burdened and not so joyous. They after all are the ones washing clothes in tubs, carrying water and supplies, taking care of babies.

• Kids are for the most part open and happy, even though their learned greeting is: “hey you”. They still get excited if they see you pointing a camera in their direction.


How does it make you feel if all you are able to buy are things that don’t last? Wheelbarrows that can’t carry loads, bicycles that break, batteries that last one hour, watches that work for 26 hours. This must instill an attitude of hopelessness and disappointment.


• On-going rubble removal on three to five locations simultaneously. Average 3 to 5 days per site.

• On-going building fabric tents and schools of plastic with Shelter Quest. Request from UNICEF is currently for 90 structures 15' x 40' used as temporary classrooms. (lasting through the rainy season)

• Transitional Schools: (lasting years until a permanent structure is built)

o Foundation prep to create a proper foundation in which to erect the first  of our many wooden school structures.

o Building pre-fab at the base the wall and roof trusses for the wooden school structures which will be 20’ x 70’ housing three classrooms and an office. It is very rewarding for volunteers who have never built even a doghouse with their hands, to be a part of building walls and trusses for real school buildings.

o Building furniture for the primary schools and an orphanage.

 Bench/desks. Sixteen bench desks to seat 4 kids each.

 28- Small chairs for kindergarten kids.

 4- Small tables for kindergarten class.

• Haitian locals volunteer program. To involve those unemployed Haitians that express desire to work on some of the projects that HODR is performing, such as rubble removal and building. The idea is that this is an opportunity for these locals to learn skills so in future they can go and work for one of the large NGOs that can pay for work.

• Developing plans to install solar panels for electricity for the base. The HODR Leogane program has now been extended through January 15th of 2011 so there will be plenty of benefit compared to the generator now used. There is no central operating system to supply electricity anywhere in Leogane. All power is supplied by independent small generators.

• Composting for all organic waste. Vs. burying it or throwing into piles on every empty space as is the norm in town. This again is an effort to establish an opportunity to teach a process to the locals that should prove beneficial in the long term.

• Leogane water system infrastructure assessment and scope of work. This is important. Leogane has not had an operating water distribution system for many years. Water is supplied to plastic bladders mounted on raised platforms in critical street corners. The UN is currently filling these bladders from tanker trucks. HODR volunteers with GPS units and Water engineers and a translator have almost completed mapping all the existing water piping buried and visible in the vicinity. They are being guided by the town plumber, who is the only one who has the information, none of it is written or recorded, it is all in his head. He says he has stayed with this job for 15 years even though he has apparently endured years of not being paid wages. This mapping will make it possible for future modification and eventual utilization of the infrastructure to provide water to the vicinity. This would be a good use of future Aid Funds employing local workers.

o As expected, the system has problems. Such as a two inch diameter line feeding a 6 inch line which feeds into an 8 inch line, in other words, totally backwards and cannot generate any pressure this way. There are also few valves making it impossible to isolate areas of the system.

• Structural Assessments: This is also a very important service directly affecting families, schools, businesses. Most people are living in makeshift shacks and tents on the street or in camps because they are scared to enter their previous structures, even though they survived the earthquake. Structural engineers sent by the American Society of Civil Engineers are working with translators from HORD systematically inspecting structures.

o The lucky owners are encouraged to go ahead and reoccupy their dwellings because it is deemed structurally sound.

o The not so lucky ones are told that they need to demo the structure or change it substantially before they should venture inside it.

o The ones who are living next to or under unsafe structures and overhangs are encouraged to seek shelter elsewhere quickly.

• Assisting an organization called CORDAID who is also distributing pre-fabed small wood dwellings in other neighboring areas. HORD volunteers are helping in selecting the neediest and deserving persons. The recipients along with CORDAID trained carpenters will assemble them.

• Assisting UNICEF with erecting large open-end tents which they supply for group activities. However one box with critical components of the metal frames is missing, so until located the erection of these fabric structures is on hold.

• Play at orphanage and neighborhood. One of the girls at HODR named KILY has taken on the role of organizing games and art activities and English classes for kids at an orphanage close by. The kids love it. These organized child play activities also take place on Saturday afternoons on the field behind the HODR base site. Surprisingly, even for young kids the classes in English are the most popular.


I am fascinated by the immensity of the world of NGO organizations, the sheer size of some, and the complex interaction between them. This is what I know so far, and there is much, much more. As you probably have been made aware, there was supposed to be something like 10,000 NGOs operating in Haiti before the earthquake.

As I understand it, the organizational structure is something like this:

1. IOM: International Office of Migration

2. UN OCHA: Office for Coordination of Human Affairs

i. SHELTER CLUSTER: groups that provide shelter

ii. WASH CLUSTER : groups that work on Water, Sanitation, Hygienic


Some of the NGOs I have witnessed working in Leogane:

1. USAID. They seem to have the most money to work with

2. CHF: Cooperative Housing Foundation: They seem to have the new trucks and heavy equipment that has been clearing the rubble of some major sites and off the sides of streets where HODR volunteers have placed it using wheelbarrows.


4. Tetre Des Hommes

5. Save the Children

6. Red Cross

7. Salvation Army

8. Shelter Box

9. UN of course: they are the ones with the white SUVS and Helicopters.

10. The Yugoslavian Navy; Has 16 ships patrolling the Haitian Coastline with the goals to catch drug runners and to monitor the goings, and (hopefully), returnings of independent fishermen.

11. And of course our HODR: Hands On Disaster Response that I am working with. In my perception so far the most productive NGO for dollar. HODR is currently utilizing an average of 100 volunteers at a time accomplishing many tasks with a budget of $3,000 per day or $1M for the year that is planned for the Haiti effort.

Initiated after the Tsunami in Bang Tao Thailand in 2005, HODR has operated volunteer driven programs to provide aid in: Biloxi Mississippi, Indonesia, Peru, Gonaives Haiti after Hurricane in 2008, Cedar Rapids Iowa; and the biggest to date: here in Leogane Haiti since February. Founder, and main contributor, David Campbell’s goal is to have an ongoing presence in: The US when needed, Caribbean and South America, Asia and also Africa.

TO DONATE GO TO HODR.COM it will be used efficiently with direct results affecting real people and empowering volunteers.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Another week of work in Hot Haiti

Does a squealing PIG strapped onto the back of a chinese motorbike qualify it as a HARLEY H.O.G.?

The things you see here.Small motorcycles of 125 cc, mostly Chinese made are:
1.A mode of transportation for a family. (the most we have seen is a total of SIX humans on one
2.Taxis for hire; by just flagging down the next one to come down the road.
3. Freight haulers: No matter how large or how heavy, if it can be strapped on or held on, it can go.
4. Tow trucks. I think the craziest we have seen is a bike towing a telephone pole down the street.
5. Status symbols: Mostly for young men of course
6. Obnoxious. They use the horn button way more than the brake levers, and they consider themselves priority over humans, humans carrying loads or pushing wheelbarrows, kids, old people.

You know it's hot when:
After resting for a few moments in the shade, you put your sweat soaked Tshirt back on and you get chills
The temperature has increased significantly in the last week.
The much anticipated rain has been on hold for the last week also, just muggy, but no rain
Things are starting to smell.

Continuing work by HODR volunteers:
1. Rubble removal is the main task occupying most of the 100 or so volunteers here now. This has been my main activity as a cre leader so far. Clearing mounds of crumbled cement block and cement walls is a nescessary first stage in making it possible for families or schools to re-occupy their property where their home used to be.
Any crushed buildings that have human remains in them is done by different crews from the UN with specialized equipment. I am told that earlier there was a distinct recongnizable smell, but now that has diminished
2. Helping at the tent hospital next door. Those who have done this task have while working have witnessed: births, amputations, operations and helped many medical technitians and patients.
Apparently a couple days ago a poor man came in suffering from elephantitys of: the testicles!
3. Structural Assessments of Schools and Homes. The American Society of Structural Engineers sent out a notice for volunteers to come for Haiti. We have a rotating crew of 3 or so who have been going around with HODR translators and guides to inspect various sites and determine if they are savable or need to come down. Very helpful for the people who are very scared to re-occupy or even enter buildings after what they have witnessed. That is why so many are still living on the sides of the streets.
4. Building Shelters. Our crews continue to build plastic temporary structures mentioned earlier.
5. Distributing tents for Shelter Box, and today going up to the hills to aid in helping recipients erect their large tents
6.Setting up Programs to help those children labeled "severely motherless children"
7. Helping OXFAM with creating temporary wooden shelters. Today I am refining the design and cutting list for them

This next week I am being shipped off to a separate island to instruct and help building structures under Habitat for Humanity.
My Satellite Connection is starting to fail so I will publish this post now without editing or corrections!!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


HORD accomplishments this past week:

Mapping Water System
Two volunteer engineers have been mapping the exixting piecemeal piping for the local water distribution system which has been innoperative for over two years.  They are doing this using some high-accuracy high yield GPS unit donated to HODR by Trimble.  Hopefully they will use this information to some day re-build a water distribution system to Leogane and surrounding areas.  For now you see people carrying buckets on their head (women mostly) filled from large "bags" mounted on stands at some street corners.

Shelter Box tents:
A group of us went to an outlying community to erect large tents supplied by SHELTER BOX.  We set up 29 tents for families to inhabit in the courtyard of what used to be a church.  Then distributed another 71 tents for others to take away to their dwellings up the hills behind the church.  Two days later the Shelter Box representatives went up the hills to check on a sampling of the recipients of tents.  Not one had been erected, they were just laying in the ground in their boxes.  The pastor of the church was notified of this and he took action.  A further visit by the Shelter Box reps three days later showed all tents to be erected in  the 30 or so random sites visited.  This coming Friday we are to do this again with another 100 tents, this time with us going up into the hills to facilitate erecting them.

Rubble Removal:
This is the main effort  by HODR volunteers at this time.  Some 60 young and old volunteers with shovels, picks, sledgehammers and whellbarrows removing rubble from critical sites.  This past week we focused on three school sites and two homes.

Pyramid School:
This is a school for some 500 students to which the entire second floor crumbled, somehow leaving the first floor under the concrete ceiling functional.  I have been team leader of a group of up to 20 volunteers clearing rubble from this school building and yard and moving it out to the street.  I estimated a total of 260 cubic yards of rock, broken concrete and cinderblock rubble to be removed.  As of yesterday Saturday we had moved about 200 of those 260 yards to the street.  Therein lies the problem.  We keep running out of room to place the rubble.  We built ramps on top of piles so wheelbarrows could be moved further and further up the mounds.

Yellow Shirts:
A government sponsored work for pay program is to have two dozen or so Haitian people in groups with the purpose of loading the rubble stacked in the streets onto trucks.  Unfortunately these yellow shirts are mostly innefective.  They spend most of their time sitting waiting for a truck to arrive which when it does can be there for time with mechanical problems.  Their method  of loading is to have lines of people handing one rock from person to person to eventually be tossed into the back of the truck. After a few hours of this they will all disappear to maybe show up again at the end of the day.  Needless to say, not much removed.

US Aid and CHF
They have the heavy metal equipment:  Large Volvo articulating dump trucks, huge  CAT wheel Loaders, Large track hoe excavators.  They come to sites with the above mentioned equipment towering over the neighboring shacks and creating a cloud of dust in hours they clear huge areas of rubble and twisted re-bar.  Rudy the headmaster of Pyramid School claims US Aid and CHF will come tomorrow to our street in front of Pyramid School to remove our rubble.  This will help us.
Yesterday Saturday I finally succumed to the intestinal crud so pervasive here.  While I was laying in my bunk sweating Rudy the headmaster came to our base camp to see how I was doing.  Made my day.

Hey you! gimme dollar!
This is the greeting the small Haitian kids have learned to yell as we walk by:  Hey You!
I have started saying back to them "good job" see if that will catch on as their greeting.

Satellite Connection:
Is still extremelly limited from our base, so uploading photos for you is out of the question because it occupies too much bandwidth which is in high demand by all the volunteers.  It can take me 2 hours sometimes just to get a couple of emails.  So I will post more photos on this site in mid May when I am back in the US.
For now I will post another update next weekend.
Doing good work!
Richard Wodehouse

Sunday, April 11, 2010



This picture is of one of the many camps in the town of Leogane taken from the rooftop of the adjacent structure where I am based as a volunteer with Hands On Disaster Response.
My estimate is that 70% of the structures in Leogane are either pancaked onto the ground or tilting, or unstable enough to be trully uninhabitable.  So most of the people live in makeshift coverings such as you see in this photo. Some in camps such as this(most camps much bigger than this one), and some in varied make-shift shelters on one half of the streets.
This past week the rains started, mostly at night, and do I mean serious rain!  Buckets, dogs and cats all coming down for hours, flooding everything in sight. 
You can just picture in your mind the status of the mattresses and blankets and carboard that these camp people are laying on the ground to sleep on.
And, what do you do if you are old, very young, or, as there are many, missing a leg, and you need to go relieve yourself at night?  I will leave it to your imagination and what you have heard in the news.  Let's just say that rubber boots are a safe precaution.
One of the wisdoms of Hands On Disaster Response: (from now on we will call it: "HODR"), is that they are agile and get to disaster areas quickly and secure a base where volunteers can feel safe, dry and sanitary.  We are housed in a large compound with a partially enclosed  concrete structure.  Toilets that are flushed by bucket water and shower stalls also that also use hand powered buckets.  The water is pumped up from a well to two large plastic tanks on the second level.  We sleep in a mixture of tents and bunks, I chose a  bunk under the concrete roof that withstood the quake. This has the benefit of not getting wet during the rains, but requires alertness and swift exiting when aftershocks occur, of which there have been two during my 5 days here.  I swear, the cement floor rolled like a wave under my legs.

The main qualities of HODR that I am seeing, is that they are very short on buerocracy and therefore quite effective.  In fact, what many of us 75 0r so volunteers end up doing is helping other NGOs function better.  We are fabricating temporary schools for UNICEF, have put up some 500 temporary fabric structures for people to live in, built fences, temporary structures and shelves and organized all the supplies at the local hospital.  Helped the Canadian Red Cross clear rubble and conduct assessments.  Helped CHF set up production lines for metal shed structures they are building in a large tent behind our base building.
This is all done in an enthusiastic don't waste your time thanking me attitude.
Yesterday I refined the design and materials list for temporary wood shelters of which  this week we will build 100 of for another NGO.  This afternoon a group of us is helping Shelter Box with distribution of tents and supplies to the inhabitants of the tent camp you see in the photo above.
This coming week I hope to start planning, and hopefully building, the parts for some 100 one story wood frame "transitional" school structures for local school sites.  Transitional means to last a couple of years while temporary means to make it through the rainy months ahead.
I was just told that on the 20th of April they may be sending me to a separate small island to instruct brick-laying

There are many impressive independent persons doing some really fantastic work here that is filling some huge holes of need.  Three builders from New York State came down with 300 tents  theey purchased for  about $300 each.  These were gone in minutes.  So they came up with a concept of using PVC pipe and waterproof white shrink-wrap to build bigger cheaper structures. HORD is helping them put together these quanset hut type tents far larger than what the families have been living in for the last few months, all for the cost of $75 each.  They are calling themselves SHELTER QUEST, they are the ones that UNICEF just approached to build 80 to 100 larger structures to work as temporary schools.  A crew of 6 from HODR started yesterday and prepared many of the parts for some 25 of these school structures.

It turns out that before you can build a new transitional structure you need to get rid of the concrete and cinder block rubble that is pancaked on top of the building pads.  I hesitate to call their pad a slab because their foundation is mostly a very thin layer of cement over a couple of feet high mix of large river stones and sand with some cement mixed in.
The HODR teams are out there in the hot sun sledging the concrete to pieces, shoveling it onto wheelbarrows hauling it off the slab onto the many piles of rubble building up everywhere.  The impressive sight is the many college age girls who are using these above listed tools with energy and vigor.  Many times with local men watching on the sidelines, The fact of able men only watching will be a topic for a future posting on this blog.

1. Too thin a diameter of re-bar:  It seems to be all 3/8" vs. the 1/2" or 5/8" we are used to in the US.
2.  Not near enough rebar.  Basically its only used in vertical colums spaced some 12 feet apart.
3.  The space between these vertical columns is filled with cinder blocks which are weak in consistency.
4.  The sand used is pourous and needs a far higher concentration of cement that what is used.
5.  Cement is mixed with sand in puddles on the ground which does not make for consistency in the mix.
6.  The all too common practice of stacking cement floors and roofs which are heavy and again do not contain enough re-bar or cement.
The sad thing is that the little new construction work I see, appears to be going up with the same failed  techniques and design.

The bandwidth for our satellite connection here is very slow, in fact it took exactly 12.5 minutes for this one photo above to load onto the blog, which does not please the other volunteers trying to get on line. So next month, once back in a "developed" country, I will upload many more photos which I assure you will give you a deeper understanding of the destruction and the people here.
Future Postings Soon!  Sign up on this blog site as a "follower" so I know who I am writing to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010