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As many of you may know, we are in the middle of a 3-year project to improve and pave the road between Cayes, on the southern coast and Jérémie, on the northern coast of the southern peninsula of Haiti.  We’ve traveled on the “new” road several times in the past few months and each time has ended up being quite an adventure, due to the varying state of repair of the road as the crews work on it.  In early December, on our way home from Port-au-Prince, we were held up for 4 hours (2:30pm until 6:30pm) while the bulldozers blocked a portion of the road to work on it.  Then, at 10pm that same evening, as we were about 2 hours from Jérémie, we were blocked again by a broken down truck that was stuck in the mud in a very narrow portion of the road.  No one was working on the truck and it was evident to us that we were going nowhere fast!  We ended up spending the night in the jeep and got home to Jérémie around noon the next day.

Well, this past weekend, we decided to drive into Port-au-Prince to take care of some business and it ended up being another road adventure.  We left home around 5:15am on Friday with a light rain falling.  By the time we got to the outskirts of town, along the ocean, it had turned into a downpour.  At 6am, we came to a section of the road where there was no road!  The rain had washed out the flimsy bridge built over cement culverts that was serving as a temporary structure until a large cement bridge was built over a small river.  Rather than turn around and call it quits, we decided to stay to watch the action (remember, we don’t have TV in Haiti, so we have to get our drama from real events as they unfold!).  First, a motorcycle came by with a member of the Brazilian road crew.  Then, pick-up trucks began to appear.  One by one, the Brazilian engineers showed up, surveyed the situation and sped off again in their trucks.  Then, a busload of Haitian road crew workers arrived.  They walked around in the rain, talking and pointing and discussing.  Finally, by 9:30am, the bulldozers and dump trucks showed up and the crews began to pile rocks and gravel into the flat area where the river met the ocean.  After several truckloads, the bulldozer went to work, moving the rocks and gravel around to cover the riverbed.  Then, came the road grader to smooth it out; then, more truckloads, more re-arranging and more smoothing.  By noon, the engineers were ready to let some of the vehicles pass through.  There were about 25 trucks, cars and jeeps lined up waiting.  The first two jeeps went through without problem.  Then, a little Suzuki jeep got stuck, as the river water began to pour over the temporary road.  So, the road crew fastened a chain to the bulldozer and towed the jeep up the riverbank to the other side.  More jeeps and several pick-up trucks went through and then it was our turn.  We had no problem getting through the water, sand and gravel with our new 4-wheel drive jeep, and off we went on our way – or so we thought.

Two hours later, we came to the same area of the road where we had been stopped before, and there before us was another roadblock.  The bulldozers were at work again and we were told that the road would be blocked until 6pm.  So, we waited, talked with people in other vehicles and watched the heavy equipment operators push rocks and dirt over the side of the mountain.  Finally, at 5pm, we got word that jeeps were able to pass through an area higher up the mountainside, where one set of bulldozers was working.  It would be a challenge, though, since the route was steep and the footing was unstable due to the recent work being done on it.  We decided to take a chance, and followed two other jeeps up the steep slope and down the other side.  We ended up being in a rapidly moving convoy of 5 vehicles, all headed to Cayes, which we reached in record time.  We stopped to see a Haitian friend outside Cayes, had a late meal with her family and made it to Port-au-Prince by 11pm.  It was, indeed, a long, but adventuresome day!

Events in the country have been adventuresome lately, as well, with the uncertainty of the November presidential elections, the continued presence of cholera and, more recently the appearance of former President-For-Life Jean Claude Duvalier.  We are uncertain as to what will transpire in the next few weeks and months on the political front, making it very difficult to plan our activities and those of expected visitors.  There have been some demonstrations and tire burning in the streets of Jérémie, as well as Port-au-Prince, but these have fortunately been short-lived.  On the health front, several cholera centers have been set up in the town of Jérémie, and in villages not far from our clinic site.  The number of cholera cases seems to be diminishing, but we are continuing our educational messages regarding prevention, since the basic principles of good hygiene are important for all to learn.

While we were struggling on the road to Port-au-Prince this past weekend, the heavy rains caused a mudslide in Jérémie with destruction of a house and the death of 7 inhabitants.  It also caused significant erosion of hillsides and destruction of portions of the road up to our clinic site in Gatineau.  In one area, the hillside completely broke away, leaving only a very narrow section of road over which to drive.  If it breaks away any further, we will be stranded on one side or the other and will be unable to pass through to go back and forth to our clinic.  We’re hoping the government will authorize repair of the road soon, so that our clinic operations can continue without interruption.  Please continue to pray for the safety of all.

January 12, 2011, the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that occurred in Haiti, is a national day of mourning in the country.  Over 200,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were injured that day.  1.5 million were left homeless, the majority of whom are still living in temporary shelters and tents in Port-au-Prince and its environs.  Lives lost, lives changed, a capital city destroyed, all in the space of 40 seconds.  We join with our Haitian brothers and sisters today in prayer for this country and its suffering people and we invite you to add your prayers and thoughts to ours.

There have been many articles in the press recently questioning the use of funds that were donated in the aftermath of the earthquake.  As one looks around Port-au-Prince, there are a few improvements evident to the casual observer.  Most of the buildings in the city have been evaluated by engineers, but only a few of the ones that were condemned have been razed.  Some rubble has been cleared and a few buildings repaired.  Temporary wooden shelters have replaced a few of the tents in tent camps and water and sanitation facilities have been provided to those living in the camps.  Government ministries and departments have been relocated to temporary quarters and many of the destroyed government buildings have been razed and the rubble cleared out.  The presidential palace has been left as it was immediately after the earthquake – a testimony to the tragedy that claimed so many lives, young and old.

In the area which Friends for Health in Haiti serves, there was not the physical destruction that there was in Port-au-Prince.  But our patients still mourn the loss of children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.  Their lives will never be the same and they still speak of that day, January 12th, 2010 with sadness in their voices.  Our clinic overflows with patients each time we are there, many of whom were previously living in Port-au-Prince and have now returned to their rural homes.  We’ve contributed seeds and agricultural assistance to the communities around us and are helping them organize themselves for further development projects.  We are finalizing construction plans for a permanent clinic building that we expect to start in a few months and this will allow us to significantly expand our services, save many more lives and provide employment for skilled and unskilled workers.  The funds that have been contributed to us are being used for long-term solutions in our area – prevention and treatment of illness, agricultural development, water and sanitation and employment.  We strive to be sustainable, appropriate and responsible.  Thank you for assisting us in achieving our goals.  The Lord is at work!