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Day 9: Gonaïves and Terre Blanche

March 7, 2011

Today the Rollings and I headed north to Gonaïves (pronounced gona-vee), a city of about 200,000 people an hour’s drive away.   (Population figures here are extremely variable.  Some sources put the city’s population as high as 400,000.) It is one of the poorest cities in Haiti.  In 2004 it suffered severe flooding brought on by tropical storm Jeanne in which 2,826 died.  Almost 5,000 homes were destroyed.  Chris tells me when the water receded the city was a sea of mud.  In 2008 both Hannah and Ike, killing 500, flooded it.  The city has still not been completely cleaned up.  Water marks are still evident on most of the buildings about the level of the top of the doors.  South of the city the floodwater created a large lake that has remained to this day.  The area where the lake is was desert prior to the flood.  The lake drowned a forest of cacti, which still grow in abundance south of the lake.

In Gonaïves we visited Beaver and Kathy Brooks, a missionary couple from Florida who rotate 3 months in and 3 months out.  And yes, his name really is Beaver.  He told us his father really liked Leave It to Beaver. They have been working on a project in the seaside slum of Jubilee Blanc with Emory and Mary Wilson of Much Ministries.  Jubilee Blanc is the poorest section of one of the poorest cities in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  They have a school, called simply The School in Jubilee, and are in the process of building a new one with a clinic.  Laura Lynn, the resident teacher, was far too busy with her students to more than greet us.  Kathy is also intent on creating a community garden, but in my opinion it is doomed to failure.  The land they are on is a salt flat.  They know little about gardening.

But there is something far worse.  Some of you may remember the cargo ship Khian Sea with 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash from Philadelphia that traveled the world for 28 months in the late 1980’s looking for a place to unload.  Everywhere it went it was refused.  But government officials in Haiti accepted a bribe and the barge proceeded to Gonaïves.  4,000 tons of this heavy metal laden waste was then dumped on the shore.  The residents of the city were told it was “top soil fertilizer.”  When Greenpeace alerted them to what it was, the ship was ordered to reload but slipped out of port without doing so.  Local cleanup crews buried the ash in the area, much of it in Jubilee according to Alexandre.  The remaining 10,000 tons was dumped into the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  No one was ever prosecuted.  Twelve years later, what was left, 2,500 tons of ash and contaminated soil, were removed from Gonaïves.

Accompanied by Beaver and his daughter, Rebecca, we then traveled further north to Terre Blanche where “Papa Joe” and Linda Markee run the Clinic of Hope.  We had dined with the Markees and their daughter Janan, who is also a physician and works with her parents at the clinic, and her husband.  The facility is fabulous!  Spacious, airy, cooled, and immaculate, it may be the best clinic in Haiti.  We were introduced to a team of 40 doctors and nurses from Washington, Oregon and California.  Joe is and OBGYN, and he and his wife live in Vancouver, Washington.  They organize medical teams to take 2-week rotations in the clinic.  They are simply a wonderful couple.

The clinic is equipped with two ultrasound machines, a surgical room with proper surgical lighting, a vision clinic, and much more.  Supplies and medication are plentiful.  Haitian medical personnel, augmented by the visiting teams, run the clinic.

Pastor Delamy Bazilme, a Haitian, oversees the operations of Haiti Foundation of Hope, of which the clinic is a part.  He has a very large church on site as well as a large school with about 700 students.  He too is a very special person.  Linda gave us a tour of the site (Joe was busy with patients), pointing out all the new construction that will again expand their capabilities.  The buildings were carefully designed by an engineer to be earthquake resistant, employing far more steel reinforcement than most buildings here.

Linda and Pastor Delamey then took us to the filter yard where they are building biosand filters using molds built by Clean Water for Haiti.  They have not produced very many in the past, but since the cholera epidemic demand has risen sharply and they are stepping up production to try to meet it.

I am so impressed with the people I met today.  Their love for the Haitian people is so evident, their faith in God so great.  I feel truly blessed to have met them and am looking forward to ongoing relationships.  I felt humbled by them yet their warmth toward me and genuine interest in me made me feel accepted and welcomed as one who will serve here with them.

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