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CARREFOUR — Blue used to be my favorite color. But I saw far too much of the color on Monday as my airplane descended into Port-au-Prince. The rolling, green hills of Haiti are now speckled with patches of royal blue. Blue means tent city. Blue means tarps. Blue means not enough is being done.
Eleven months ago the tarps were crisp, and bright. Now they're torn and faded. Tarps aren't meant to keep families dry from monsoon rains for an entire year. There are white tents underneath the tarps. They used to be white, anyway. Now the tents are stained brownish and yellow, like the armpit of an old t-shirt.
I shouldn't be surprised that so little has gotten done in Haiti since Jan. 12. I'm sure Rev. Jean Ellie Millien feels the same way, but he's a quiet man – except when he's behind the wheel, laying on the horn.
Millien and his wife, Mona, founded Ecole Le Bon Samaritain, an elementary school in Carrefour, nearly 14 years ago. And they're the reason for my trip back to Haiti. Though the couple have a home in Greenwich, they spend most of their time in Carrefour. Carrefour, Mona said, is where they're needed the most right now.
Jean-Ellie has been here for two weeks and Mona arrived a few days ago. They aren't returning to Connecticut until February.
I feel safe driving through Haiti's capital with Jean-Ellie. I don't know what the scene is at night, but by day the only evidence of election protests are ripped posters and banners, and maybe one or two burned structures. I gaze out the window, amazed at how little has changed since I last visited 10 months ago. Some people smile at me, kindly. Others look at me with empty eyes. Their eyes tell it all – they're tired. Tired of tents. Tired of rain. Tired of hunger pains and thirst. I can only make eye contact with them for a second, because I can feel their helplessness and it hurts. Others glare at me, annoyed that another American is here trying to save the day.
I have my pockets full of coins and toys, but I know that I can only give gifts out in secret, or else our Isuzu Rodeo will be overwhelmed with crowds. So I ignore the children coming up to our windows, and I ignore the man begging, "mama, give me something, mama. Miss Adidas," he says, reading my jacket. And I especially ignore the kissing sounds men make as we pass by. A kissing sound in Haiti is to a construction worker's whistle in the states. Cat calls.
But I am pleased at the hum of trailers and back hoes in some areas. Progress is being made…slowly. Construction here isn't like construction as we know it. No orange barrels, no caution signs, no concrete mixers. In Haiti, construction happens one post at a time, one brick at a time, one person at a time.
We finally make it to Carrefour. Except for the pink wall and colorful gate, the school isn't recognizable. The building that was barely standing in the spring has been demolished. Three small barracks and two large tents now make up the school. Tomorrow I'll get to observe classes. I'm curious how all 138 students fit into this area, but I'm glad to hear there's 138 students! This time last year Ecole Le Bon Samaritain had about 180 pupils. In February, the Milliens only knew the whereabouts of 25 of them. Jean-Ellie said some of the missing students fled to the country, others gave up on school. Others didn't make it at all.
He said that if enough money is raised the school can have a new structure and be fully operational again within three years. The Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund, spearheaded by Old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Bloomfield, has raised about $92,000 for the school. Jean-Ellie says the school needs about $200,000 more. The school is currently working on earning a non-profit status.
Ecole Le Bon Samaritain not only provides education to its students, it also provides food and basic healthcare.
Mona said people ask her often why she and her husband spend so much time in Carrefour (a ghetto of Port-au-Prince), when they have a home in Connecticut and family in nicer places in Haiti.
"We are doing God's work," she says, shrugging her shoulders and laughing.
She adds that people in the U.S. don't realize what they have and don't realize that people of Haiti are in survival mode.
Mona was at the school when the earthquake happened. She heard a nearby house fall and before she could register what had happened, heard screams for help. She responded and until 2 a.m. helped a neighbor dig her child out from underneath rubble. A few hours later the child died.
For the next week Mona cooked for families in the community, until she ran out of food. Jean-Ellie was in Connecticut for a medical operation when the quake happened. He got to her as soon as he could and since then the couple has gone even further out of their way to help Carrefour, providing medical care and clothing immediately after the quake. Now their focus is rebuilding the school, which they firmly believe will ultimately help fight hunger and illiteracy in Haiti. I think they're right.