Welcome to Haiti & Lastic Canyon Water Project
We’re glad you decided to join us. To make our mutual stay in Haiti as smooth as possible for all, we have drafted the following introduction to life in Haiti, and a short list of what will be expected of you.
Haiti is a resource-poor country, and this defines most aspects of life here. Access to transportation, health care, all public services, food, energy and utilities, and all of the common comforts of life can be very difficult, especially if you are trying to survive on $1 per day, the oft quoted figure for the average income of the people around us.
We have rented a 3 bedroom house in the village and congregation of Fond Parisien (FP) to serve as Project headquarters (HQ), and also have access to several local outbuildings which we call “The Hilton”. The Project Manager, Kevin Bronson and his wife Yolanda, the Crew Chief, Neil Toews and his wife Susie, and usually a “camp couple”, who will run our household, will be staying in the house. All foreign volunteers staying in FP will have their breakfast and supper at HQ, and will bunk in the Hilton, or in isolated cases, in a nearby motel named “Peace & Love”. Sleeping quarters will be on cots or sleeping bags barracks style, with limited privacy available.
The house is primitively furnished and equipped, has no line electricity, and is not air tight, with only bars on the windows. We have a generator that powers the house nicely, but we then have to live with the noise of the diesel engine 24/7. Cooking is done over a propane stove, and we have an electric refrigerator. The local market will have the most basic food items, and a greater selection of foods will be available in Port-au-Prince (PAP), an hour and a half’s drive to the west. Don’t expect your eggs done just right, or your favorite dishes served at exactly the right minute. Flexibility of diet will be essential to enjoying your stay. While there are no local restaurants in the North American style, there are a few places in town where prepared food can be purchased, mostly at noon.
The weather is always humid and warm. Daily highs will be in the 80s to 90s, with similar humidity. The lack of electricity to operate coolers (we have several fans), street noises, truck horns, and roosters crowing will combine to make sleeping difficult. Over time you will get used to the heat, and the mornings, especially when you first get up, will feel cool.
We will have a project cell phone that will be available for evening volunteer use with phone cards at an approximate cost of $3US for 20 minutes. Typical rates from the US to Haiti run in the $0.50 per minute without a special plan. Email is often a good way to communicate once you find an internet café, the nearest of which is 45 min to one hour away by top-top, or a little less in a private vehicle.
Some SIM card based cell phones will work or receive texts in the country, and you will likely want your cell phone for travel uses en route. It is recommended that you contact your carrier before coming. AT&T, as well as others, has a special plan for humanitarian workers in Haiti and the DR.
We try to keep our vehicle use to official business, and beyond work and church we’ll be pretty
much restricted to walking distances. Additional forms of transportation include the informal
network of compact pickups called top-tops that ply a fairly regular schedule, and can get you almost anywhere in the country during daylight hours for a cheap fare if you can understand the language or system. For instance, travel from Ganthier to PAP costs about 37 cents. Private transportation by taxis, either motorbike or top-top, can be hired as well.
Travel to PAP will mostly be through Miami or Fort Lauderdale, FL, likely on American Airlines, at volunteer expense, coordinated by Roger Jantz. Many itineraries will require an overnight stay in Miami. It is fairly easy to get a hotel shuttle if you wish to overnight in a motel, or you can rough it at the airport. Upon arriving at PAP, you will go through immigration and customs similar to any other country, although generally easy to get through. No Visa is required, but you will be asked for an address in the country; use this address:
Paste Brutus Louis
Ouest Department, Haiti
Plan to pack light. Most airlines are allowing one free suitcase, and charging about $30 for the
second one. This means that each ticketed passenger can bring 100# of luggage in two suitcases for $30, which is the cheapest (and fastest) way to get goods into the country by far. We hope to have the option of bringing in supplies that are needed for the job via volunteer’s luggage, and you can always consider bringing in some special treats for the CSI and mission workers, the folks at HQ (which will include you while you are here), or the POG Orphanage just down the road.
As you exit the airport, be prepared to show your baggage claim tags. As you leave the “safe zone” keep a tight grip on your bags and be prepared to say “No” very sternly until you meet your pickup people. Anyone who helps you with your bags or by giving directions will be expecting a tip. If you do get help, have small US change readily available, and pay no more than $1 per bag.
We are doing our best to coordinate arrivals and departures, so that we can minimize airport runs. We know that we can’t force you to buy a more expensive ticket to meet our schedule, but please give as much consideration to the suggested dates and times as you can, and consult with Roger or Kevin before you deviate from that schedule. If it can be arranged, we will get you straight out to the jobsite, a distance of ±8 miles from HQ or ±45 minutes, depending on the road conditions. If you can arrange to arrive in the afternoon, you might be able to eliminate the overnight stay in Miami, and get to the jobsite first thing the next morning.
Our day will start at sunup (early). We will expect to be heading to the jobsite by 7:00AM, and work a full day. Hired cooks onsite will prepare lunch for everyone, and Susie & Yolanda et al will make supper for the volunteer crew in the evening back at HQ.
We expect each volunteer to take a full share of the household duties, including kitchen help,
devotions, hauling water, cleaning, etc. The house folks look after laundry, but it will be your job to get your clothes to them – they don’t go hunting for your stuff. We have a BBQ there, and those outdoor chefs that come are welcome to show us their best stuff. A limited supply of creature comforts will be provided, these include a camp fire style coffee pot and a few Christian Hymnals; most other items will come under the BYOS arrangement.
BYOS means Bring Your Own Stuff. If you need something special to enjoy your stay, from
gourmet coffee to the perfect pillow, bring it along. Just remember that this is a shared project, and so whatever you bring or consume in public will need to be shared. If you are counting on some specific food item in particular, please contact Kevin or Neil with the details. We will be roughing it, and some level of discomfort will go with the territory. Having your own personal multi-tool (Leatherman) will be invaluable to help smooth the day’s challenges. I would also suggest a headlight or small personal flashlight with spare batteries.
Our HQ is within walking distance of the FP church, about 30 minutes by vehicle from the
congregation in Ganthier, about an hour from the Cazeau congregation in PAP, and about two
hours from the mission in Oriani. While the mission is new and staffed by missionaries, the three local congregations are mature, indigenous congregations with ordained native staff members. The Sunday dress code will be very little different than your home congregation – a pressed, long sleeve cotton shirt, slacks, and black Sunday shoes. Light colored slacks do not show the inevitable white dust that covers Haiti, and are strongly recommended. We will attend church services at one of these churches every Sunday morning meeting, Interpreters are available some of the time, and even if they aren’t, we can still fellowship with our brethren.
All volunteers are expected to bring all their own working clothes. Good heavy work boots are
encouraged, because we will be working on sharp rock continuously. Shirts should be as light weight as possible because of the heat and humidity, as well as a good broad brimmed hat, gloves, sweat bands, and whatever else you wish to have. Bright red is a color associated with witchcraft and should be avoided, especially red mixed with blue, which is not appropriate. The canyon walls are light colored rock which reflect sunlight well, and will fatigue the eyes and burn the skin unless proper precautions are taken. Please mark all your clothes for easy sorting after being laundered, either by a colored thread sewn into the collar tag or middle back of the waistband, or a felt pen set of initials. In contrast to the work boots mentioned above, some folks have enjoyed wearing sport sandals, which are available on eBay and a number of other online sources. Ragged clothes, even though they will be much like the locals, shorts, sleeveless “muscle” shirts, and most slogan printed T shirts are not considered acceptable by the local church, so please refrain from wearing them.
Disease prevention is a constant task in Haiti. Every drop of water needs to be filtered, and food needs to be chosen carefully. We would recommend that each volunteer contact a travel doctor before coming. Tetanus and hepatitis boosters would be highly recommended, and possibly malaria medications, which come in a variety of kinds and are region specific (meaning what is appropriate for Africa is not necessarily the best for the Caribbean). One system that seems to work in Haiti is one 500mg tablet of chloroquine once a week starting two weeks before departure and continued until two weeks after returning home. This drug is only available in this part of the world by prescription, but we have a large supply, and you can get some through Roger. Imodium or similar anti-diarrhea drugs will likely come in handy. De-worming pills are a good idea to finish the project after your return home. A combination Hep A and Hep B shot called Twinrix is a suggested vaccine as part of the above. A baseline TB test would also be recommended.
The cholera epidemic of the last year seems to have died down, and currently is not the major
concern that it was. At the present, there is no vaccination available in the US, but I am told there is one available in Canada. Extra precaution can be taken to match your accepted level of risk, but cholera is no fun, so act accordingly. Especially with your water supply. Much of the information I have is from the media, so you can follow the stories as well as I can.
Medical facilities, especially those offering emergency care, are very limited. Volunteers with existing medical conditions should consult with their doctors about the advisability of travelling and working in a somewhat remote canyon in Haiti. An adequate supply of any necessary prescription medications will need to be brought along. Those volunteers with medical insurance should contact their carriers about coverage and protocols for service in the country. I believe the Canadian volunteers can by extra coverage for international travel quite cheaply.
The current political situation is fairly stable, although the US Dept. of State has recently issued a negative travel advisory due to violence.
We have outfitted the house with a minimal amount of furniture, and will try to supply each visitor with a twin mattress or cot, pillow, sheets, and pillow case. Personal towels and washcloths will come under BYOS. Thin towels, or maybe even travel towels such as can be purchased from Cabela’s, would be a good choice because they dry fast(er).
Sightseeing is a vital part of any international experience. While our main goal is to complete the work, we realize that our volunteers will want to look around some as well. Haiti has few “tourist attractions” in the North American sense, but there are things of interest to see. We have put out some feelers to local brethren to see if there would be some available to act as guides and interpreters, but at the present not much has been arranged. The daily rent for a private top-top and driver is about $40USD plus gas and the driver’s lunch, so if a crew got together for a ride the cost per head would be quite low. We also have brethren with taxi vans that can act as drivers, but because of language, not necessarily guides. Any recreational costs incurred outside of the compound, or not related to our mission of constructing a canal, will need to be borne by the participants.
Some volunteers have asked to bring their wife along. At this time space is pretty limited, but there may be the option of renting a room at a local motel (±$27 per night), or staying with local members. This will require discussion and approval on a case by case basis.
After all the above cautionary words, we are still excited about the project, and still glad that you are interested in being a part of it. To get your name on our final volunteer list, please read over the Creed that we found and adopted entitled We Thought You’d Like to Know, fill out and sign the Volunteer Application, and fax it back to our volunteer coordinator Reg Bronson at (209) 358-8677.
|Recommended reading list:||Mountains Beyond Mountains – Tracy Kidder|
African Friends and Money Matters – David Maranz
|Polly is familiar with travel to Haiti, and handles|
travel for CSI, CDR, and Hope for Haiti.
|The Peace Corps website has good travel related advice,|
including packing lists for many countries, although they
do not have a Haiti specific list.
|Money exchange||Currently the exchange rate is $1 USD = ±43 Haitian Gourdes The Gourde is not considered a major world currency, and can usually only be found in country. The currency change places, even in the Miami airport, do not handle it.|
|World Fact Book||Produced by the CIA, the Fact Book lists details about every country in the world. Comparisons with countries you know about, or have travelled or lived in, will help you anticipate the conditions you will experience in Haiti. It is only available by download.|
|Kendall can provide and program memory sticks that will|
automatically check emails at an internet café and depart
without leaving behind any sensitive info.
Additional Packing List
After reading through the above pages and deciding what you need to bring, you should also
consider the following list: