The second half of our first day in Haiti, we drove from Montrouis to the remote town of Ivoire, where Heifer International has a project rebuilding homes destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. Now if you’ve been following my blog for more than a day, you know the confluence of the words “drove” and “remote” is cause for some alarm.
And to be sure, the road to Ivoire (as you can see) was a tortuously steep, cratered-out path that clung feebly to the side of a mountainside for 20 or 30 kilometers, with six of us crammed in a Toyota Land Cruiser bouncing around like popcorn kernels on a hot stove. Poor Kimberly, wife of Heifer CEO Pierre Ferrari, was sure we were going to tumble over the cliff at any second, and unfortunately she was on the side of the truck to get a bird’s eye view of that distinct possibility.
Whenever I’m in a situation like this, I try to take the long view: we probably won’t be hurled to our deaths, we’ll eventually get to the town, and unlike the inhabitants of Ivoire, we’re damn lucky not to have to walk up the hill. And of course, the trip up there was more than worth it – the people of Ivoire are spectacular!
Heifer has been working in Ivoire since 2002 – helping the people living here in remote poverty reforest the land with new trees, conserve soil, harvest rainwater with cisterns, get trainings in how to raise healthy animals, and receive new goats, chickens and cows to improve their livestock. But when the earthquake hit, over 270 homes—or 1 in every 10 — in this small community were destroyed. (In Haiti overall, an estimated 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were leveled – as well as half the primary and secondary schools and the three main universities.)
Towns like Ivoire are way, way down on the list to receive aid (“We were ignored,” said the community leaders bluntly)– and given the condition of the road, that’s not hard to imagine. But Heifer made the decision to facilitate the rebuilding of 110 homes here because it knew the people, and how organized and dedicated the community was.
“When we saw that people were willing to walk 3 hours carrying tin for roofs of houses, and haul bags of sand and cement up on motorcycles, we knew Heifer had to help,” Ewaldy Estil, the Heifer Northern Regional Coordinator, told the packed congregation that had gathered to sing, dance, and ceremoniously present us with heaping baskets of grapefruit, cabbages and sugar cane.
“When I am here, I forget all about the road conditions, because you inspire me with your community, your solidarity and your faith!” Ewaldy went on – which was entirely true. There was no way you could not be happy you were there…and not wish you could do more to help these people who are so intent upon helping themselves.
Even as I write this, Pierre Ferrari, Heifer’s CEO, is scrambling to convince donors to invest the materials (and transportation!) to rebuild 160 more homes in Ivoire. Each house requires 28 bags of cement and 28 metal sheets, and beyond that, Heifer pays four categories of contractors to ensure quality of construction: brickbuilders ($22); mason ($89); carpenter ($38) and welder ($8), for a total cost of $900 for a 250-square foot house. From there, the homeowner and neighbors finish all the other work.
Once you see Ivoire and meet the people who somehow remain joyous and hopeful despite the strife, setbacks and isolation, it’s impossible to forget them. And the road down? It was a breeze.