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MIT student blogger Jess K. '10

Haiti: Day 1 by Jess K. '10

This week, I'm in Haiti.

This term I’m taking a class this term called MAS.963, or Special Media Projects in Haiti. The class was conceived fairly last minute after the earthquake hit in January, and is structured around weekly guest lectures about Haitian culture and sustainable development. At the same time, we’ve been working in small groups to devise projects that we could take to disseminate in Haiti at the end of April. I’m working with Anila ’10 to disseminate low cost water testing devices that were developed by D-Lab, a lab/class at MIT that focuses on sustainable technology in developing countries. We hope to bring the tests to chlorinators set up by a nonprofit and check out the e. coli levels in these water sources, as well as train their workers on site.

So today, we’re in Haiti.

I don’t know what I expected – I guess I didn’t really think about how bad it would be here until I stepped off the plane. I’ve traveled to developing countries before, and I’ve traveled to areas after they’ve been hit by natural disasters before, but never of this scale. We got off the plane, and the airport was mostly intact except that immigration was in a warehouse – that was the first clue that something was off. After hopping in a van, we rode through the mostly unpaved roads of Port-Au-Prince to see signs of destruction and devastation in every direction. There are tent cities for miles. People everywhere. Concrete rubble and garbage flow in waves down long streets; turn the corner and what was once a house lies in shambles.

It seems like an impenetrable problem. How to rebuild after all this, how to deal with so many displaced people, how to implement infrastructure in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere – and most of all, how to make sense of all of this in just one short week. This is what I’m struggling with the most – I feel like we can never do enough, and yet I want to do so much. I feel ridiculous and strange sitting in a hotel room with air conditioning writing on the internet about how I feel when there are thousands of people outside our door without a roof or running water. I wish there was more that we could do.

But there is also the undeniable sense of hope here; there are still people dancing and singing in the streets. As we stood on the roof of our hotel after dinner, looking out at the mountains and the stars hanging above Port-Au-Prince, we listened to salsa drifting over from a neighboring restaurant and watched women carry huge buckets of waters on their shoulders, stepping to the beat of the music. There is something so resilient about the spirit here that I can’t help but naively hope that maybe we will be able to do something small to contribute, even if we’re only here for one short week.

Tomorrow, we’ll go to meet with representatives from the Haiti WASH cluster, which is a UN organization that deals with sanitation and water issues in Port-Au-Prince. Tomorrow, we’ll begin to work away at the impenetrable problem, doing whatever small things we can to contribute. Until then!

6 responses to “Haiti: Day 1”

  1. Quinton says:

    Wow Jess, that was really powerful. Thank you for playing a role in helping to improve the world and thank you for sharing.

  2. anon says:

    I totally understand what you mean when you say you feel like you can never do enough… but you’re doing all you can and there’s no use worrying and thinking of all the things you’re not doing. focus on what you ARE doing and what you CAN do. you don’t have to save the world single-handedly smile

    I was looking at ocw courses, and can you tell me whether Analysis II is typically a 2nd year course? I just finished analysis I freshman year at U of Toronto and I was just wondering if the MIT analysis I and II would be analogous to ours, so that I can maybe get ahead for next year using ocw


  3. Mom out west says:

    I very much enjoyed the emotion in your narrative- the descriptions, sense of helplessness and of resurgent hope. Thank you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    that’s my country, those are my people, full of hope!

    good job.

  5. Vanessa says:

    On the subject of Haiti, a new nonprofit called Professors Beyond Borders has been launched with plans to rebuild schools in Haiti. There’s more information here…

  6. D says:

    Great post, Jess. Great post.