BES staffer recounts trip to Haiti
April 21, 2010
BARNSTEAD — Carol Troy knew that visiting Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake that leveled its capital in January would be a profound experience.
She had no idea when she set out for the island earlier this year, however, that the trip would completely change her outlook on life.
The Barnstead Elementary School secretary, who journeyed to Haiti in February as part of a group of volunteers delivering boxes of school supplies to orphans, recounted her experiences to the school board during its April 13 meeting.
Cueing up a slideshow of photographs she took during the trip, Troy thanked the board for the support it showed in allowing her to take a leave of absence.
"It was an absolutely fantastic trip," she said, adding that she would go back to Haiti in a heartbeat if given the chance, and suggesting that anyone with the means to pay a visit to the island seize the opportunity.
"It will change your perspective," she said.
After enlisting help from students in filling shoeboxes with supplies such as pencils, pens, erasers and tissues for the orphans, Troy said she ended up with 65 complete boxes, along with cases of extras.
By the time she and her two sons finished loading up her SUV on her way to the airport, she said, there was barely enough room left in the vehicle for her.
After landing in the Dominican Republic (which occupies the other half of the island of Hispanola), Troy and her team piled into a van and crossed the border into Haiti — a journey that she described as "the scariest part of the trip" due to the presence of the heavily armed guards assigned to monitor the border.
The first thing that hit her upon entering Haiti, she said, was the smell hanging in the air — a mixture of burned trash (the country has no landfills, and eliminates its waste by burning it) and raw sewage (which she said stems from the lack of adequate sanitation on the island).
It took several days, she said, before she was able to say "I can live with this [smell]."
After settling in at their home base — a house near the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince that belonged to a prominent local pastor — Troy's team set out to survey the devastation left behind by the earthquake.
"It was endless," she said, explaining that she could never have imagined the extent of the damage without seeing it first-hand.
Displaying a series of photos that drew gasps and murmurs of disbelief from the audience, Troy said that wherever the team went, they encountered massive piles of rubble, the remains of collapsed buildings, and other signs of quake damage.
Entire families, she said, still lie buried beneath mounds of rubble in and around Port-Au-Prince, and cannot be reached until recovery crews are able to move the debris.
"We just had our jaws drop," she said.
With board member Eunice Landry commenting that the streets (as seen in Troy's photographs) seemed unusually empty to her given Port-Au-Prince's estimated population of roughly two million people, Troy explained that many of those displaced by the earthquake have since moved into massive "tent cities" just outside Port-Au-Prince.
"They're just packed in there," she said, displaying photos of the refugee camps she and her team came across, where the makeshift shelters created by quake survivors ranged from family-sized camping tents to sheets of plastic stretched over wooden poles.
Seeing the condition of schools such as the one where her team delivered the boxes of supplies (many of which are still not up and running) was another sobering experience, Troy said, explaining that many Haitians do not receive a high school education, since they cannot afford the tuition.
With Landry and fellow board member Maureen Fitzpatrick remarking on the lack of furniture in the classrooms she had photographed, Troy replied that Haitian students are rarely given desks, and often sit on the floor — a scenario they have learned to live with, since they do not attend school for a full day, as American students do.
After delivering the school supplies, Troy and her mission team (all of whom were certified EMTs) visited several nearby villages, setting up health clinics for quake victims.
In one of those villages, she said, she was stunned to meet a baby boy who was born the day the earthquake struck, and had survived, along with his mother, for the following 22 days without medical services of any kind.
Of all the things she witnessed during her trip, Troy said the resiliency of the Haitian people (particularly the children, who she said were "still playing … still having fun" despite the often bleak circumstances they had been thrown into) had the most profound effect on her.
"They were just so friendly … their attitude was so happy," she said, explaining that Haiti's long history of hardship has taught its people never to take the small things for granted.
"As long as they had their family and their faith, they were fine," she added. "They just appreciated being with each other."
Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com