Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Josh's Haiti Blog

I was asked to write a short summary of my trip for the blog on http://www.thehaitiblog.org/, so I thought I would post what I wrote on my own blog:

My name is Josh Ault. For the past 5 months, I have been a reporter for WATE-TV. When the earthquake hit Haiti in January it really touched me on how many people in Knoxville were helping the people there (even before the earthquake hit).

That is when I first meet people with the Haiti Outreach Program, affiliated with Sacred Heard Parish. I interviewed Katie Riley and Ben Johnston for some reports I did.

I had tried for awhile to go to Haiti. I actually got my passport right after the earthquake, and was planning on going with another group, but that fell through. I had almost given up on going when one day my news director asked me if I was still trying to go. When he asked me that it got me excited about trying again.

That is when I e-mailed the office at the Knoxville Diocese. I got an e-mail back from Ben that they were planning a trip on Monday, April 12th, and that one person had canceled. After a lot of e-mails back and forth, I was able to fill that spot.

I found out Sunday afternoon I would be able to go, and the flight left from Knoxville at 8 the next morning. I had a lot to do to get ready -- including buying bug spray, a flash light (to use the bathroom - remember there is no electricity), and sun tan lotion.

My trip to Haiti marks my first time out of the country. Some in the group said this was an interesting pick to go for my first time out of the U.S.

I was very excited to tell the story of the people there, and what has been accomplished with the Haiti Outreach Program.

The flight to Port-au-Prince really isn't that long. It takes less than 4 hours in the air to get to the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

When we got to the airport you could see visible earthquake damage, broken windows, large cracks in all the walls. A new building had been erected to house baggage claim. It was very hot in there, no AC, and only fans blowing.

The plane we came on was full to capacity, with mostly Americans coming to help. After we got our bags, we left the security of the airport into the largest city in Haiti.

A group of men were trying to grab our bags, in hopes of getting money. We had two 4-wheel drive vehicle waiting for us. We loaded up and were off. The streets of Port-au-Prince were packed. It didn't seem like there was any laws. Most trucks were filled with people looking for a ride(many were just hanging on the back).

A strong UN presence could be felt. UN soldiers could be seen throughout the city. We passed several of the tent cities, where thousands had found shelter since the earthquake.

The town we were headed to was more than 2 hours from Port-au-Prince.

After getting through bumper to bumper traffic we finally made it out to the country side. The European Union had just completed a road to the community we were going to, so for about a hour the ride was smooth.

After arriving to another large city called Miraballes, we were on dirt roads. Without a 4-wheel drive, there is no way you could make it to the town we were headed to - Chambeau.

It was night fall by the time we arrived to the rectory where we would be staying. Church members had cooked a wonderful meal, and then we fell asleep.

If you ever get to go to Haiti - get ready to wake up early. The roosters start crowing before the sun comes up. Plus, it is really hot, so sleeping can be difficult.

Chambeau is about 2 hours from Port-au-Prince. Only the church, hospital, and mayor's office has generators for electricity. There is no running water. Most homes have large containers that catch water that they use for showers. Those who do not have those use the river to bath, wash clothes, and drink.

The rectory had a nice bathroom - no running water, but a regular toliet. The first day we weren't sure if it worked, but we figured it out. If you ever go to Haiti be prepared for cold showers.

The priest was the only one who had a car in the community. A few had motorcycles, but most rode donkeys and mules.

If you ever go to Haiti, the days seem so long. You wake up early, and by noon you feel the day should be over. It was nice for time to slow down, and really enjoy life.

The hardest part of the trip was bringing all my equipment. I brought my full size camera, along with a mini-camera, tripod, and several batteries. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to recharge anything. Luckily my batteries held out the four days I was there.

I was able to interview those on the trip, and with the help of our translator, I interviewed several people in the community(including several students and one of the nuns).

I was so impressed with the people there. They are very well dressed, and take pride in how they look. They are also happy. I don't know if they have never experienced anything else, but they were very friendly. I was a bit nervous going to Haiti, but after the first day, I knew I could trust the people. They are very kind hearted.

I got to get an exclusive interview with the town's Vodou priest, and got to take a picture with an actual Vodou doll. Something you can only do in Haiti.

Many of the students there had taught themselves English, and had strong desires to do something with their lives. It was hard to know many wouldn't be able to get out of their country. Education was very important to all of them. That impressed me a lot.

The Haiti Outreach Program has done so much in this community. The primary school is very impressive. An important part of school is the meal these children receive. For many, it is the only one they get each day. This school is funded entirely by donations made to the outreach program.

It was amazing to see more than 1,000 students sing the national anthem, and great us with a welcome song. The work done there is so important for these children.

One of the big parts of this trip was to discuss the plans for the new secondary school. A donation from Xinergy, a company in Knoxville, is going to make that possible. This project is so important to the older students there. When this new school is built, they won't have to meet in buildings that are about to fall down.

It is also great how the Catholic Church is trying to get other churches involved. They already got help from members of Church Street Methodist in Knoxville. They provided the money to put in a water filtration system at the hospital there. They are also trying to reach out to a Baptist church to help them with the Baptist school there.

The earthquake had done minimal damage to the hospital and school there, and it took awhile for people to go back inside these buildings. Tents were still up at the hospital where people stayed when they were too afraid to go back inside.

I will be doing several stories from my trip to Haiti on WATE-TV in May. I think it will really open people's eyes here to how much we have, and how much opportunity we have here.

The best thing about being a journalist is telling stories that can make changes. I hope my reports from Haiti will show those here in the United States that we don't have it that bad, and we really shouldn't complain.

I hope everyone who reads about my experience will open their wallets and give back. If I could bring all of these people to our country I would, but I can't. We can make a difference, even if it is only a little.

The trip is something I will never forget, and the one thing I learned from those who work with the Haiti Outreach Program - helping one person makes all the different.


Abby said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm so glad you had the oppurtuntiy to go down there. I can't wait to see your stories. I wish everyone could have a chance to go down there. I wish we could give a home to all of them.

Bowie Bunch said...

Ditto to what Abby said. So neat that you got to go.

Marsha McKneely Ault said...

Beautiful story Josh. :)