BY KEITH SNYDER
On November 19, a diverse but united team of 14 husky men, two skillful women and one elderly man landed at the “port of the prince” on the island of Hispaniola — Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Having traveled from several places in North America, they were greeted warmly by residents and taken to accommodations for overnight rest and staging before a several-hours-long trek inland by truck and 4×4. The next day being the Lord’s day, they were feted with a bountiful breakfast by a local businessman and leader in the church, Jean Marc Zamor, before moving to a morning worship service in the shelter that replaced the church building destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake. One of those husky men, Bishop Emeritus Richard Snyder, gave a stirring morning sermon to several hundred worshipers.
The team then loaded camping gear, tents, tools, food and personal belongings into the vehicles and began the long, slow travel out of the city and up into the mountains of the southwest peninsula, to the region called Jessome. On the journey, a cloud of dust was raised, hiding the road ahead at a crucial moment and causing one of the vehicles to crash into the end of a guardrail. The vehicles was disabled, and Been Valcin was injured. After making necessary adjustments in their load and caring for Valcin and the vehicle, they proceeded to Jessome.
After arriving, the team set up camp in a pasture along with cows, goats, donkeys, chickens, mules and turkeys. Four tents, a string of old outdoor Christmas lights powered by a generator, a propane powered stove and refrigerator, two drums of fresh water and a Sawyer water filter got them set for the week – just like home. Well, not quite. Most slept on thin bed mats, and the ground was rocky and uneven. But complaints were few and far between.
On Monday morning, the team got to work after a short time of meditation and prayer and a briefing by the older man on their assigned tasks. Work progressed well, with everyone busy measuring, cutting, drilling, and putting in fasteners and sealants. By Tuesday morning, almost half of the school walls were up and some of the roof panels were installed. Suddenly, one of those husky men, Dick Herman, moved to climb a little higher on the roof than he had been a few minutes before. He didn’t raise his knee quite high enough and sustained a severe, deep wound to his knee.
Fortunately – only by the grace of God – Robert Hill was part of the team. Hill, who was trained as a medical doctor two decades ago but had not practiced, had brought a suture from his medical school days. He put it to good use in closing up Herman’s wound after the flow of blood was slowed by the application of pressure by many hands. Other materials were at hand, seemingly by the grace of God, to aid in the surgery, and healing was eventually under way. A pair of crutches were made from found materials so that Herman could move himself. He was evacuated on Wednesday to Port-au-Prince and did not return to the project. He is now resting at home and is recovering well. The whole team gives thanks to the Lord for bringing together Hill and others with skills and materials to rescue Herman from a most dangerous situation.
The team resumed work, and by Thursday – Thanksgiving Day back home – it was clear that only the school half would be completed in the available time. One of those husky men, not wanting to leave the job unfinished and realizing the cost in both time and money to leave and return later, suggested staying another three days and finishing the whole building. Seven of the team signed on to stay through Nov. 29, and an effort was launched to change their airline reservations. Because of the holiday, the reservation agent was not available and the effort failed.
Friday morning, the team hosted the schoolchildren who last May met in a small, crude shelter on the building site. They came from their open-air classrooms in a nearby grove of trees and banana plants to meet the team and receive the gifts brought for them. Late that morning, it was time to strike the tents, pack the trucks, put the building materials back under cover and head for port. With sadness, the team said goodbye to new friends, took some last photos, climbed into the vehicles and headed down the long, winding, rough, rocky road to the coast and the paved road to Port-au-Prince. Well after dark, they entered Port-au-Prince rush-hour traffic. The 37-mile trip took over four hours. Driving after dark at rush hour in Port-au-Prince is an experience to avoid if possible.
Everyone welcomed the showers and sleeping in a bed up off the ground. The next morning, some went shopping for mementos while others rested or talked. About 11:30 a.m., the team, including Herman, were loaded into the back of the Friends of Haiti Organization (FOHO) truck and carted off to the airport for departure. Entering the Port-au-Prince air terminal leaves one with other lasting memories, nothing like check-in at the Rochester municipal airport. A date will be set soon for a return trip in early 2012 to finish the work.
This trip to Haiti was an adventure the team will long remember. And the people there will not be forgotten.