Saturday, February 20, 2010

Haiti's spirit

I realized this morning that I have not posted much about the spirit of the Haitian people. Occasionally I have referenced individuals I have met. I recorded the singing in the camp the first week.

I want to talk about Georges Doemicke and Albert Donald (pictured above.) Georges is on the left Albert is on the right.

These two gentlemen are antenna technicians for MultiLink the internet service company. I worked with them all day on Monday to get connectivity in place at the Universitie.

Last Saturday was their first day off since the earthquake. They have been working every day to get some sort of capability back in place to critical entities such as NGOs, the United Nations, police and government. Their work ethic is impressive and their attitude is amazing. They drive their little white van all around the destroyed city and do the work. If it is scavenging equipment from former customer sites that fell that is what they do. If it is find a post or a pole or a tree that has a line of sight to a transmitter they will crawl and climb in manners that would make their mothers cringe. It is important work so they do it. All along there is laughter and discussion. Both Albert and Georges are hungry to learn more about their profession. Both aspire to become CCIE certified; that is the professional certification for Cisco networking equipment. Given an opportunity I know they will excel.

Well into the day after we had gotten to know each other we were stuck in traffic. Albert turned around to me (I was in the back of the van sitting on a spool of cable) and asked 'do you have tents?'

The question confused me. Once I understood he was asking about tents to live in I told him no. I asked the living situation of each.

Albert lives with his mother, father and five siblings. Georges is married with two young daughters. Both lost the dwellings in which they lived. Since the earthquake both family units have been living, literally, in the dirt.

It just amazes me. These two guys are out doing their work. They have jobs and that is a good thing for themselves and their families. They aren't running around trying to find housing for their families they are doing the work that is important to the nation and are tolerating their living conditions. They also, I assume, ask anyone they encounter if they have tents.

I connected Georges and Albert with a couple of sources of shelter. I hope that they can get their tents.

The spirit that puts the need of the nation ahead of this sort of personal discomfort is impressive. This story is being repeated thousands of times over in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Legoane and everywhere else. Look at the people who dug the hole for the telephone pole. Everyone who has worked in Haiti over the last five weeks has the same story: Haitians want to make things better.

The international community and individuals who want to assist must be certain that when aid is given that the spirit is enhanced. Those who want to go to Haiti and dicatate to Haitians what is best for the nation and its people are misguided. Let those of us who have now become involved with this wonderful culture and its hardworking faithful people respect these people as we wish to be respected ourselves.

Georges and Albert have earned my respect. As has nearly everyone I met.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A very special moment

In a world where there is destruction everywhere that which is trivial elsewhere can have a larger-than-life impact. On Monday I experienced one of those moments. No lives were saved; no smiling children to grace my memory. I did not facilitate the acquisition of millions of dollars of aid or supplies. It was all about a telephone pole.

I posted earlier today about putting a WiMax antenna on a tree at the universitie. The universitie was to host French President Sarkozy for a web conference with students and faculty. With this being the very first visit by a French president to the independent nation of Haiti to say the government and universitie folks were anxious that things go well is quite the understatement.

On Saturday before we installed on Monday I had made a site visit with Paolo Chilosi of MultiLink. We picked the proper spot for installation of a pole so that the antenna would have a good view of the broadcast tower on the mountain-top. I marked the place for the pole.

In most of PaP we have these antennas on scavenged 2x4 lumber; 12 or 16 feet pulled out of destroyed building. That was what I expected. When Georges and Albert and I arrived with equipment we removed from a damaged building by the National Palace to do the install there was no pole. Oh well. I sort of expected that to be the case improvisation is the name of the game. We found a tree that would serve and moved forward with the installation pictured in the earlier post.

We had finished the install and gotten good connectivity. The universitie folks were very happy that the connectivity was up.

Into the drive turns a large truck. Really large. On the truck was a brand new creosote covered telephone pole. The truck had a crane.

A bunch of Haitian men, not affiliated with the universitie, scavenged broken metal out of hte buildings. They hand dug a hole for the telephone pole. Fingers and bits of metal for shovels. Someone came up with a shovel head and a guy put it on a piece of pipe. Those guys went down 8 or 10 feet.

When they were done the truck maneuvered around the tents in the lot. The two guys from the truck lifted that telephone pole and dropped it right in to the hole. Everyone went to work and back filled the hole and there it was a brand new telephone pole.

I turned to the chair of the economics department; one of the few living faculty. He was smiling big. I said 'this is building. A month of death and destruction and this is the first step in building the future.' A few tears around the parking lot or, as the chancellor told me, 'the world's first digital tent university.'

An incredibly moving moment all about a silly telephone pole.

Back home

Just a brief update. Lots of things to do; one of the main tasks has been to catch up on the job.

We put up a WiMax circuit on a tree at Universitie Quisqueya fairly amazing. Internet broadband in the parking lot of a blasted university for the President of France to do a tele-conference. Hey whatever works eh?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back in the US Tuesday February 16

Very long day Monday scavenging equipment to set up an internet point of presence at the Universitie in advance of the visit of the President of France on Wednesday. Georges Albert and myself worked it til almost dark finally getting the installation done using a tree as the anchor for the antenna. Emergency measure for emergency times. Pictures to post of that tomorrow.

Lot sof wonderful things going on in Haiti as respects how the reconstruction of the physical. technical and social infrsatructure will occur. I was honored to have the opportunity to meet with and share ideas with a nover of individuals at the minsterial level. There are very good Haitian minds taking a look at the past the present and the future. I am excited about the future of Haiti to create significant good from the dust and rubble of this terrible tragedy.

I found out the hard way the US government is not doing evac flights any more. Very few if any seats for citizens who show up at the airport. The airlift into Haiti of supply is over from the US government's perspective therefore not any available seating for ordinary citizens. I have the sore back and mosquito bites of another night trying to sleep on the gorund (actually a row of disused waiting room seats) inside the airport compound last night. I paid highway robbery procies for a seat on a turboprop to Las Isabella this morning, $ 60 cab ride to Santo Domingo Airport then a las tminute American ticket to Miami I don't even want to think of the cost of that one. I do not mind the feds/Air Force stopped the flight program. I just wished someone had put out that information so I and the hundreds out at the airport this morning could have made initial plans for alternatives rather than just being told' no you can not get on an airplane' by a sulry asshole of a US consular official. Unpleasant and uncomfortable.

More tomorrow I am worn out.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday 14 February

Spent today doing technical assessment at the location where the government will be moving; they need a lot more space than the damaged HQ of the national police. We also did a driving evaluation of previously selected WiMax antenna sites. Some are gone so MultiLink will have to re-engineer those locations for coverage that matched the pre-earthquake plan.

MultiLink has a plan to provide high speed Internet to the entirety of PAP in 12 months and the rest of Haiti in 2-3 years. This plan, two years in the making, was finished in December 2009. Now the destruction of the infrastructure the following month. Strange. The technology is straighforward there are business hurdles only. The institution of top shelf Internet capability can not help but create economic (and therefore social) opportunity that did not exist in the past without regard to the earthquake of 12 January. I expect to continue to provide whatever assistance I am able in this project.

Tomorrow I will be PMing the installation of the infrastructure at the Univerisite so that classes may resume on Wednesday following. I expect to be finished early enough to catch a 4 PM Air Force flight to Miami. That is the plan now; one must be flexible in this environment.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Today in Port-au-Prince

Photo 1: Integration Systems at work. Figuring out best line of sight for WiMAX antennas. Ihave to lose five pounds.
Photo 2: Universitie building. Six floors before the earthquake
Photo 3: No one faint but in the top right of the photo is a green traffic light.
Photo 4: Now that's a view. From the top of the mountain SW of the city looking down on Port-au-Prince. Airport in the center of the photograph.

All I can say is that this city has returned to life.

I am staying with the owner of MultiLink and his wife in their home in the hills. It is a very nice place and comfortable.

Paolo and I were all over the city today doing quite a few things. Some related to MultiLink's network architecture. We spent half the day at the Government of Haiti's office. In all of the driving around I noticed a number of things have changed:

People are smiling on the streets quite a bit.
Much less horn honking in the traffic and the traffic is flowing much better.
One reason the traffic is flowing much better is the traffic lights in many intersections operate now on a solar panel/battery system. Traffic lights make a big difference.
Aid distribution points are literally all over the place. Lines are long at some (perhaps 100 people?) but appear manageable. People seem to be getting what they need.
A lot of electricity scattered down the hills into the city. A month ago the center of light in the city at night was the airport complex. That is still bright but there are lights scattered all over. Some are generators some is actually utility.
I was at a small field hospital at the site of the collapsed Universitie Quisqueya. A terribly tragic story there as all of the buildings collapsed and scores died. The field clinic had one patient come in during the 90 minutes we were there.

Many many changes of course and many tens of thousands of people still in tents in every park and empty space. One of the differences in the month is that all over those camps one sees big 50 pound bags of rice with the old red white and blue courtesy of USAID.
Water tankers seem to be on every corner; I know that is not true but there is water being delivered. I saw a number of places where people were washing cars; if there is enough water for that it is an indicator that problem has been reduced.

As I said we were at the office of Haiti's government today. Multilink is providing internet capability to the temporary office in the headquarters of the national police. There were some problems this morning and I went over with Paolo and we figured out what was going on. We got with the Cisco emergency response team that is working wit Multilink and got the problem solved. That's not bad for a days work along with the technical assesment I gathered data for today.

It is time to start getting the world community serious about the next stage. Haiti can be helped to become what it can be out of this situation. What better memorial to those who died than to rebuild Haiti for the future of all?

Back in Port-au-Prince

After some delays and miscommunications yesterday I flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince on a Medishare flight carrying a replacement staff for the University of Miami hospital. 100+ volunteers anxious about what they would have to deal with and anxious to get to work helping.

Landed well after dark and was met at the airport by Paolo, onwer of MultiLink the internet provider here. I am staying at his home in the hills over the city. A lovely and comfortable place with the amenities of home.

Impressions of the city one month after I left:

It is much quieter
We drove through a lot of hte city and I saw many less people living out on the street.
Electricity is much more common. Quite a few lights.
The airport did not have a crowd outside of the security gates.

Things seem to quite a bit better. Now that the aid is flowing in for basic subsistence the care of the Haitian people and the construction of physical assets must begin.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Nora story

I have been posting for a month and have managed to avoid telling any Nora stories. For the uninformed Nora is Aaron and Evelyn's oldest child and my grand-daughter. She is four years old going on 40.

Nora helped me pack my backpack this afternoon. Nora understands that Poppy went away to help the children. She asked today why I had to go away again and I told her I was going to help the children again.

One of the items that Nora put in my pack is a one pound bag of peppermints. I keep some in my pocket and hand them out to the kids I run into. I started doing this at Katrina and have found I am rewarded with a lifetime of smiles. Nora likes her sweets. She held the bag and asked me why I was taking it. I explained that I give the candy to the children. I told her that many of the children had never had candy.

Nora looked at me and put the candy in my pack. She said 'Poppy next time you go to the store can you buy some candy for Samantha and me?'

What a kid.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Just installed a web counter

Kind of curious if anyone is reading this thing.

Excellent article by Paul Waldie

A new mission

I have a new mission in Haiti.

There is one Internet Service Provider (ISP) operating in Haiti. This ISP is providing services via WiMax wireless. The IT infrastructure is pretty bad off. This ISP has been tasked by the government of Haiti with building out services for the entirety of the government.

I am going to be going back to PaP to perform an assessment of the infrastructure. I will then work with my team and others (all volunteers) and put together the architecture. Once that is done I am assembling a group of engineers to go back in and build the design. I am working with a large blue firm to donate the equipment I have no doubt we will be provided everything needed.

I don't want to just rebuild what was there before. I am hopeful that this will be a permanent relationship wherein the team of my employer Integration Systems, the volunteers, big blue and others can actually transform the technological landscape of Haiti's capital.

It is important that in this time those who are making decisions on how to rebuild Haiti make the decision to not restore the problems that existed prior to 12 January 2010. A central component of any viable economy is robust and reliable communications. I expect to design an information technology core that will allow Haiti to compete on the playing field of other nations from the perspective of technical architecture.

One piece of this mission is to train Haitian IT engineers and I am particularly excited about that. The old proverb that ends in teaching a man to fish comes to mind.

This project is already initiated. I will make a quick trip (two days or so) to PaP to do the assesment and then return to do the design. It is really nice to have a mission that is so alligned to the work I have done for the last 30 years.

Updates as I have information to convey.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sanjay Gupta said it very well on Monday

He put a blog post up about his return to Haiti.

When I told my wife I wanted to go back to Haiti, she had the reaction I expected. “The girls really missed you when you were gone last time,” she said. “I am worried that you lost too much weight down there,” she added. And, “what about your safety, physical and mental well being?” she concluded. They were all the reactions I expected. The car was then silent as we were driving through our neighborhood on a rainy Saturday morning. In that quiet, we both realized something essential. I knew she was right, on all counts. And, still, she knew it was the right thing to do. She was the first to speak and break the silence. “Truth is, I would go with you,” she whispered. “I would like to help as well.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Port-Au-Prince hospital.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Port-Au-Prince hospital.

I thought about that conversation a lot on the middle-of-the-night flight to Florida, a connection to Santo Domingo at 3 a.m. and then finally the early morning arrival in Port-au-Prince. She has seen the images on television of the unfathomable suffering over the last month, and she was affected by it in more ways that I realized. Over the few days I was home, we hardly talked about what I had seen in Haiti. I felt the need to protect her from those stories, some of which I may never share with anyone - and she was cognizant of the desire to not re open the emotional images. She also knew that while I was physically home, my mind never left Haiti.

He is right your mind never leaves Haiti.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Food is flowing

Mathieu and Michael have done their job. The Salvation Army is supplying the orphanages and the 82nd Airborne is delivering. 120,000 meals this weekend. The guys are heading home having had a massive positive impact on thousands of people who had no one else.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Michael and Mathew again

The food and water supplies are flowing freely in Port-au-Prince. Michael and Mathew work with the Salvation Army and the Canadian military are getting supplies to all of the unidentified orphanages. Good news.

The next stage that the guys are working on is clean water and clothing.

On the clean water side there is a factory on site that is making ceramic water filtration systems. The system costs $ 30 and will support an entire family's water needs. Michael has made an arrangement with the company for people to buy a filter unit online and it will be distributed by the 82nd Airborne division of the US Army.

This is a great way for anyone to contribute directly to the need. No scams, no administration cost and no transportation costs. If anyone wants to spend the $30 here is how you do it:

1. Go here: and select the 'Donate Now" blue button
2. In the second address line of the checkout write "for Michael's Orphanages"
3. The filter system will be delivered to a family who needs clean water

Secondly there is a huge need for clothing. One million people are homeless. Not only without a home but without clothing or shoes.

Michael has asked me to get together a load of clothes. New clothes not used. Anything for a hot climate for children, women or men. Flip flops are a great item as well. The vast majority of the homeless do not have shoes and the ground is littered with every sort of sharp and broken material you can imagine. Tetanus is killing people.

I will work on getting a clothing load together and figure out some way to transport it to PaP. Anyone have a jet they want to loan me? The 82nd Airborne is again going to do the distribution.

So to anyone who has been wanting to give to a direct need here are two ways to do it and know for sure the entirety of whatever you give will go directly to families that have lost everything.

If you ware trying to decide which of the two initiatives to support the water filters are most urgently needed.

Email me or post a comment if you want further information.


Since Tuesday...

Off topic but important to our family.

Friday afternoon Andree's younger son and my stepson Aaron got some bad food in a restauraunt here in Port Orange. Long story short he got a bad case of food poisoning that went into his blood stream and he went in to sepsis.

Aaron spent three days in the ICU and made it out not a terribly common outcome in these cases. He is home now recovering his strength. It was a close thing though and we are all grateful he will be around a lot longer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stealing the children

I, as have many I presume, have been following the story of the Baptist church group who decided to move a bunch of children to the DomRep for their own good.

I grew up Baptist and feel like I understand that community. I doubt there was any nefarious intent in this but my goodness what a bunch of silly people. According to news reports some of these children have existing families. I find it very difficult to believe that they just drove around PAP asking if anyone wanted to leave the country. Some Haitian person or group must have helped and to me that is the scary part of this. Did they buy the kids?

One of the very few out and out belly laughs I have had in this entire situation was when I read in a number of news reports that one of the lawyers representing the arrested individuals complained about the conditions under which the detainees were being held.

He complained, from the Dominican Republic, that the detainees were being held in terrible conditions without, amongst other things, air conditioning. Or electricity.

Here we have a bunch of well meaning fools who went to do something none of them knew how to do. The Haitian government rightly stopped them. Now the world media is concentrating on this sidebar story while people die of thirst starvation and untreated wounds. The belly laugh stops quickly when one thinks of the actual situation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Walking the walk

Mathew and Michael are coming up on their second week in Haiti. They have persevered. The people of Haiti are benefiting.

I wrote yesterday that the Salvation Army had provided 11,000 meals for distribution to the need that they had identified. Today that number is increased by 47,000. Distribution will be with the assistance of a Canadian armed forces unit that is working in Haiti; the unit has manpower and transport but no significant supply of aid.

This is what happens when caring people stay after the problem. Mathew and Michael have confronted significant challenges from simple transport to apparent (but not factual) indifference from aid entities. They have struggled with horrible living and environmental conditions. They have pushed through it now tens of thousands of people will have food and water because of their work.

Many people have worked behind the scenes outside of Haiti to get aid to these people who are in such dire need. Telephone calls and emails and appeals to everyone from USAID to Unicef to large church organizations to individual donors. As Michael has documented in his blog there has not been a lot of movement out of all of that effort. What has worked has been these two volunteers just staying after the issue on the ground.

The established disaster relief protocols that are followed by just about every established aid delivery entity worldwide are wonderful at helping populations once the local environment has settled down. Sadly for the affected population (in this case two million people in Haiti) that establishment of framework and process take a very long time; life-and-death long if you haven't had any water for a few days or you are a young child who has not had a meal for ten days. This is not an indictment for the established government, UN or NGO agencies. They are staffed by some of the most dedicated people I have ever encountered. There is an aid gap that I have noted in my experience in these situations. That gap runs a few weeks for provision of minimal life sustaining aid. The gap was filled after Hurricane Katrina, in my experience, by volunteers not associated with any aid entity. I observed the same in my time in Haiti and by second hand have experienced it with Mathew and Michael.

We humans must work hard and better to make sure that aid gets to those who need it as fast as humanly possible. These two men have shown how much can be accomplished by caring people whose only desire is to relieve suffering.

Well done guys.