When planes approach the airport in Port-au-prince Haiti, travelers can see the tent cities stretching for miles around the capital. The blue tents bearing the symbols of the United Nations and the United States still provide the only shelter for thousands of Haitians nearly four years after the hurricanes and almost two years following the magnitude 7 earthquake that devastated the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Brian Hohmann, owner of Burlington’s , traveled to Haiti as part of a humanitarian aid group from Mount Hope Christian Center. He remembers the warm blast of air as he exited the plane. Then he remembers looking around and seeing the makeshift air traffic control tower.
“There was no tower. There was a camper parked along the runway with a guy standing on top of it,” said Hohmann. “I was glad I didn’t see that before we landed.”
Customs consisted of a folding table manned by two Haitians next to the tarmac.
The mission group from Burlington's was organized by Brian Krogh, Senior Associate Pastor at Mount Hope. Krogh accompanied Hohmann and eighteen other parishioners to Haiti in November 2010 and is planning another aid trip for April 2012. Working with the Minnesota-based Praying Pelican Missions (http://prayingpelicanmissions.org), Krogh and approximately eighteen parishioners will head back to Haiti this spring to continue work on the school they started on in the fall of 2010.
The Mount Hope volunteers flew into Port-au-prince and stayed in a town called Cote’ Plage. According to Hohmann, the drive to Cote’ Plage should take about 15 minutes, but on Haitian roadways, where chaos reigns, the aid workers traveled for nearly two hours to get to their final destination.
“There were no traffic lights and no rules,” said Hohmann. “The bigger vehicle wins.”
The workers from Mount Hope stayed in a church compound, Krough explained. The compound was very safe and surrounded by ten foot high walls.
“I felt very secure there,” said Krogh. But outside the compound, he cautioned, it was best to travel in packs.
The level of poverty shocked both men.
“I was not prepared the last time,” said Krogh.
“It was nothing like I expected. It was ten times worse,” added Hohmann.
The group traveled from the church to the work site via bus. The school site was halfway up a steep hill and many times the bus, loaded down with people and supplies, could not make the climb and the workers would get out and walk up the hill.
Most structures in Haiti are made out of concrete. There is little timber explained Hohmann and concrete is inexpensive. But, with no electricity and therefore no power tools, the cement was hand-mixed in five gallons pails and then passed along a human chain to the work area. In 2010, the Mt Hope parishioners worked on the first floor of the school. This year, they will return to add a second floor.
The work is grueling. The heat is oppressive and the living conditions are very difficult. And yet, Hohmann, Krogh and others are eager to return.
“The Haitian people are a very humble and spiritual people. I never saw churches filled the way they are there.” said Hohmann. “When you return home, you really appreciate everything you have here,” he added.
All the travelers must get inoculated for typhoid and Hepatitis B as well as take pills for malaria. Still, some workers including Hohmann did suffer illnesses from food or beverages consumed during their one week stay.
The 2012 team includes five high school students and two pastors from Mt. Hope. Each traveler must raise the funds for his or her own trip with help from parishioner donations. The money will go toward purchasing construction supplies, hiring Haitian workers and for aid packages.
Local children would come to the work site every day to watch the progress, according to Krogh.
“Part of our team will work to help the kids,” explained Krogh. “Last time we brought crafts, school supplies, and shoes."
Shoes are in short supply in Haiti. On Hohmann’s last work day in Haiti, he removed his shoes and gave them to a Haitian worker. He returned to the church compound in his bare feet where he donned sandals for the trip home. Hohmann is looking forward to his return trip despite the hardships.
“You get back more back than you can possibly give,” he said.
To learn more about Mount Hope Christian Center’s mission to Haiti, or to make a donation, visit http://mounthope.org/haiti.