Ultimate recycling in Haiti

Going on a mission has been on my bucket list for years. I have always envied and admired missionaries — anyone who would drop everything, and, at some personal risk, go to a foreign country experiencing health, social or environmental needs and contribute.

When my husband died last year at age 52, it forced me to confront, among other things, my own death and, in turn and more importantly, made me focus more aggressively on how I want to live.

I had started attending Glen Acres Baptist Church in Waterloo (I was raised Anglican and it was by happenstance through my sister I found out about this Church). In a service during the spring of 2011, they showed a video clip from Daily Planet about how rubble from the 2010 devastating 7.0 earthquake was being recycled into new homes in Haiti.

I was more than intrigued. Being a Waste Management Coordinator with the Region of Waterloo, I was all about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. So, this was the perfect mission to put my values and beliefs into action.

My 15 year old son agreed. We made inquiries, and officially joined the team. There were 13 other members; I was the only woman!

Excitement rose when the mission was scheduled for February 4 to 11, 2012. The team had preparation meetings through Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM). There were fundraisers which the congregation supported, and my wonderful family and friends’ donations of money and advice (amidst their concern) were all welcomed.

We learned about Haiti — how the first nations people were decimated, colonialism and slavery, the struggle for independence, and political and natural disasters that seemingly prevent this beautiful country from having what we would consider good living conditions and economic stability.

The team filled 5 dump truck loads in one and a half days! A new record! Canadians are well-known for how hard we work. It takes 2 1/2 to 3 loads to fill a rubble home.

Currently, an estimated 500,000 people are still without homes from the last earthquake. Canadian Baptist Ministries is working with Conscience International and Haiti Replacement Homes and other organizations to build new homes out of the rubble through short-term missions like this one.

Fifteen of us few out of Toronto in the early hours of a chilly February 4 — nervous but enthused. By early afternoon, we landed in Port au Prince. Dennis, the CBM representative, was there and joined our team — his help in orientating and guiding us through the week was invaluable!

While I had never been anywhere tropical and had never been to a developing country — I felt like I was home. The chaotic, noisy airport, the congested streets and fast, disorderly driving fascinated me. When the bus’ drive-shaft fell out and the “10-minute” repair took over an hour, it was not only a good introduction to the Haitian sense of project management and their resourcefulness (how they got the parts, welded the bus and got it going again I’ll never know) but was also an excellent opportunity to take things in – cattle being driven down the city streets, mountainous landscape, exchanging smiles of passersby.

It was dark when we arrived at our compound in Grand Goave, the epicentre of the 2010 earthquake. Our accommodations exceeded our expectations — we had flush toilets, cold water showers, tasty Haitian food, netted windows, electric fans, and even internet on some days.

Filling walls with rubble.

During the week, our team worked on various stages of several rubble homes. We filled five dump trucks of rubble using five gallon pails; made, installed, and filled three of the four walls for a new home; screened sand for cement; and planned and dug the foundation for another home. The weather was hot, the work was hard and dusty, but our effort was worth it. Gabriel, a senior, who is the owner of the home for which we completed the walls, has been living in difficult conditions under a tarp for the last two years. (Although my team didn’t quite finish his home due to supply and time issues, it is finished now.)

In Grand Goave there is some rebuilding happening. While walking through town to job sites, we saw rubble being cleared off properties and dumped in piles along the street or in alleys, homes being repaired with new walls, and saw several finished rubble homes. We toured a re-built earthquake resistant school that had solar power and rainwater collection system. However, other homes and Churches have not been rebuilt and there are a lot of people living in heart-breaking conditions.

Yet people were very welcoming. Little children would greet us, smiling, eager to see their digital photo, and give us the biggest hugs. Some would even be happy to help us fill buckets with rubble!

A finished rubble home

As much as there was lots of work to do, a priority for the team was to build relationships and each of us shared special moments with Haitians. I’ll always remember clothing a child with my extra shirt, handing out a Clif bar to an elderly man with one leg, a crowd of children rushing down an alley to hug me, nightly walks through the streets with the team greeting anyone we passed, giving bright-eyed children rides in the wheelbarrow, and especially watching Matthew at break time playing hot hands with youngsters.

As for waste management, there is limited infrastructure in Haiti. There are some returnables — for pop and beer bottles — and a small buy back program for plastic juice containers, but generally garbage is dumped in riverbeds, burned, or littered. “Free-range” animals graze on the organics.

A sow enjoying a roadside meal in Port au Prince.

I think about Haiti every day. I’m having a hard time reconciling how much we have in Canada with the needs I saw in Haiti. At the very least, our communities should be helping them with advice on or investment in their waste management systems. An expanded buy-back program should be a win-win– providing jobs and income, reducing litter and garbage on land and in waterways – including the oceans that we all share. I feel I have a new mission…to help with their waste management so I’ve started doing some research.

Regardless, the lessons I’d like to pass along from this wonderful experience are:

  1. If you feel you have a calling to do something positive like this — do it! Don’t let anything get in your way. You won’t regret it.
  2. Share your wealth and gifts —  and be a conserver (not consumer) – we have too much here.

Matthew, myself and other team members are already talking about Haiti 2013…

About this guest blogger:

I’m Kim Kidd Kitagawa, and for over 20 years, I have worked for the Region of Waterloo, planning, implementing, and administering many waste management programs, including the residential Green Bin organics program, Blue Box recycling programs, and the ISO 14001/Environmental Management System.  I grew up on a family farm just south of Owen Sound. I’m a graduate of the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies.  I live with my son in Waterloo.

This entry was posted in Education, Green Living, Houses, Landfill, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ultimate recycling in Haiti

  1. Wm. Horne says:

    I really enjoyed the way you described the mission trip. I hope that others will begin to catch your enthusiasm and your sense of responsibilty when thinking about the imbalance of things in our world. Thanks Kim!

  2. A work mate recommended me to your website. Thanks for the resources.

  3. Pingback: Managing solid waste caused by emergencies and disasters | HaltonRecycles

  4. This blog is great source of information which is useful for all. Thanks for the post…

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