Ironically, the day the earthquake hit, I was in Washington DC hosting the quarterly Crisis Management Meeting for a large American NGO I consult for. My memories of the earthquake that destroyed Haiti four years ago are more vivid than the many war zones I served in during my time with the SAS. The NGO had a large and thriving education project in Haiti, all the staff bar one were Haitian. Herve, the in-country security manager for the Project sent me a message after the quake, it simply said, "Help us, my wife is dead, help us."
I landed the next day in the Dominican Republic and drove through the night to what was left of Port au Prince. It was hard to navigate the streets, they were blocked by debris and piles of bodies. In all my years with the British Army, I have seen a lot of destruction and death, but this was the worst, it was a hell on earth. And the smell, I was glad that I had brought vicks vapour rub to stuff up my nostrils. It helped a little.
The Dominican Republic driver was rubbernecking at the horror of it all so much he nearly killed some survivors. He got a bollocking of the highest standard and we eventually got to the office compound. The gates were jammed open as the wall has fallen in. There were children and families squatting in the relative safety of the grounds.
Herve arrived and on seeing me burst into tears. He was in no state to help, he had to go and dig his wife's grave. Amongst the staff, Herve was not alone in his suffering, Lesley's two sons, age 10 and 11 were killed. Frantzy's dependant sister was killed in their home. Most staff had no home to return to.
I acquired a 12 bore shot gun and set about procuring provisions for the growing number of families lodging around our fragile building. Looting and worse was rife. Lawlessness was the order of the day. Harold, lost his sister, niece and nephew, all murdered in a street robbery after the quake.
The tremors continued. We had no running water, no electricity and little food but were in much better shape than the thousands of others who had set up camp in the old sports stadium. And once we had established a kind of order to our camp, we were able to look outside.
And then I met Genevievre.
She was looking after 74 children in a makeshift camp in the stadium. She did not trust me in the slightest. She did not trust anyone and she was right not to in many instances. She already met many people, aid workers included who promised to help her but never came back, not their fault, they were too overwhelmed by the chaos and destruction around them, there were so many people in desperate need. Worse still, Genevievre had already encountered men trying to lure children away from her care, lying to her.
I pulled in favours from the military and Embassy contacts, and went back a few days later with camp beds, army tents, and barbed wire. Genevievre decided to trust me. I did not bullshit her, I did my best not promise her more than I knew I could give.
I liked Genevievre. She made a lot of sense to me in amongst the craziness of life in Port au Prince. People had seen her light shining before me, that's why they had entrusted all those lost traumatised children to her care. They were gathered up by this strong, compassionate woman and they had all clung to each-other in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, through the tremors, and the ongoing horrors, the illnesses and the appalling weather. They were a family. I did what anyone would do to help but when 6 weeks later I went home to my own family I knew it was just a drop in the ocean.
My wife and I decided that we should build the children a home. Nothing fancy, nothing that would attract unwanted attention, just a place to call home. Friends and family clubbed together, we purchased land, safely away from the town, and we registered the Mango Tree Home as a legal entity. And Genevievre put her heart and soul into making it a home for the fourteen orphans who now remain as part of her adopted family.
All we have to do now is put money in, money that will not get siphoned away on PR, middle managers, expense accounts. The children lead a simple life on basic food without excess of any kind for to do so would attract unwanted attention from the poor and struggling souls who live near them. Sustainability and long term plans are the challenges, the home must become partly self-sustainable with additional land purchased to plant fruit, graze goats and a small tilapia fish farm for feeding and selling. Education will also be key to development and we are looking at how we can achieve this effectively. Many challenges still exist.
All money donated will go directly to the Mango Tree Home bank account in Haiti which is controlled by Genevievre and Herve Fils Aime a former policeman and currently a security manager in Port Au Prince, both trustworthy, good people.
We have set a target of £120,000 this amount will keep the home and children in good shape for 11 years or more.
Find out more at: http://www.youcaring.com/mth