Tents for Haiti (from Omaha)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A culture where during normal, saner times, music pours out of every hallway, and wafts out of every open window. Here, "bringing back the music" is a lot more important than providing entertainment. It is bringing life back to normal.
Linda Fries recently traveled to the small Caribbean island with a group of seven friends from Omaha. They called themselves Tents for Haiti, and they hoped that by bringing the earthquake ravaged Haitians shelter, they could also help bring back some measure of the normalcy they lost to natural disaster. And with that, surely the music would follow…
How A Missionary Trip Became So Much More
Originally, Fries had planned to visit Haiti as part of a missionary "worship seminar." An active member of Glad Tidings Church, Fries has travelled the world supporting the cause she believes in. After the quake, she had to alter her plans, so she began researching how to best help the Haitians in need.
With the rainy season coming, no single need is as pressing as that which is most basic: shelter. Fries connected with Living Stone Ministries whose founders, Dan, originally from Omaha, and wife Liz, originally from Panama City, Panama, have been working in Haiti since 2000.
Together, Tents for Haiti arranged to send 30 tents to Florida. With the help of Dan and Liz, a private plane was chartered to take the tents from Miami to Haiti. Fries and friends then purchased more tents and used the individual 50lb. limit each passenger receives on flights to bring even more to Haiti, 16 more tents in all, each member coming just 2lbs. shy of the max.
Together with Dan, Luz, and their "contact in Haiti," Pastor John, Tents for Haiti helped distribute their aid as best they could. They toured a Christian school where over 40,000 surgeries have been performed already, with over $4 million of medical supplies passing through.
And they wondered why the rebuilding had not yet begun.
Despite aid money pouring in, many organizations are unable to help in the reconstruction effort. The government has mandated that new buildings be built to updated building codes, which have yet to be released. Fries says, "It’s a very, very, very slow process, and it looks like this place is going to [remain damaged] for a very long time."
So, tents have been become the vital supply of choice.
Fries recalls the sound of Dan’s phone constantly going off, the familiar refrain echoing, "Where’s a tent? Who has a tent?"
How Can People In Omaha Get Involved?
Tents for Haiti set up a base around Camp 48 (which has received press and aid from actor Sean Penn, among others). Camp 48, housed on a golf course, began with 14 people. Now 50,000 call it home, all living in tents.
NPR’s Planet Money, in association with PBS, recently featured the camp, where an informal economy has emerged, encompassing everything from a "makeshift movie theater" to "full-service beauty salons that compete with each other for business." The video reveals the Haitians’ ingenuity, their optimism, and the sound of their music—but it also reveals the dire state many are now living in.
Fries admits that faced with these odds, 46 tents is just a "drop in the bucket." But she is quick to point out that with enough drops, the bucket will eventually be full. She hopes that Glad Tidings Church, through their associate with Dan, Liz, and Pastor John, can serve as a central hub for people looking to get involved in Omaha.
Shelter of all kind is needed in Port-au-Prince. Larger tents are being used for clinics while smaller tents often house crowded familes. The Coleman 6-person tent has gained the most popularity in the region, according to Fries, but all donations are welcome. However, "remember that it’s not a garage sale," meaning that tents need to be freestanding and in good quality.
Tents for Haiti has arranged for special deals with shipping companies and is on the lookout for more donations.
Memories of Haiti
Fries said the realization of disembarking from the plane into a city devastated, sinking under standing water, and seeing US Army vehicles patroling, was the moment that she realized how other-wordly the situation in Haiti was. She heard the voices of people from all over the world and felt that she was in a mixing pot of people trying to help.
And she heard music.
Greeted by joyous, expectant faces, Tents for Haiti carried their wheeled suitcases over the muddy, water-logged roads, and began to figure out how they could help. They mixed with the people, and it was not long before she heard the story of a family who thought the they had lost their mother and daughter in the crushing rubble of a collapsed apartment building. The father of the family returned to church to pray one more time.
I won’t ruin the ending (Linda completes this emotional story in the video below), but I’ll offer that you can think of it as a coda: that part of the song right before the ending when you look back, reflect on what’s been played, and begin again anew.
Loading Viddler Videos
For more images of Linda Fries’ trip, courtesy of photographer Aaron Ott who traveled with the group, click here.