As Hurricane Isaac drifted north of Haiti and the winds and rains died down over the weekend, each of our soccer teams reported that the damage in their area was minimal. However, Monday morning, when the majority of kids didn't show to the (albeit flooded and muddy) soccer field in Bausan as usual, we knew something was up. While the damage could have been much worse, the rising flood waters swept about a foot of thick, heavy mud through several of our Bausan players' homes, and those of their neighbors. Instead of coming to play soccer, they spent Monday trying to clean up the mess. With the ever-present threat of cholera, standing mud and water can be deadly.
Several of our kids lost their practice clothes and cleats along with their families' household possessions. While GOALS is still assessing how we can help replace lost or damaged goods, our kids have already joined together to help shovel the mud out of their homes and help their neighbors. Rather than respond with a distribution of tools and bleach kits, as a traditional aid group might do, GOALS decided to empower our youth to help their community on their own.
On Tuesday, Emilio, myself and the Bausan coaches and kids followed as Rose, one of our girls, led the way to a remote area near her house that was particularly affected. Armed with shovels, a wheelbarrow, brooms, buckets and lots of bleach, we trekked through the mud, alongside sugarcane fields and, eventually, out to the beach. It was quite a sight to see our rag-tag group of teenagers marching en masse through the rural villages, brooms and buckets in tow.
Finally, we arrived at Rose's house, where several of her neighbors asked us for help. We shoveled mud out of kitchens, homes and businesses, scrubbed them clean and poured bleach water across concrete floors.
In this area, "Anba Bausan" or "Inner Bausan", those who live in concrete homes or wood shelters escaped most of the damage, since having a concrete foundation raises the homes up off the ground. So most of the "homes" that needed help were little more than layers of tarps held up with a stick frame and topped with a tin roof.
There's an old Haitian proverb men anpil chay pa lou which means "Many hands lighten the burden". Removing a thick layer of mud is a burdensome task for just one person, but it's no match for a group of shovel-wielding teenage soccer players! One friendly neighbor hacked open fresh coconuts for our sweaty teams as a thank you. Lucky us!
As the sun got hotter, we trekked back to the Bausan soccer field. Along the way, just about everyone stopped to rinse the mud off their shoes by the beach.
Back at the field, the kids were rewarded (after the hand sanitizer was passed around, of course!) for their work with plenty of ice-cold water and a spaghetti lunch.
Community service is a core part the GOALS model. By providing a few tools and cultivating local leadership to drive forward projects, GOALS empowers communities to address their own needs. The best part of all? Working together on days like this is FUN!