This week, I travel to Haiti to visit Special Olympics Camp Shriver, which was rebuilt just over a year ago, thanks to the generous support of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors and many generous corporate sponsors and individual contributors, after being destroyed by the catastrophic earthquake of 2011. In the next five years, Special Olympics’ goal is to ensure that Special Olympics Haiti thrives and is rebuilt stronger than ever. This means we want to work with School Districts within Haiti to provide Special Olympics sports programming and health services for more than 6,000 participants.
HAITI: DAY 1
This morning, I arrived at the airport to the sound of music, an unexpected greeting from a Haitian Band that was playing in the gateway as we exited the plane. Over the music, I am greeted by Jean Chevalier Sanon, the Volunteer National Director of Special Olympics Haiti; Maureen Webber, Chairman of the Special Olympics Caribbean Board of Directors; and Beth Alldridge, Director of Organizational Development for Special Olympics North America.
As we leave the airport, the scene changes instantly to overwhelming devastation at every turn in the road. Driving through Port Au Prince, it is clear that the temporary has become the permanent. Camps are now homes and survival is the norm. Make-shift shops dot every street corner and the destroyed walls of the Notre Dame Cathedral stand as an eerie reminder of the earthquake’s fury — nothing is left but a few outside walls.
Despite the few signs of progress and renewal (Digicel renovated of the symbolic and important Iron Works Market downtown) it seems as though every inch of public space is now someone’s living room.
As we arrive at our hotel, we are interviewed by dozens of members of the press. The topic that most concerns them is clear: sustainability. How do we rebuild a Haiti that will last? From the press conference, we transition to a gathering with the Haitian football team who competed at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece this summer. They are full of laughter as they remember their adventure in Athens—the competition, the team bonding time, the trip of a lifetime.
At this gathering I also have the chance to meet a Camp Shriver volunteer. She told me that she had never worked with people with intellectual disabilities but she agreed to volunteer despite being nervous and not knowing what to expect. One the first day, one of the campers came up to her immediately and said, “you are beautiful.” It was a wonderful moment of invitation.
Tomorrow I visit two camps: Cape Haitian and Ouanaminthe. Stay tuned…