Kilmoganny man Alex Baxter is just back from Haiti, where he spent a week working with volunteers to refurbish an orphanage for impoverished children.
Millions of people still remain homeless or in sub-standard accommodation, following the devastating earthquake almost three years ago. Charities are now attempting to rebuild and repair the country’s infrastructure, and volunteers like Alex are their lifeblood.
“It’s nothing that wouldn’t be described as life-changing,” he says. “There is this feeling that you are actually helping.”
Alex and his team were working to refurbish an orphanage on a Haitian island, where local children have very little in the way of proper facilities.
“I’m an enthusiastic DIY carpenter, but my work is an instrument engineer, which isn’t much use out there,” he said.
“Haven ask the volunteers if they have any particular skill sets, but anyone can go really. We built benches for the kids to sit one, built walls, painted, constructed a football pitch and basketball court.”
Haven is an NGO partnership created by Leslie Buckley and his wife Carmel. It was established in 2009 – one year before the earthquake that killed almost 300,000 people and left many more homeless.
“There are 10 million people in Haiti and it is the size of Munster,” says Alex.
“You would expect people to be miserable and downtrodden, given what they have gone through. But they were friendly and welcoming.”
“Port au Prince was a long way from where we were working, but we had to go through it, and it’s just completely destroyed – no water, no sewerage, people living in these shacks.”
Haven’s idea is to build sustainable housing throughout the country. Immediately after the earthquake, the group provided tents for the homeless. The second stage was to provide temporary wooden accommodation, and now, the charity is trying to build houses that are to some extent earthquake-and-tornado-proof.
“You collect the money through fundraising and Haven fly you out,” says Alex.
“You spend a week. It doesn’t sound very long, but you are drained after the work and conditions, it’s pushing 40 degrees.”
Volunteers generally stay in tents, although last minute a last minute change of destination saw Alex’s group put up in hotel. This was no five-star, however, with its corrugated roof, intermittent power and lack of water.
The Kilkenny man says he would definitely do it again, given the opportunity.
For more information, visit www.havenpartnership.com.