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Keith’s Haiti Experience.

The massive change between the two countries was amazing. It was like stepping back 100 years and that is not to say that the Dominican Republic is very modern. However there are lights, running water and good roads but once you cross the bridge it was candlelight or darkness. The change was unreal – like a time warp in such a short space of a few metres. There were very few cars but a few old lorries and about 40 people hanging out of them as they trundled along.

The group arrived at a small rural community where 60 houses had been built though some not finished. The first task was to complete the unfinished and then begin another set of 40 houses. After six days these were also completed and ready for their first residents. The houses were handed over to families on the day of departure, which was quite an emotional experience. Keith and the others visited the shacks, where these people had been living and conditions were extremely primitive. Indeed a programme of education was needed to train the people how to live in the new accommodation.

Local food was not that bad, taste wise, but the poor had little of it. The Haven group had their own chef with them and this meant decent meals but life was still tough and they were glad it was only for 6 days. The work began each day at 5.15am and they worked until breakfast at 9am. Another break for lunch (sandwich) and the siesta from 11.30am until about 2pm. The temperatures rose to between 35 and 40 degrees during the mid-day time and on the Wednesday it peaked at 45 degrees. It was just impossible to work in that heat, hence the siesta. Work ceased at 5.30 or 6pm and the main meal of the day was eaten then. Different forms of entertainment was organised each evening but with the early start most were in bed before 12.

During the time there Keith and colleagues paid a visit to a local orphanage. That too was a very emotional scene where there was just a big room where lots of these children gathered in and spent the night. If the lady running it had food she shared it out among them. The orphans spent the day out rummaging and scrounging to see what they could get on the scrap-heaps. Something which was very noticeable was that the white of the eye of these children was a yellowish colour denoting malnutrition and drinking bad water. However they were all very well mannered and Keith found the Haitian people very friendly and welcoming but they had nothing. They used charcoal for cooking and cut down the trees to make charcoal. The kitchen and bathroom are outside the main house. There was a small school near-by and the Haven group constructed a playground there and one of those with Haven had the children singing Ole, Ole, by the end of the week.

When the houses had been handed over the Group started for home. The convoy of six buses went to the Dominican Republic where they stayed in an hotel and had a Halloween party. Next day it was on to New York and Keith was stopping off there for three days. He called on a couple of Emyvale folk and there was certainly a huge difference to what he was after leaving. Philip, Mickey and the others had some catching up to do with Keith. After all this he returned home but admits that it took a number of days to come back down to earth. The adrenalin was flowing as there was a fantastic ‘buzz’ from the experience and he knows he would love to go again. One of the things that impressed Keith most about the project was that no one was making money out of it all. Every cent raised was spent on helping those people in some way and this was very satisfying to know and to see in action. Members of the group came home mentally and physically drained by the entire experience. Haven is going again in April but he will have to leave it a little longer before he begins preparations again. In ten years time he would like to see the houses they built to see how they have survived.

For the trip he was expected to raise €4,000 but he surpassed this by €2,500. However the extra was spent on extras for the people there and for the orphanage. Indeed Muriel raised an extra 900$ from among the Group, which she presented to the orphanage. She also had a Monaghan jersey for the family moving in to one of the houses. Keith really appreciates the efforts made by so many to assist him with his fund raising – from the match referee to the youngster at the disco, those who organised an events and those who contributed to ithem, all the sponsors and a special mention to Tommy Bowe, whose jersey brought in €2,000. He enjoyed the entire experience and, from what he tells us, it is obvious that he and the others in Haven brought a life-changing facility to the people in that part of Haiti. Those who contributed to the funding of this can be assured that the money was well spent and that they too can feel a sense of satisfaction that they have enabled a very poor family move into a solid house with running water and power.

Addendum: We contacted Keith since the earthquake hit Haiti and he has informed me that as far as he can gather from Haven, there was no damage to any of the houses they built. They were working in the northern part of the country, while Port-U-Prince is in the south. However he still felt for the people there as they had little prior to this disaster and so many lives will be lost. It will take a massive effort, millions of dollars and months, if not years, to get them back to where they were never mind trying to improve their lot.

On October 25th last Keith Murphy, Emyvale, together with 270 other Irish men and women, headed off on the long journey to Haiti to build houses for the poor of that country. The expedition was organised by Leslie Buckley and his wife of Haven – Building Hope Project and Hugh Brennan. Leslie’s company is Digicel, which has a base in Haiti. Keith went expecting to carry out electric work but ended up as a plumber for the week. Muriel Kerr from Drumhowan was also in the Group to which Keith was assigned and Monaghan was well represented.

The entire group met at Dublin Airport but George Hook, of Newstalk fame, with officials and foremen had departed the previous day. They landed in the Dominican Republic and then travelled by Bus convoy for five hours to the Haiti border. It took a little time to clear the paper work at the crossing but the convoy was then escorted by police and security for the half hour journey to the destination. This escort was a way of honouring the group and of saying thanks to them for coming.