Conservation Employee Showcase - Holcer
Mike Holcer, Civil Engineer Technician
When NRCS Civil Engineer Technician Mike Holcer flew into Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with five members of the Chillicothe Cornerstone Church, he saw hundreds of blue tents dotting the island. His goodwill trip to Haiti, an island just slightly smaller than the state of Maryland, came four months after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country of nearly 9.7 million people. Thousands of Haitians were forced to make temporary housing under blue tarps after losing their homes in the worst earthquake to hit the country since 1770.
After 14 hours of travel from Kansas City, to Dallas, to Miami and eventually Port-au-Prince, Holcer and his wife Natalie, along with their outreach pastor and three good friends, loaded into a mini bus bound for Montrouis (pronounced Mo-EE).
"The 60 minute ride was quite an adventure," Holcer said. "You're basically on a two-lane road with no middle stripe. If you want to pass someone, you can do it at anytime; up a hill, down a hill, on a straightaway, it makes no difference. All the driver had to do was honk and pass. It was quite a ride."
Montrouis, a village on the water in the Northwest part of the country, is home to the House of Bread, a compound that provides missionaries a place to stay and children a school to attend.
"The House of Bread is run by Jim and Gayle Durham of Chillicothe," Holcer said. "They've been in Haiti since 1987. The compound has living quarters, an orphanage and a school for about 125 kids in what we would consider three year old preschool through fifth grade."
The House of Bread also houses two deep wells that provide clean and safe drinking water to members of the town.
"Outside of the compound the water is incredibly dirty," Holcer said. "You could see pop bottles and trash floating in the ditches full of water. We often saw people bathing in the water, but it wasn't drinkable."
Every day the House of Bread makes its well water available to the community from 5-6 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. allowing villagers an opportunity to fill their five gallon buckets with clean drinking water.
"The women filled their buckets to the brim and placed them on their head to carry back home. They wouldn't let a single drop spill from on top of their head. It was amazing."
Holcer and his group went straight to work once arriving in Montrouis on May 10. The goal of the group was to paint the Evangelical Baptist Church led by pastor and interpreter Andre Rigaud.
"I think we painted a lot more than they expected us to in the eight days we were in Montrouis," Holcer said. "We went through the 30 gallons they provided and had to get more paint to finish the job."
When they weren't painting or helping with water distribution, Holcer and his group walked around the village to see firsthand how the people of Montrouis lived.
"The House of Bread is in a bottom area," Holcer said. "The people that live in this part of the country grow crops to sell at market. Nothing is exported. The families grow rice and corn. You would see one field where the corn was ready to be picked and another field where the family had just planted seed. Corn grows year round in Haiti.
"In the mountains, not too far from where we stayed, the people live a hard life. We saw one five year old boy come down from the mountain weighing 15 pounds. He had brain damage from malnutrition. Families in the mountain eat on a system where the eldest male eats first with the youngest child eating whatever scraps are left. They do this to ensure strong males that can work the crops of fruits and vegetables."
In a country where the annual salary is $300 (U.S.), the people take great pride in themselves and their heritage.
"The children go to Sunday school and are taught manners, respect for others and communication skills," Holcer said. "These people are hard workers and take great pride in cleanliness. You may see trash all over the country, but the people themselves are clean and try to take care of themselves the best that they can."
The men of Haiti tend to the fields, using hoes not tractors, while the women raise children and sell crops at market.
"I couldn't believe it when I was walking around town one day," Holcer said. "Someone passed me on a bicycle with a pig tied to the handlebars. The person was taking it to sell at the market. It was common to see taxis, more like large trucks that people load into, with several live chickens tied together by the legs and thrown on the roof to take to market."
Holcer and his group flew out or Port-au-Prince on May 17, tired but with a new appreciation for the Haitian people.
"We were surrounded by hard-working, prideful people," Holcer said. "I had a very rewarding experience and the memories will stay with me for years to come."
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