submitted by Anna Gohmann

Before - College St. Pierre

Before - College St. Pierre

Images of the first few weeks after the earthquake in Haiti are seared indelibly into all of our memories. But for USAID, the international community, and the Government of Haiti, our work continues even when there are no cable news cameras to capture it.

Alongside hundreds of other projects, we’re supporting CHF International to clear damaged buildings and help rebuild many of the hundreds of community schools that the earthquake destroyed in and around Port-au-Prince. CHF’s Emily Lynch shared the below story and photos of College St. Pierre, which collapsed in the earthquake and was cleared away through the USAID-funded CLEARS project:

After - College St. Pierre

They say the sense of smell can be linked to the strongest memories. On my first visit to College St. Pierre, I scrambled onto piles of rubble that were all that remained of classrooms, balanced precariously in tennis shoes – one foot on a painted concrete chunk of wall, the other on the corner of a dented filing cabinet – and found my hand suddenly covering my mouth and nose, trying to diminish the smell of decomposition coming from the hole our machines had made. I have a photograph of all of us–staff, students, workers, sanitation teams–like that, lining the rim of this well, hands over faces, arms crossing hearts, eyes alternately glancing down and up–unable to decide how much we really wanted to see and certain of how much we didn’t want to smell.

Two months later, I could hardly get enough of either. In fact, it was all I could do to keep from staring–at row after row of cheerful new school buildings, at giggling groups of students in their gingham uniforms, at teachers jabbing at blackboards and at the lazy neighborhood dog, sleeping on the stoop. But best of all, I was able to breathe freely. As I stood in the shade of the same oak tree, I inhaled deeply and felt pretty certain that I had never been so grateful for the sawdust scent of new school desks, just delivered and sitting out in the morning sun.

CLEARS, which stands for “Community Livelihoods and Economic Assistance through Rubble Removal and Shelter,” is a $21 million, eight-month, USAID-funded initiative focused on promoting economic, social and political recovery through the removal of rubble and debris, creating temporary employment opportunities for earthquake-affected populations, constructing transitional shelters, and providing other shelter solutions for host and IDP families. It’s improving the lives of Haitians every day and one small piece of our work to build Haiti back better.