The inaugural basketball game at a USAID-rehabilitated gymnasium drew thousands of Haitians ranging from the country’s president to pop stars to people displaced by the earthquake.
The stands were packed at last week’s game at Gymnasium Vincent with dancing, cheering spectators. Most of them came from nearby neighborhoods, including a few of the remaining displaced persons from the Champs de Mars camp next to the stadium.
Jugglers and karate experts warmed up the audience, and celebrated Haitian musician MikaBen sang the Haitian national anthem. President Michel Martelly presided over the festivities, and new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his cabinet stopped by to check out the game, which pitted the Haitian National Police (HNP) team against Sogebank. The game marked Martelly’s one-year anniversary as president. On the court, it was the pulsating rhythms of several rara bands playing in the stands that kept the evening’s program moving.
The Gymnasium Vincent has significant symbolic value for Haitians. It served as a training ground for Haitian Olympians and is the home of national and capital sports associations. Like many other public buildings in the Port-au-Prince area, it was severely damaged by the 2010 earthquake. Following his election, Martelly advocated for reconstruction of homes, hospitals, government buildings and the Gymnasium Vincent.
Speaking at the game, Martelly said, “I am proud to have led this initiative with the support of USAID. When I remembered that years ago this place used to hold great games, I feel proud to have done all this for the benefit of the youth.”
With support from Martelly and his office, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives invested about $1 million in rehabilitating the gymnasium through a contract with the Haitian firm CEEPCO. In the future, USAID hopes an increasing number of Haitian firms win our awards competitions.
The stadium’s central location will serve as a sports hub for the community, where youth from communities such as Belair, Martissant, Turgeau and Bas Delmas can practice their favorite sports. The venue is also ideal for hosting nationally televised sports and civic events. And in a city with few large enclosed structures, it can also serve as a hurricane shelter.