I’ve recently come back from Haiti where I trained the Haiti Red Cross webmaster on WordPress, the CMS which we had agreed on. I was there for one week and Haiti Red Cross now finally has its own website (www.croixrouge.ht) and email.
If you want to know how the website was set-up, please click here for the configuration. In addition, I had some customization done on the theme and had an additional language, Haiti Creole, added to the front end. That version is not live yet, but it’s getting there.
Screencast and on-site training
In order to make the most of my time in Haiti I prepared a few short instructional videos. And while my French is terrible, I found a good, free screen capture service: Jing.
Jing is a free software that let’s you capture up to five minutes of video and sound and share it online. It works really smoothly. And while the 5 minute limit might sound very short, I found that it is enough for most steps, as long as you do one video for each action. What I find strange is that the “Pro” version doesn’t let you capture longer videos.
I hope that those videos will also help the webmaster to train staff and volunteers outside Port-au-Prince.
Email with Google Apps
I hadn’t been aware that I would also be expected to set up the Haitian Red Cross’ email service, but I suppose I should have expected it. And while activating email through Plesk on the server was no big deal, in the end we decided to go with Google Apps.
Email security, backups and all these things are simply such a massive headache that I counselled against putting that burden on the webmaster. In my opinion a webmaster should worry about the site and not about whether email is backed up. I had never used Google Apps before, but it’s great! Once, you have managed to configure a server to work with Google Apps (and unfortunately the instructions are terrible) it works like a dream and of course you also have immediate access to Google docs, calendar etc.. I wish we could get rid of our exchange server at the IFRC and migrate!
Real life – outside base camp
On a more somber note: I have to admit I felt a bit inadequate in the middle of all these people who are providing water, shelter or basic health care. I mean, how does the need for a website rank in comparison to these needs?
On the last day I had the chance to leave base camp for a couple of hours so that I could get an idea of what life is like outside base camp and indeed for many of the staff and volunteers I was working with every day. It’s easy to forget when you are inside a compound and well cared for, but many of the people I was working with might not have a home to return to after work.
To cut a long story short: the needs are basically – everything. I mean, you name it, they don’t have it. We were walking through one of the camps where the Red Cross is working and even though you could see that a lot had already been done to improve the situation, what had been achieved seems like very little compared to what still needs to be done. Don’t get me wrong: I have seen everyone in base camp work every day from 6 am to well after dark. It’s not because people don’t work hard, that things take a long time. It’s because it’s such an enormous job.
The “land issue”
For me, the biggest revelation was to see the “land issue” first hand. I have to admit that I always found it hard to understand why we don’t just erect a couple of thousand tents and instead decided to distribute tarps and tool kits. I always found it difficult to accept that no land is available to set up those tents. But once you are there, you realize that it’s really true: there is no literally no space to put tents up! Every little bit of space is already taken up! I saw people living on the bit of green between the lane’s on Port-au-Prince’s main street.
And you can’t simply replace the rickety shelters that people have built themselves with “proper” tents either. Because those tents are bigger than the existing emergency shelters, less people would be able to stay in any one location. Which means that you first need a place where the rest of the people could go. And for that you need land.
There is a much better and far more coherent summary of the issue on the “tales from the hood” blog titled “Sorry, I’m just an aid worker“. I highly recommend that you read this post if you are interested in the Haiti response.
Anyhow: Haiti Red Cross has email and a website now. It’s not much, but it’ll help Haiti Red Cross talk to the world about their work and what the reality is on the ground. And maybe that will help a little bit.