The nar­row streets of Por­tau-Prince are an ar­ray of sights, sounds and con­trasts. Bunches of bold-coloured “tap-tap” buses rat­tle past muted grey cin­der block walls, and a dusty haze hangs over Haiti’s green moun­tains. Cars, peo­ple and mo­tor­bikes weave in and out of traf­fic, barely avoid­ing one another while nav­i­gat­ing gap­ing pot­holes that lay in wait, large enough to swal­low en­tire ve­hi­cles. It’s dizzy­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. For a place that has en­coun­tered so much loss, this city is alive — raw, busy, loud, dif­fi­cult, but so alive.

I’ve ar­rived in Haiti with coun­try su­per­star Paul Brandt and his Build It For­ward Foun­da­tion, which ex­ists to raise money and aware­ness to help peo­ple in prac­ti­cal ways, both lo­cally and glob­ally. The trip in­cluded vis­its to re­cently com­pleted projects funded by the foun­da­tion, while learn­ing and lis­ten­ing first-hand about some of the daily chal­lenges at hand.

Brandt’s re­la­tion­ship with Haiti be­gan dur­ing a visit in 2011 to film a tele­vi­sion se­ries for CMT Canada. That was a year af­ter a mas­sive earth­quake struck, dev­as­tat­ing the al­ready strug­gling na­tion, and killing an es­ti­mated (and of­ten dis­puted) 100,000 to 300,000 peo­ple.

At that time, Brandt met Leon D’Or­leans, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Haiti Out­reach Min­istries (HOM). D’Or­leans has made it his life mis­sion to re-build Haiti in nec­es­sary and prac­ti­cal ways. Brick by brick, HOM is build­ing schools, churches, clin­ics, clean wa­ter fa­cil­i­ties, play­grounds and soc­cer fields to bring life, pur­pose and ed­u­ca­tion to Haiti’s worst-hit ar­eas. Brandt knew that Haiti not only needed help, but Haitians needed the op­por­tu­nity to help them­selves.


A few months af­ter Brandt’s 2011 visit and sev­eral thou­sand kilo­me­tres away from Haiti, fires rav­aged the town of Slave Lake, Alta. Brandt toured the area and was mo­ti­vated to host a ben­e­fit con­cert, which raised more than $175,000 for the Slave Lake com­mu­nity. On stage, Brandt shared the sto­ries of dev­as­ta­tion in Haiti, and Slave Lake whole­heart­edly de­cided to “build for­ward” 25 per cent of the con­cert pro­ceeds to help Haiti.

Con­nect­ing two un­likely com­mu­ni­ties, the funds helped D’Or­leans and his team in­stall a new play­ground and soc­cer field, and re-build a church in Repa­tri­ote that had fallen in the earth­quake. Driv­ing through Port-auPrince now, nearly four years since the earth­quake, the decor du jour is cin­der block and ex­posed rebar. Re-built homes and patched-to­gether struc­tures zigzag up im­pos­si­bly steep hills like mis­matched Lego pieces. Cracks in walls and struc­tures are ev­ery­where. Are they sim­ply age lines from decades of de­cay or are they newer, more un­set­tling frac­tures from the earth­quake?

On the side of ev­ery road, peo­ple sell an end­less va­ri­ety of goods — re­mote con­trols, cell­phones, cloth­ing, books, food, tools, shoes, pre­scrip­tion pills, liquor, su­gar cane. It’s chaotic, but seems to have its own or­der.

Life abounds in a coun­try that has grown up through a se­ries of tri­als and dev­as­ta­tion. Like its tan­gled street scene, Haiti is com­plex and mis­un­der­stood, sad­dled with a tur­bu­lent his­tory and an un­cer­tain fu­ture. Brandt says, “When of­fer­ing help or sup­port in any place, it’s about ask­ing the right ques­tions. If some­one came over to my home and told me ev­ery­thing I was do­ing was wrong, and pro­ceeded to re-ar­range ev­ery­thing with­out my in­put, I would feel re­sent­ful, pow­er­less, and sus­pi­cious.”

Brandt has ap­plied this ap­proach to Build It For­ward’s work — lis­ten­ing, ask­ing ques­tions, then em­pow­er­ing oth­ers to help them­selves.


The Haitians have a Cre­ole say­ing, “Deye mon gen mon” — “be­hind ev­ery moun­tain, there is another moun­tain.” Be­yond the phys­i­cal ge­og­ra­phy of the na­tion, which fea­tures 2,440-me­tre el­e­va­tions, it sym­bol­izes cen­turies of ad­ver­sity and re­silience.

Brandt says, “Haiti presents it­self as a com­pli­cated place, with an ex­tremely in­volved and varied his­tory. I al­ways leave with the sense that one could spend a life­time there and not fully grasp ev­ery­thing about Haiti.”

By sup­port­ing lo­cal causes such as D’Or­leans’ Haiti Out­reach Min­istries projects, the Build It For­ward Foun­da­tion has helped cre­ate change while de­vel­op­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the com­mu­nity. D’Or­leans sees great re­sults.

“Chil­dren are com­ing to school. Their par­ents can’t read or write, but th­ese stu­dents are get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion and build­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves. With­out ed­u­ca­tion, Haiti will not be able to change its sit­u­a­tion.”

Higher up in the moun­tains, other op­por­tu­ni­ties are tak­ing root. Cana­dian en­tre­pre­neur Rob Lehn­ert started Cafe Xaragua, which im­ports fair trade cof­fee beans picked by lo­cal farm­ers and pro­cessed in small- scale co-op­er­a­tive fa­cil­i­ties. Build It For­ward part­nered with Cafe Xaragua for its like-minded ap­proach.

“Cafe Xaragua is ac­tively pro­mot­ing and re­vi­tal­iz­ing the Haitian cof­fee in­dus­try, and have fur­ther com­mit­ted to the com­mu­nity by plant­ing a new cof­fee tree for each bag of cof­fee sold,” ex­plains Brandt.


For me, a last­ing mem­ory of Haiti is Brandt singing for a large Sun­day con­gre­ga­tion. They ju­bi­lantly rose to their feet while join­ing in on I’ll Fly Away dur­ing a church ser­vice in the slum of Cite Soleil. On that sunny morn­ing, smiles and a sense of grat­i­tude filled the space.

The lyrics flowed in English, French and Cre­ole, the fa­mil­iar mu­sic tran­scend­ing cul­tural and lan­guage bar­ri­ers. It made me re­flect on what D’Or­leans had said to me days ear­lier, “When you come to Haiti, you will re­al­ize that Haiti will build you for­ward.”

Paula Wor­thing­ton/for the Cal­gary Her­ald

Al­berta coun­try mu­sic star Paul Brandt paid his first visit to Haiti in 2011 to film a CMT Canada tele­vi­sion se­ries, and since then has been rais­ing funds to help Haitians help them­selves, as­sist­ing with build­ing schools, churches, clean wa­ter...

Pho­tos: Paula Wor­thing­ton/for the Cal­gary Her­ald

Port-au-Prince is a multi-coloured hodge­podge of homes stacked up the hills. It’s a dizzy­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing place.

A youth looks out on the street scene in Cite Soleil.

Funds raised dur­ing a ben­e­fit con­cert in Slave Lake, Alta., helped build a new soc­cer field and play­ground in Repa­tri­ote.

Coun­try star Paul Brandt plays for kids in Repa­tri­ote.

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