Saturday, January 29, 2011

From Haiti's Ashes

Image of wrecked Iron Market advertising BBC documentary

Three weekend's ago I posted about:

Denis O'Brien's work over the last year to rebuild the iconic Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, inviting the original traders back to take up their stalls on the eve of the first anniversary of the destructive earthquake that has left 1 million people still living in refugee camps.

A documentary following the Iron Market rebuilding effort led by the Irish telecoms businessman is being broadcast tonight on BBC Two at 8pm ... and available on iPlayer for the next seven days.

Local flâneur Moochin Photoman will also be in Haiti early next week prepping for an upcoming project where he'll be TtVing the stall holders, exhibiting their portraits, and documenting their stories in a book.

Update - Denis obviously didn't get to where Denis is today by being a humble, listening, saint. He finds ways of achieving his lofty ambitions by setting stretching deadlines and then using his clout to remove roadlocks. At one point in the documentary, having talked to the right people to release the steel for the market from the port where it had been sitting in an administrative sulk for a couple of weeks, he commented:

"You need to go round the system to get things done"

Early on in the project he seems to point to a sense of guilt in making so much money trading in such a poor country. It feels like his motivation for funding the rebuilding of the Iron Market is this guilt twinned with a worry about his legacy.

The hero of the hour long documentary is George. Managing the market rebuilding project on the ground in Port-au-Prince, his year long personal hell included pneumonia, malaria and cholera as well as adapting to the challenging weather and changing political and security situation around the Iron Market area. At first ahead of time, and latterly so far behind schedule, I expected Sir Alan Sugar to appear out of the wings and unreasonably say You're fired! Yet he seemed to keep the boss's confidence and delivered in the end.

The villain of the piece has to be the Haitian government, or the lack of it. Power struggles, inertia, presidential elections clouded by corruption, delays to rebuilding programmes that will cost thousands of lives.

Though perhaps, in reality, the real heroes should be the people of Haiti who will continue to have no option but put up with terrible living and working conditions while those in power squander precious months prioritising their political destiny over the well-being of those they are meant to serve.

It was an uncomfortable watch, but one I'd recommend.

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