Reflection: Op Trogon
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be offered a role in Operation Trogon, the TR UK led operation in Haiti, to help respond to the impact of Hurricane Mathew that made landfall there. I was asked to join the Op as a chainsaw specialist due to a need identified by the recon team in assessing the situation in southern Haiti. I accepted, knowing that with our organization being one of the earliest to get on the ground our mission could change at any time. I was hopeful that my experience and training with TR would help me be a strong addition to the Op, no matter the task.
After a couple of long travel days and some restless nights I arrived in Port au Prince and met up with the rest of my team, who turned out to be a “cracking bunch of blokes”! I could tell very early on that every one of my team members was eager to learn new skills and work hard to help out as much as we could with the people and communities that were affected by the hurricane. We had another long travel day in pickups to get to our base of operations in the hurricane zone. I wont soon forget driving through the countryside at night, that was alive with people and music and activity, until we crossed some invisible border, and everything around us became dark and silent. No more music could be heard and no more lights or fires were seen. Not to be too corny, but I guess you could say we had crossed our own Rubicon for this Op.
We quickly settled in to our Op base and spent the next couple days doing recon trips to different communities and searching out for ourselves what our local contacts had told us about communities and places that needed assistance. We also spent that time getting accustomed to the environment, the heat, the mosquitos, and the food and water that would keep us going through the day and throughout the Op. We were also quickly bonding as a team.
We soon figured out plans to tackle objectives in 24 or 48 hour sections that were based on local need and our abilities and skills. I found that a number of places where we thought chainsaw work would be needed had already been cleared by locals using machetes. I was blown away by much of what the local people had accomplished on their own. We focused on constructing some temporary shelters that would serve as schools for local children. We were able to do this because we had a team member who was a builder back home and our partner organizations on the ground were able to source a considerable amount of building material for us. Many schools had been destroyed and others were being used as community shelter for people who had been driven from their homes. We wanted to help the kids get back to school and try and resume normal life as soon as possible.
We soon were told about a community that had been hit very hard by the storm and had not yet received any aid. Morency is located right on the beach on the south coast and would have been one of the very first places hit by Hurricane Mathew. When we first arrived there we were all staggered by what we saw. Visiting Morency for the first time, I also felt fortunate that the skills of our team would be something of value for this community and some of my most rewarding work came in our first couple of days there. There was a serious need to clear downed trees from community roads, wells and off of many houses that had trees on or in them. There was also a school there that had been destroyed and so our team went to work. The majority of the team went to work building our most robust semi-temporary school yet while I took one or two team members each day with me to learn some chainsaw skills hands-on. Chainsaws were a complete novelty in the community, with most if not all of the people having never heard or seen one before. It was the most difficult saw work Ive ever done because I knew the limitations of the tool, my skill, our team’s experience in that environment, and our physical limitations for working long days in that extreme heat. We always had a big crowd watching us work and I wanted to show them a strong work ethic and to be able to help the community evenly, and not only certain people. We focused on clearing access to the community wells first, then clearing roads around the community so people could bring in supplies or communicate with and visit neighbouring communities. We also cleared some pathways through the community and began to tackle the issue of trees that had fallen on to houses. We did our best and worked some very hard days. I think we accomplished a lot and seemed to be very popular and appreciated in the community. That being said we were limited by the factors I mentioned above and I would have loved to have stayed or had more capacity for doing more chainsaw work.
Now that I am home I struggle with the idea that if circumstances were different we could have accomplished more. But I know that TR is a growing organization, that this was TR UK’s first international Op and I was a part of the first wave of that Op. When I think about those things and what we accomplished as a team, along with the knowledge that we will continue to grow and expand our capabilities as an organization, I realise that the work we did there in those small, far off communities was important to the people there. And the work we did and the lessons we learned gives our organization an excellent foundation to build upon, as we ambitiously strive to achieve greater things and do important work for people in operations in the future.