Heroic Haiti

07/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bleck Eliassaint had just walked in the door of his modest house on Paupelar St., in the Nazon neighborhood of Port au Prince, when the earthquake struck. In seconds, his entire life changed. Pinned in the wreckage, Bleck lost his left leg just below the knee.

However, the 23 year old Haitian musician isn't particularly interested in dwelling on what he lost that day; instead, he's very much focused on what he still has. Eliassaint counts himself among the lucky in Port Au Prince. He survived the devastating 7.2 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and injured more than a million, and he still has his two hands to play the drums and to hold his base guitar. He also still has his father, who wasn't home when their building collapsed and who fortunately survived unscathed.

Eliassaint's 5 man band, Trinity 37 ("3 symbolizing the holy trinity, and the number 7 symbolizing perfection") was recording a CD before the quake. He says the band "plays everything" but specializes in Haiti's traditional music - Compas, a blend of Latin rhythms, Reggae and Caribbean influences. Trinity 37 hopes to begin playing music again soon, and eventually, return to the recording studio.

Although he isn't currently playing music, Eliassaint is working. Project Concern International (PCI), a San Diego-based international relief and development NGO, has hired Eliassaint and 500 other Haitians to clear rubble and debris from the public spaces, schools and streets in the neighborhood where they used to live, under a "cash for work" program funded by the U.S. government's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). PCI, working with local communities, will use cleared public spaces to erect temporary medical clinics, safe "protection" areas for children and other vulnerable groups, as well as latrines and public bathing facilities. Later, PCI will help Port Au Prince residents like Eliassaint to build or repair temporary shelters to replace the tents and tarps that they now call home.

Despite the difficulty of performing heavy labor on crutches, such as carrying chunks of concrete and rebar in a bucket (the other men are able to use wheelbarrows) Eliassaint isn't looking for special treatment. He's glad to be working, and he is especially thankful to the three American doctors who amputated his damaged leg and saved his life in the days after the quake. In those chaotic first few days, teams of newly arrived medical professionals from the States were pressed into service performing mass amputations at public and private hospitals around the city. Many, including ER doctors and even dentists, had never performed amputations before arriving in Haiti. One American doctor described the early scene in local hospitals as reminiscent of accounts of Clara Barton's heroic efforts during the American Civil War, when on the second day at the Battle of Gettysburg doctors performed so many amputations that the mangled limbs were "stacked like cordwood" in the hallways.

Eliassaint remains positive. He'll continue to work for PCI for as long as the cash-for-work program continues, and he hopes to raise the $600 or so that he needs to be fitted with a quality prosthetic limb for his left leg. Then perhaps, Bleck Eliassaint will finally be able to put down his shovel for good and pick up his guitar. Port au Prince is ready to stop playing music for the endless funeral processions that dot the city, and start playing music again at the ordinary celebrations of Haitian life: weddings, baptisms and parties - heureusesment avec Trinity 37 ("hopefully, with Trinity 37")

For more information about PCI's work in Haiti contact:

Sean Carpenter
Project Concern International (PCI)
scarpenter@projectconcern.org
www.ProjectConcern.org/Trinity37