PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A crowd of local residents stare at the dump trucks and bulldozers that have gathered on the banks of the canal filled with refuse that runs through their community.
From their tin-roofed dwellings, they come to watch as the heavy equipment operators scoop out load after load of filth. Some of Cite Soleil’s residents, work alongside the tractors, scoop loads of muck into wheelbarrows to help clear the canal.
Half-dressed children cross the waterway, by a bridge that was built by the Marines of Combat Service Support Detachment-20, in order to watch the Marines at work.
After weeks of directing the community in clean-up efforts, these warriors remain in Cite Soleil bearing the humid heat and stench of decaying rubbish.
As is the case in all endeavors the Marine Corps undertakes, these troops understand that the mission must be accomplished no matter the odds or level of discomfort.
“You are doing good things in the area,” said Wilson, a local boy. “There was a lot of sickness before, but Marines have made (Cite Soleil) cleaner.”
Wilson referred to clean-up efforts that started April 26, when CSSD-20 began work on the Cite Soleil drainage canal. The massive clean-up effort to improve sanitation in the district and prevent flooding in the streets was completed June 15.
“Whole streets used to be under mud when it would rain,” said Marine 1st Lt. Brandon P. Lockey, officer-in-charge of ground operations. “There used to be so much garbage that the rainwater had nowhere to go, so it would just spill over into the streets and flood the neighborhood.”
After two months of work, CSSD-20 helped clear the entire 1,200 meter length of the canal, said Marine 2nd Lt. Joseph E. Lombardo, CSSD-20 watch officer. The detachment removed 8,222.5 cubic meters of trash and sludge from the canal.
Lombardo also said that to clean the clogged canal, CSSD-20 used two excavators and 12 dump trucks. The Marines worked with Food for the Poor to contract the heavy equipment. The non-governmental organization also contracted Haitian workers to help clean the canal, which brought jobs to the local community.
“The locals contributed significantly to this project,” Lockey stated. “They saw what we were doing to the ditch and started coming out of their houses to help with the clean-up. They would rake the piles of garbage in front of their houses, put it in wheelbarrows, and dump it where we could pick it up.”
In addition to working with Cite Soleil residents to clean up the canal, CSSD-20’s engineers installed three bridges, one 25-foot span and two 30-foot spans, that provide access across the waterway, Lombardo stated.
Aside from working on the canal, engineers contracted a barge from local maritime contractor, Marinetec, to dredge the mouth of the canal.
“The reason we did this was to allow the canal to drain (into the sea),” explained Navy Cmdr. Robert Suggs, Combined Joint Task Force-Haiti command engineer.
The barge also dug out the banks at the mouth of the canal to create a delta, Suggs added. Creating additional paths for the canal water to drain into the ocean, which will help prevent future buildup at the mouth, he continued.
Suggs also said that CJTF-Haiti engineers spoke with local urban planners, hoping to urge the Haitian government to keep the canal clean even after CJTF-Haiti’s forces leave.
“This was a great civic-military operation,” the commander continued. “Our only hope now is that the Haitian government continues to pursue these types of clean-up programs and promote (environmental) awareness.”
Months after starting this major sanitation endeavor, the leathernecks of CSSD-20 wipe the sweat off their faces and scramble aboard their tactical vehicles, ready to embark on the journey back to base.
The men look back at the canal through the humvees’ rearview mirrors, and see the smiling faces of hundreds of local children waving goodbye.