PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- In a barren field surrounded by three drab concrete walls, dilapidated, tin-roofed houses and small streams of sewage, stands a group of warriors and a crowd of local residents, dressed in all fashions of clothes, and many walking around barefoot.
The Marines and the Haitians watch as a truck pours water on the parched patch of land they stand on. One Marine paints an old metal goalpost, restoring the color long vanished from years of exposure to the harsh Caribbean sun.
The warriors wipe the sweat off their faces and drink from canteens as the noonday heat sets in. A Marine catches a glimpse of movement from out of the corner of his eye, and fixes his gaze upon a small child kicking a torn soccer ball around the outer edge of the wasteland-like field.
Despite the view of absolute poverty these Marines look upon, some can’t help but notice the smiles and antics of the younger kids, and the looks of quiet approval among the faces of the adults.
In these smiles is seen a glimmer of hope for a new beginning and a happier existence for the inhabitants of Port-au-Prince’s district of Cite Soleil.
“I’m glad to have been a part of this project. It’s something I feel will really benefit the community by giving them something constructive to occupy their time with.”
These were the words of Marine Chief Warrant Officer-2 Michael A. Chin, maintenance officer with Combat Service Support Detachment-20, referring to the soccer field that his Marines helped to restore, and that Combined Joint Task Force-Haiti inaugurated June 22.
U.S. and Haitian leaders were present at the ribbon cutting ceremony, to include Marine Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, CJTF-Haiti commander, Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, and James Foley, U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
“We appreciate all the things you’ve done in Haiti,” Foley stated, addressing the Marines. “For the rest of your lives, you’ll be able to look back at what you accomplished here, and part of that was giving the people of Cite Soleil something they needed so badly… hope.”
According to Chin, his Marines put much hard work into the restoration project. The detachment worked alongside Cite Soleil’s residents to put down 1687.4 cubic meters of topsoil and 500 pounds of grass seed.
“Before we started working on the field, it was just gravel and dirt,” the maintenance officer stated. “Now that we’ve taken out all the bad soil and put down some seed, maybe one day this field will be beautiful once again.”
CSSD-20 also installed sideline benches, made a scoreboard and painted the goals. But these Marines had more than simple restoration in mind.
“I also painted Haitian and American flags and huge eagle, globe and anchors all over the walls,” said Lance Cpl. James A. Cox, a light armored vehicle mechanic with CSSD-20 who worked on the restoration project. “The locals liked the paintings so much that they all wanted to sell me paintbrushes. I’ve had a lot of fun working with them, and I really think they appreciate us being here.”
Contributions from Haiti’s residents also facilitated the soccer field restoration. Local business Parc Industriel Shodecosa contributed $10,000 to the project, and provided the topsoil to U.S. forces, free of charge.
“This project promoted an outburst of goodwill,” said Youri Mevs, the business’ owner. “If (American Marines) can come here and be touched by the poverty they see in Cite Soleil, how can I stand by idly while my fellow people suffer? My only regret is that we didn’t start the project sooner.”
Mevs also said her business plans to install a container nearby for the Cite Soleil soccer league to use as an office.
A crowd of Haitians surrounds the perimeter of the newly restored soccer field as the ribbon cutting ceremony comes to an end. As the government dignitaries and Marine vehicles start to drive away, the children of Cite Soleil make their way onto the brown patch of land, some kicking around tattered soccer balls.
Underneath a freshly painted mural of a Haitian and an American flag flapping side-by-side in the wind, a group of four children sit and watch the departing tactical vehicles, smiles on their faces, waving at the Marines as they pass by.