When Haitians chose Michel Martelly to be their new president in April, they did so because he was a novice.

Enormously popular as a rap star, Martelly had never held any political position, and was thus unencumbered by the messy loyalties and chronic corruption that had become the norm for the leaders of this troubled nation.

They also clearly wanted a fresh start after the enormously destructive earthquake of two years ago. They didn't simply want to rebuild what they'd had before. They wanted to build something better.


See David Common's photos and video from his recent visit to Haiti in this interactive, where he takes stock of the new plywood shelters and a small school filled with hope in a suburb of Port-au-Prince.


Michel Martelly in May 2011, shortly after his election. (Reuters)

At the time, the world heard their cries and donated twice as much as the UN set out to raise. In the two years since the quake, $4 billion has been spent on reconstruction.

So what did the world get for its money? The answer is, not enough.

Half a million Haitians still live in the large makeshift camps that people fled to when their homes fell down.

The camps are fetid messes of humanity where rapes are common, murders not infrequent and sanitation seriously lacking. These camps aid in the spread of cholera, which still infects about 9,000 people a month.

In his opening act, Martelly's big initiative was a plan to create a national army, in part to help combat sky-high youth unemployment.

Western governments wasted no time telling him it is a stupid idea.

With its violent, ugly past, the last thing this country needs is more people with guns.

It's an idea that will likely never come to fruition in any event.

The Haitian government has no discernible income of its own, and foreign diplomats have told us that no country would be willing to have its aid money used to finance a military.

Several have apparently told the president that directly.

Squatting rights

The more pressing issue of course is housing. Another is property rights.


Volunteeer Augustin Fabienne holds her certificate after completing military training in November 2011 from veterans of Haiti's army, which was disbanded in 1995. President Martelly is agitating to create a new one.

The rate of removing debris has picked up noticeably since my last visit here nine months ago. (It is actually progressing at a faster rate than after the Boxing Day tsunami in Banda Aceh in 2004 and the 9/11 cleanup in Manhattan, UN officials say.)

But as the debris removal crews move in to the more impoverished areas, both squatters and property owners are refusing to leave. They may be living in ruins, but it's their ruins.

These people also don't see much safety in the camps, so they don't want to give up the only place they have left in the world and this has lead to considerable delays.

When CBC News visited one removal operation on the side of a mountain, the great worry of UN and local officials was that the land would be immediately occupied and built upon.

It's on at least a 30-degree angle — one reason everything slid down the mountain when the earth shook — and the debris is being removed by hand as no heavy equipment can access the site.

No one should ever build there again, but they likely will.

New housing

So what has the world's $4 billion bought? It's a lot of money, particularly in Haiti where a $5- or $10-a-day wage can go a long way, and it has clearly made a difference in the monstrous job of cleanup, disease control, new housing and infrastructure repair.

Many of those makeshift camps that sprang up after quake have now been closed and the inhabitants moved to newer, somewhat sturdier accommodations.

These are still not permanent, even by Haiti's loose standards. Typically, they are one-room plywood constructs, with space in between homes (a rarity here), an outhouse (one to a family) and centralized, clean drinking water.

They seem fairly quick to build, though negotiating with either greedy or shrewd property owners is what takes time.

Still, not enough people have been moved out of the camps and now the donor pipeline is drying up.

Out of the public eye, Haiti is not receiving the same high level of aid money it's asking for and that can only mean one thing: the rate of recovery, already judged too slow by many observers, will now become even slower.

A plywood school

As a somewhat frequent visitor here, I would like to believe there is some hope. Some reason to believe that these people, who have suffered so much, can yet emerge from the misery of their daily lives.


Poor but eager students at Ecole Republique des Etats-Unis, where the teachers aren't paid and the walls are merely plywood. (David Common/CBC)

Schooling is supposed to provide that inspiration. Other than the army, one of Martelly's signature promises was to create a space for any Haitian child at a public school.

But there has been no progress on this front, barely even an attempt to fulfill the president's promise.

Fewer than half of Haiti's kids attend school. And of that half, only one in five attend a free public school.

One of these is Ecole Republique des Etats-Unis, an inspiration in its own way.

When the quake hit on Jan. 12, 2010, principal Magalie Georges was on the concrete school's second floor. It collapsed and she went down with it.

Her husband, certain his wife was in trouble, ran to the school and dug her out by hand. He certainly saved her life but she needed four months of hospitalization.

The day she was released, she returned to the schoolyard. The ruins were removed and two plywood walls were put up to support a plywood roof. The blackboards were then painted on to the walls.

The school has no budget, no school supplies and yet 1,400 students a day.

What's more, these kids couldn't be happier. They are among the poorest of the poor, who get often their only meal of the day through a UN-sponsored school lunch program.

That helps keep them connected to the school and ensures their parents send them.

The curriculum seems basic but it is about the only thing the children have going for them. Education may yet prove the staircase through which they can escape the cycle of poverty.

In the same way that Magalie Georges's husband pulled her from the ruins, she is doing the same for her school and her students.

On a micro level, she is doing her part for Haiti's recovery. If only those higher up the chain could do the same.