A shrill whistle from the streets of Port-au-Prince outside my hotel window jars me awake. In a fog from two days of travel that put me into Haiti in the dark and rain the night before, I throw open the curtains of my Spartan room only to be confronted by the sight of a jam-packed tent city a scant 20 yards from me.
An elderly woman stoops over a bucket of murky water, washes the night's grime from her body, and pats her face with a grungy handcloth. She is standing in the mud.
"It doesn't sound like much has changed down there," friends and colleagues had told me in the weeks leading up to my return to Haiti.
My last assignment here was a few weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and drove the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere even deeper into poverty.
They may be right, judging by the million people living on the streets and the sheer volume of rubble and collapsed buildings that still clutter the city.
Residents estimate that less than 2 percent of it has been cleaned up. Slinging my camera over my shoulder, I hit the streets of Port-au-Prince to find out.
"Nine months after the earthquake, we are still in a desperate situation," Compassion Haiti Country Director Gilbaud Saint-Cyr tells me from Compassion's headquarters in Haiti.
"The Haitian people are very brave and strong, and they want to do their best to have a better life," he says. "But in general, it is really a nightmare."
Yet there are signs of progress: Gone are the U.S. Air Force C-17s carrying emergency supplies and soldiers. In their place are commercial jetliners carrying returning citizens and church folk eager to help on mission trips.
The bodies and smell of death are gone. And so is much of the fear that surrounded the country in the weeks after the earthquake.
But one thing has remained the same: Compassion's presence, and their resolve to equip this country to pull itself out of poverty.
As I visited Compassion child development centers around the area, every sponsored child and parent I spoke with told me they have survived because of the one-on-one care they received from Compassion the food kits, the shelter, the access to medical care, the psychological counseling, the ability to go back to school, the clean water, and on and on and on.
Stepping into each Compassion center, where I can see these things and the hope that goes with them, is like stepping into an oasis.
None of this is by accident: Elissant Jean Jacques, a former Compassion-sponsored child and Leadership Development Program student, is directing a strategic plan to help Compassion-assisted children and their families rebuild and become self-sufficient.
Compassion staff members in Haiti, who want to bring change to the country, are carrying it out. The plan has four categories: food security, permanent homes, health care and financial assistance.
"The most important strategy, in my mind, is to help parents generate income," Elissant tells me as we sit on a mound of rubble in Leogane, near the epicenter of the earthquake.
We are outside Compassion's Leogane Child Development Center, where funds from Compassion donors have been used to set up a temporary school.
"We also are helping church partners rebuild," Elissant says, nodding at the interim classrooms filled with benches, desks and blackboards that Compassion has provided until repairs of the damaged school are completed.
"Before, we saw children sitting on concrete blocks, and now they have a place to learn."
All this is happening through help from Compassion sponsors and donors, Elissant says.
"It is possible to defeat poverty," he says, "because poverty is in the mind." He tells me that by providing help and encouragement, people can change their world. "I was born in it," he says, "and I am not poor."
As I witness Elissant and other Compassion staff in action, it is clear that the strategic plan is working, that little by little, hope is taking root.