I went to Haiti on the 15th of February, 2010 to see my family and to investigate the situation there.

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Saturday, 20 February 2010

The deadliest 35 seconds!

I went to Port-Au-Prince today and even CNN could not have prepared me for the reality of what is to be found there. I don't want to write tonight. I actually want to post the pictures but will have to wait until early tomorrow morning in order to get a faster internet connection.

If you don't mind please try something for me. Ask everyone around you to be quiet for 35 seconds and during these 35 seconds of silence imagine the sound of people screaming, imagine you chair shaking violently, imagine the walls all around moving back and forth, imagine wondering where your child, or any loved one is, and imagine your world coming to an end...

To more than 225,000 people in Haiti (and counting) this is how they spent their last 35 seconds.

Friday, 19 February 2010

It hurts!

For the first time since coming back the plight of the people is sinking in and it hurts!

Unlike most foreign correspondents, I have reference points, I have an intimate knowledge of what used to be (I was born and raised in Haiti) and when I look around I don’t just see broken down houses and chaos, the picture of what used to be is superimposed in my mind over the rubble; and it hurts!

Visiting the tent cities yesterday and looking at all these people who, in the space of 30 seconds, lost everything: mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, daughters and sons, homes, and now live in squalor not unlike the worse shanty towns I've seen, it breaks my heart!

In my travels around the world I’ve seen quite a lot of people scavenging for food but the sight of young men risking their lives pocking through the rubble of a grocery store where bodies are still trapped and rotting is truly unfathomable.

The loss of property and the loss of limb is bad enough but the one thing that is not being seen to yet, understandably so, is the psychological effect of 12 jan.  More than a month after the earthquake a lot of people are still afraid to sleep in their houses.  Perfectly strong and solid homes can be seen with tents in the front gardens because the people are terrified and will not chance another aftershock.  Even at the hospitals, recovering victims refuse to be placed in rooms therefore doctors and nurses are forced to care for them in tents.  The hospital that’s connected to the orphanage for which I’ve raised funds is experiencing the same scenario. 

I could easily succumb to this niggling temptation to be discouraged and lose hope but visiting Gladys Thomas who runs “Hopital Espoir” or hope hospital I am truly encouraged to be hopeful.  The orphanage was already meeting a great need even before the earthquake.  Abandoned and handicapped children who were not being properly looked after at the government funded general hospital were being entrusted into the care of Gladys and the Foundation for the Children of Haiti (http://www.usfch.org/). Their ethos is not one of “charity” meaning just throwing a bone at these kids.  Rather, they strive to give the children a sense of family, and a sense of dignity.  Children that come to the USFCH are cared for, kept healthy and educated.  Many have been adopted by loving families around the world and in Haiti.

Since the earthquake, they have been running beyond capacity.  The hospital has had to take in not only children but anyone in need of traumatic care.  In the days following, rooms, hallways, and the yard were filled to capacity.

Their plan for the future besides their normal programs of health care, education, and adoption is to embrace the “Amputee Generation” by starting a rehabilitation and prosthetic centre.  The only prosthetic company in the country, Saint Vincent De Paul, is in rubbles.

Yesterday I talked about the impotence of the government but thank God for non-profit organizations like the USFCH.  They are the future, they are the hope.  Haitians, it seems, can’t wait on their government.  They must join forces and with all the help they can get start rebuilding their society from the grassroots.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Who's in charge anyway?

At the end of my last post I said I would assess the situation. People are frustrated and why?

To be fair, one must understand that the situation in Haiti is difficult for all involved. By all, I mean the people of Haiti and the organizations that are trying to help.

This morning I visited an orphanage where I saw some amputee children. It’s really understating it to say that their lives have been disrupted but in spite of it all, they still manage to smile. 

The problem is not only physical. The mental repercussions will also be great. Haiti does not have a good track record dealing with members of the population who are maimed. In fact, according to Phadoul Amizial, the public relations representative for the orphanage, handicaps have traditionally been treated like animals, often tied to a tree to allow the caretaker to go out. The most fortunate count it a blessing to be able to beg on the street.

Now with a possible 300,000 physically handicap members of society, Haiti will have to look at them differently, the population will need to be educated in order to understand that they too are “normal” people. The infrastructure will need to cater to their needs and the education system will need to adapt as well. The coming generation will truly be known as the “Amputee Generation”.

Following my visit to the orphanage, I went to the tent city situated at “Place Boyer”, a park that was one of my hangouts as a teen. What a sight! I expected to see sad, angry people. To my surprise, they were very welcoming, busy going about their lives, washing, cooking, building shelter and hoping. Hoping that something will be done soon to rebuild their homes, their schools, their playgrounds… their lives.

Yet, in an interview with a local journalist with contacts in the government and the diplomatic circles things don’t look hopeful, at least not for now. You might have heard that tents had arrived in Haiti. Well, the tent cities I’ve seen are more like bed sheet and tarpaulin cities. Only a few tents have been distributed. I’ve received different reports. One says that not enough have been sent to the country, the other advocates that they are there, in storage, but there is no coordination for effective distribution.

I believe it’s a bit of both. I am sure that more tents need to be donated, but there is the coordination situation. So here is my assessment. I will not call it my conclusion since there is so much more still to investigate. But my assessment is that the government in Haiti is truly impotent. There is a vacuum of leadership. Consequently, the many ONGs who are trying to help are left to their own devises, often replicating work that is already being done by other ONGs. There is not a plan of action. There is not a central body lead by the government that is directing the efforts. I have received reports of ONGs being territorial. I have heard reports of experts, “latrine experts” spending more time on their laptops projecting, pie charting and pontificating about latrines rather than building the things.

I have heard reports of experts coming in “guns blazing” disregarding the expertise of the local doctors, nurse, etc…

The international community has amazingly responded to the needs of Haiti. People all over the world have given of their hard earned money, I hope… the people living in the tent or should I say tarpaulin cities hope that politics and egos will not jeopardize their return to normality.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick” Proverb 13:12

A few pictures

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Crossing and getting there

Finally made it to Haiti but not before a long day crossing from the Dominican Republic. My day started the day before really as I hardly slept last night; a combination of over tiredness, excitement and nervousness made it impossible to rest. Breakfast at 6:00 am, a taxi ride to the bus station, and a three hour wait for our 11:00 am departure.

The trip was uneventfull, though it was awesome to be in the company of Haitians again after 13 years. The air was filled with French, English and Creole all mixing together expressing the good nature of my fellow countrymen. A short stop at the border allowed me to enjoy the typical vibrancy of a Haitian market with the merchants trying to sell me all sorts of things that I did not need nor wanted.

After the border crossing it was about one hour when I started to see signs of the earthquake. A few houses here and there with walls down or completely flattened, tents in front gardens as many people are still afraid to go back into their homes. Coming closer to town the picture got worse with more buildings down and pockets of tent cities, they look worse in reality than in the pictures.

My heart leaped when I saw my dad waiting for me at the station, after a long hug and kisses, we were in the car and the picture unfolding before me was not getting any better. According to my family, I have not seen anything yet, tomorrow will be the heartbreak. On our way though I passed what was the grocery store my parents used. It is completely destroyed and there are still bodies under the rubble.

Mum was as beautiful as ever and again just as with dad, we hugged for a long time and I did not want to let go of her. Without any delay the stories started to be told. The schools are still not functioning as so many of the buildings are not safe. Aid and ressources are in the country but co-ordination is still a nightmare. There is still a void of leadership from the government, it feels like that there is no government and consequently the different aid agencies are doing their own thing without anyone to unify them. The country is over run by experts many of whom are yet to put their expertise to good use.

Oh, a lot is being done, but there is so much more to do and the people are frustrated. I'll have to go out tomorrow and assess all this for myself. I really don't recognise the place!

Made it to the Dominican Republic

I arrived late at night (16th February) in the Dominican Republic.  It all went smoothly except that the taxi driver over charged me for the fare to the hotel.  Oh well, that happens.  I will be leaving early in the morning by bus for Haiti.