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

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Off line

I may be off line a few days as I am going to see what is happening in the smaller cities and visit a resort that is doing its part in the effort to help...  I'll be back as soon as possible.

So I cling to my hope

This afternoon I had an interview with Bill Wholbrook Director for Mercy Corp Haiti, who happens to be the first person yet to give me a hopeful insight into the future of the country.  According to Bill, if the earthquake had hit a secondary city it would not have created such chaos both in human loss and in the infrastructure of the place.  Port-au-Prince was the centre of everything: government, industry, education etc…  And people flocked into the capital in search of a better life and the city was not coping with its population of 3 million.

Now that it is levelled, one must then look at the enormous opportunity to turn things around:  “I see an enormous opportunity here and I am extremely hopeful because I think everyone realizes that priority one is the revitalization of the grassroots economy… and the development of the departments (counties) outside Port-au-Prince.  If we can come together as an international community and create real long-term jobs outside of Port-au-Prince … we’ll be able to turn things around.  This is the time, and the international community understands that, to make the necessary investments to turn the country into what the Haitians want to country to be, not what Americans want the country to be, what the Canadians want the country to be, what the French want the country to be…  So I cling to my hope.”

Bill Wholbrook and Special Advisor to the President Mr. Jean Renald Clerisme

After our chat, we were driven with full security details to the inauguration, by First Lady Mrs. Elizabeth Preval, of “Place Ti Moun” (Children’s Park) a psycho-social program through which Mercy Corp and the Dominican Republic government are partnering to offer children from six to ten years old help in returning to a normal life.

First Lady Mrs. Elizabeth Preval

Since January 12 schools have not reopened, and this generation of children has seen more than its fair share of horror.  The secret to turning Haiti around may be to empower the people with skills, training and the creation of jobs aiming to close the gap between the vast uneducated lower class and the tiny upper class, but it is also to equip the poor children so they don’t fall into the same trap as their parents before them.

The work being carried out at “Place Ti Moun” starts with helping parents understand that their kids have been adversely affected by the earthquake and will aim to help them handle the change in behaviour that is already evident, thus avoiding conflicts that would eventually eat away at the already disturbed family unit.  “We’ve seen that in other disaster areas like China and other countries where I have worked and this program does a good job at training parents so they can help in stabilizing the young ones” said Griff Samples, a Psychologist with Mercy Corp.

Children are the future of the country.  So while the immediate need of relief and of creating a better life for the adults of today is important and necessary, ensuring a stable generation of future adults is the key to continuous growth and development from within.

To the question: “How long will rebuilding take?” Bill’s answer was:  “No one knows!”

Indeed no one knows… Yet I hope that a year from now the NGOs will not pull out as has happened so many times before.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's not funny!

Laughter does indeed help people to cope but today I followed my brother, Dr. Reginald Lubin, into the camps where he oversees health and hygiene for World Vision and funny is not how I would describe the plight of the displaced people.

Many of these camps were set up in haste as people abandoned their houses after 12 Jan. Not everyone there lost their homes but the fear of being in a cement block house has driven some to seek refuge there. Again, I understand as this morning we had two more aftershocks, one of them at 1:26 am measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale.

Reorganising these places poses a serious challenge. Coordinating the NGOs hasn’t been easy. As I mentioned in one of my earlier entries, each organization is doing its own thing, at times duplicating work that is already being done. Food distribution is not regular and when it happens a lack of systems and procedure gives way to riots.

Hygiene is nonexistent, clean water needs to be brought in, toilets and showers need to be built and the health issues are a time bomb waiting for the last tick. One of the nurses told me that if mobilization and education of the people is not done quickly, we will soon have to deal with all sorts of epidemic such as dysentery, malaria, scabies, as well as sexually transmitted diseases and a surge in pregnancies followed later on by HIV/AIDS.

To achieve all this, local volunteers, many of them nurses, are partnering with actors and troubadours, teaching, putting on plays and paying personal visits to the tents to answer questions and to encourage them to go to the mobile clinics. According to Dr.Lubin they think they will have to pay, which is not the case. Until they understand that, infections that can otherwise be easily treated will spread and become harder to contain.

Eventually I believe that those who own houses will go back. The issue is with those who have lost everything. What will they do? When will they be relocated? How long before permanent shelters or homes are made available?

Another concern is that of food. An ancient proverb says that “empty stomachs have no ears”, that too is showing to be true as the volunteers report that often their message is not getting through because of the hunger.

I’ve noticed that the main news channels have basically moved on to other fields. Haiti is no longer news; there are no more dead bodies to show. I hope that the people will not be forgotten.
Haiti is a long term project. Rebuilding will take years; it is not a quick fix.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Laughter best medicine

Going around Port-au-Prince Saturday shocked me deeply. Almost all the places I knew in the city centre are gone, my high school, my music school, even my tech college. Many people I knew are gone. I went to look for one of my old friend’s shop. Winding my way through the rubble I finally found it, well, found where it used to be, a multi storey building flat as a pancake.

Yet, one month and one week after the quake, what I saw was VERY mild, really, compared to the sights, the sounds, and the smells of that day! I did not see the streets lined up with stacked up cadavers. I did not see that sobbing dad carrying his dead daughter’s body with desperation in his eyes which seemed to say “can someone change this?” I did not see nor hear crushed and trapped people begging for help, or the trapped man who lost his wife and six children pleading to be left to die. He eventually starved himself to death after his rescue. The stories I hear are horrendously surreal. One man chopped his father’s arm off in order to rescue him from under a wall post.

There are also odd stories of “unlucky” deaths and lucky escapes. This man flew in earlier that afternoon from overseas and instead of going home, met some friends at the Hotel Montana for a drink. The whole thing collapsed on top of him. One of his mates went out for a fag (cigarette for the non brits) and escaped without a scratch, I doubt he’ll be quitting anytime soon. Some of these stories in hindsight are actually funny to the people recounting them. And humour is exactly one of the elements that is helping people to cope.

Someone once said that laughter is the best medicine, according to what I am witnessing there is a lot of truth in this statement. The other night I sat around a table listening to stories of the quake recounted with humour, for a while there I did not get it but then it made sense. Laugh untill you cry and feel better!

Today I experienced my first tremor at 4:36 am. I felt the 4.7 shake and bolted out of the house grabbing, on my way out, my rucksack containing my camera and video equipment, my boots, and my trousers all of which I left by the bed ready for a quick get out. My brother who lived through the initial quake was faster out then me, but totally empty handed. As we stood outside waiting, we looked at each other and burst into laughter; two grown half naked men, one (me) attempting to get dressed while readying his equipment for the eventual crash, the other completely puzzled by the fact that I wasted a precious second grabbing my things.

After a while we did go back in to sleep but now I understand the effect of the quake on the psyche of those who survived it. Now I think hard before entering a big building. As I write the first draft of this copy I am sitting in the conference room of World Vision and I find myself thinking of all possible escape routes. I am checking the table out, making sure it is strong enough to hide under or if the cross beams look solid enough? I don’t appreciate it when people bang on doors causing the slightest of vibrations.

Yesterday Romi told me he will never sleep in a house for the rest of his life. I no longer find that odd, I understand!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

See it!

A tent city with a US navy compound in the background

The main business street in down town Port-au-Prince

Yet, life has to go on

Scavenging for metal to make some money

A lady walking past the National Palace

The Cathedral


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A blind man singing about the situation

This is where I learned to play the violin
Well... tried...

My High school

None of the houses stayed up on this street

Everyone was affected, rich and poor

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

                                                      Ecclesiastes 3:1-8