In the days after the Haiti earthquake when the world was gripped with the need to know news — any news — of conditions in Haiti, Latina Lista was contacted by the International Medical Corps in the hopes that we could help spread the word that they needed donations badly to get the necessary equipment for their medical teams in order to deliver quality care to the Haitian people.
At the time, they wrote a guest post for us explaining their situation, and that of the local people. Yesterday, we received a special series of blog posts created by the International Medical Corps team still on the ground in Haiti.
Their stories are a stark reminder that the crisis is not over and there is still a need for monetary donations, because in many ways the crisis in Haiti is only just beginning…
We Need Help
Crystal Wells, Communications Officer, International Medical Corps
Saturday, February 14, 2010
“We need help.”
This is a phrase I have seen over and over again in my time in Haiti. It is plastered on crumbled walls in red spray paint. It marks camps and homes on little signs that jut out into the streets. I have seen it written in English, Spanish, French, and Creole. Some list specifics, like food, water, and shelter.
One sign created by Haitians begging the world for help.
(Photo by Dan Ming)
But wherever it is written, “we need help” is like a small beacon of hope that someone, anyone, will come with aid and they will not be forgotten.
One month has passed since the 7.0-earthquake hit Haiti and millions are still in need of aid, from food and water to shelter and medical treatment. Thousands live in makeshift camps, with four, five, or six family members huddled beneath tattered sheets held up by sticks.
There is little food, little access to clean water, and “we need help” will likely take on an even greater, perhaps more desperate meaning, as the time passes.
You can already see this happening. Along the road to Petit Goave, a coastal area roughly two hours west of Port-au-Prince, roadblocks made of rocks and sticks now accompany the signs pleading for help outside the camps.
Some of the roadblocks are discrete and easy to bypass, an attention-grabber more than a serious obstacle, but others quite literally block the road or, even worse, could demolish a vehicle.
We ran into one of these roadblocks while visiting one of our clinics in Petit Goave at a remote camp on the top of a hill above the sea. The nearby camp had taken piles of rocks to make the road completely impassable and right when we stopped, a crowd quickly gathered around our car, protesting that aid had not come. We visited their camp and, like so many in Haiti, they had barely any food, completely inadequate shelter, and little access to clean water.
Our group heard their needs, told them of our clinic just up the road and our plans to build water and sanitation systems in the area, and we were soon on our way, the rocks moved to the side by the same hands who put them there.
But this is happening all over Haiti, people who have lost everything and have nowhere to turn but to broadcast their suffering with spray paint, cardboard, or rocks with the hope that someone will hear them.
The Rainy Season Begins
Crystal Wells, Communications Officer, International Medical Corps
Monday, February 15, 2010
The rain fell a few nights ago for the first time. It started off slowly, around five in the morning or so and then came down hard enough to wake me up. The first thought I had were the thousands of people living in tent cities beneath ragged bed sheets. Even a light rain could wipe out their small shelter and this one was just a small preview of what will inevitably come.
My translator arrived at my hotel about an hour later soaked. “This is nothing, boss,” he said. “In Haiti, it rains dogs and donkeys.”
Looking at the toppled buildings, mile-long food lines, and families crouched beneath nothing more than cloth and sticks, it is hard to imagine that Mother Nature will compound the already widespread suffering in the months ahead.
The rainy season in Haiti usually begins in April or May and hurricane season quickly follows between July and November. This mid-February rainfall could be the first hint of an early season, which would be a very unwelcome twist to the recovery efforts underway here.
I traveled out to Petit Goave, a coastal area of roughly 80,000 people 68 km west of Port-au-Prince, where our water and sanitation expert, John Akudago, is working to build latrines and clean water systems. Some of the first latrines will be in Beatrice, where approximately 2,500 people have resettled in some six camps that scatter the hillsides above the sea.
His first step: making sure that women are involved in the construction, from when the first shovel hits the dirt to the final product. “Women are integral to the success of water and sanitation systems,” says Akudago. “In each community, I tell the men that the women have to be included for this to begin.”
And included they were. In the camp that we visited in Beatrice, women stood alongside the men, digging the trenches for men’s and women’s latrines and received hygiene messages, like hand washing, to share with their community.
I spoke with one woman living in the camp who had eight children, ages eight to 20 years old. It did not rain like it had in Port-au-Prince, but she worries about when the rain will come.
“But only God knows when,” she said.
To collect water, she must travel about 30 minutes roundtrip to a spring and back, but it is not potable, so it must be treated. The community, she described, is so happy and thankful for the latrines, made possible by the work of Akudago with International Medical Corps.
Back near Port-au-Prince at a camp in Carrefour, where International Medical Corps is providing health care alongside the local organization Hope for Haiti, some families were rebuilding their makeshift tents that were wiped out by the early morning rain. One young couple was lining the perimeter of their tent with cement blocks with the hope
that it will keep the runoff out when the next rain comes.
Another woman, who lives with her daughter and grandchildren in the camp, worried that the babies would fall sick during the rainy season because they will often be wet and cold.
The early rains are already transforming the shifting dirt into rivers of mud. Families, knowing how hard the rain falls, are already worrying about sturdy shelters to keep their families dry and healthy. Relief workers also have the same concerns.
“We have no toiletries and it is also hard to stay clean,” she continued, picking up her smallest grandchild from the muddy ground.
Akudago also dreads the rainy season for the hundreds of thousands of homeless.
“Sanitation is a big problem, especially in Port-au-Prince, and when it rains, the human waste will spread,” Akudago explains. “I fear that there will be an outbreak of disease when the rainy season starts.”
The rain is inevitable, but its first appearance in Port-au-Prince in mid-February could mean that it is coming early, giving very little time for the homeless to find relief before their next drubbing from Mother Nature.
But is it? Only God knows.
(Editor’s Note: Read the other blog posts sent by the International Medical Corps.)