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Bahamians on the ground in Haiti

February 16, 2010

The Rotary has been on the ground in Haiti helping with relief and recovery efforts. Check out these first hand accounts:

“The Battle for Haiti” by Shaun Ingraham

The decision to come to Haiti to assist with the relief and recovery efforts was not a difficult one to make. However, I must say that the images seen on television made me think twice about my safety. Even up to the last three minutes before the flight from Odyssey Aviation (Phil and Gavin) took off into the wide blue yonder leaving me and my fellow volunteer fire fighter Tyson on the grass runway in Pignon, I was still wondering if I had done the right thing.

My first contact with Haiti came when I trained with UN CMCoord in the Dominican Republic in anticipation of a catastrophe in Haiti. My second connection came when I was invited to join a team of Habitat for Humanity International staff to develop a disaster response programme here. So when my Fellow Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Eleuthera and the Bahamas and other well wishers whom I will thank publicly later, gave me their full support to travel to Haiti, it was the affirmation that I needed to begin to make plans.

My first two nights in Haiti were spent in the City of Pignon, which is about 60 miles south of Port-au-Prince and has begun to feel the weight of this catastrophe by having to accommodate and feed and tend to the homeless and wounded from “the port”. Some estimates suggest that the population has increased by 75 per cent. One wonders how many more the town can absorb without breaking into chaos.

Local pastor, community leader, Rotarian and Habitat for Humanity International partner Caleb Lucien is optimistic. He says, “We will take them in as they come and provide for them. I believe God will give us the strength to do it.”

From Pignon, we travelled a 60 mile road at approximately 30 miles per hour because of the deteriorated road conditions. Upon arriving in the city, we were met by lines of people that snaked for at least a mile and a half. The lines moved off the street and onto an open field where military personnel policed two truck loads of food.

The first ration line was closely followed by a second. There was a third line about a mile and a half long at the US Embassy. People were frantically seeking visas to exit the country.

My first trip around the city came with Fellow Rotarian George Nickolas, who is one of Rotary’s on the ground people in Port-au-Prince. After showing me containers of food and medicines supplied by Rotary, George proceeded to take me to at least five different locations where Rotary’s shelter box tents had been erected. As we visited the camps George spoke and laughed with the people and listened tentatively to their concerns. Once we got inside the vehicle George expressed his total fatigue and need for rest, due to the fact that he had not rested since January 13. He revealed that he too had been left homeless.

read the full editorial in The Tribune published 4 Feb 2010

“There are Too Many People in Haiti” – a quote from the author’s colleague responding to the amount of traffic in the capital city – referring to the amount of people in Haiti – the massive amounts of military and NGOs. This piece is an insightful commentary on the lack of distribution, failed infrastructure, and unhelpful NGO’s all contributing to the devastation. The piece ends with a reminder from the author’s friend: “we have to make sure our help is helpful” — editorial by Shaun Ingraham:

TODAY I drove through the downtown area of the city for the fist time along with fellow Rotarian George Nicolas (I now call him St Nic after all of his distribution efforts). I was on the phone with fellow Rotarian Dick McCombe who was back in Nassau trying to co-ordinate the arrival of another flight of medicine and other logistical support. I mentioned to Dick that the best way that I could describe it was like a bomb had been dropped in the centre of town. Building after building had either partially or totally collapsed. The most striking of all was the palace, the central nerve of the government and the symbol of prosperity and stability.

The government has abandoned the city centre for obvious reasons and the internally displaced people now occupy the side walks, park areas, and even the rooftops. Tents and tarps were everywhere. Hanging on the security rails were the laundry of the new inhabitants of the city streets.

As we passed the new living quarters of the displaced, we looked into the eyes and faces of the people. It was hard to read their thoughts but their actions suggested that it was business as usual. No matter what happened on the other side of the palace fence, the people know that for the most part, they have to pretty much make life happen themselves.

They bought out their daily goods that they had for sale, in some cases you could even get the latest in aid rations at a great price. A staff member of an one aid organisation, after seeing one of their kits for sale, joked and said they could buy the disaster kit cheaper on the street then they had bought them from the manufacturer.

Some of the newly displaced were repositioning or strengthening their tents. A common scene in and around the camps is persons either clothed or partially nude washing from a broken tap or a barrel of water. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to stay clean. The lack of privacy makes it difficult for one to take photos or be fully engaged with the local community. The occasional child begging for food or water from afar or running behind our vehicle was heart wrenching. We know there is not a lack of food in Haiti as the food stores have reopened. We do know that there is a distribution problem.

read the full editorial in The Tribune published 8 Feb 2010

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