Friends, Family, and generous Donors,
Where do I begin? Any attempt on my part to convey through words the tragedy that has unfolded here would be futile. Everything in Haiti , from the suffering experienced by its people, to the resilience they show against the struggle, is incredible. In an effort to at least give you an update on the happenings down here, I feel it’s worth passing along a few stories from the last couple days in Port au Prince….
It pays to have connections. After numerous issues with my least favorite airline in the world, American Airlines, Gigi and I arrived in the Dominican Republic with an entourage waiting for us at airport; four cars with 9 people from FNJD (a nonprofit acronym that is too long and confusing to spell out) to be exact. FNJD was a huge help with not only Transpo, but with getting our accompanying 700 lbs of supplies across the border in a hassle free fashion as well. The FNJD organization, made up of well educated, upper class Haitians, has been our primary vessel for distributing supplies and providing medical care in the city of Port au Prince.
Upon arrival in Port au Prince, FNJD dropped us at the front door of some welcoming friends that own a small but prestigious school; like the rest of the country’s educational institutions, classes are currently not in session. We are sleeping at the school in a classroom that has a tin-roof overhead and have access to bucket showers, a basketball court, security, and generator electricity at night. Comparatively speaking, we’re staying at the Four Seasons.
Shock and Awe. “This is the worst humanitarian disaster I’ve ever seen—ever.” Those were the sentiments passed on to me by Major Matt Bray, one of the commanding officers in charge of US military ops here in Haiti . Through one of Gigi’s never-ending connections, we had the opportunity to get into the US Embassy (which, no doubt, is the nicest building in the country) to meet with Major Bray, with hopes of making some connections with USAID to gain access to long term project funding for Youthaiti.
His sentiments on the status of the capital city weren’t an exaggeration.
In some of the worst hit areas of Port au Prince, 2 out of every 3 buildings is now a pile of rubble. Smashed between layers of broken concrete where homes, schools and hospitals once stood, you can see cars, clothes, toys and the rest of what remains from the lives of the hidden bodies that are buried below. There is no electricity, no clean water, absolutely no sanitation services, and for those without means, very little food. Yesterday, on the way to do a mobile medical clinic, we drove past a line of women that stretched for over a mile, all waiting in line to get a small ration of rice from a US military patrolled UN disaster relief compound. People will stand in line for 8 hours in 90 degree heat to get a few cups of rice. The city is literally broken.
At the mobile medical clinic on Tuesday, Gigi along with three Haitian physicians treated over 300 patients at Gressier, an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp of around 2,500 people living in an open area under tarps and in small tents. The last patient of the day, who personally, became the most memorable, was an18 year old student who was in college studying linguistics when the quake hit. Part of the bond I felt for him came from his ability to speak English; without a language barrier, I knew he was intelligent and had big plans for the future. The rest came as he held onto me, screaming, as I sucked the puss out of the infected stitches on his amputated leg with a syringe.
Rising Up. There is a great deal of camaraderie amongst the survivors of the earthquake. Much like the effect 9/11 had on American citizens, the earthquake has become a rallying point for the people. And although many are not happy with the way the government is handling the recovery efforts, there is an air of patriotism in the Haitian people that is as evident as the destruction surrounding them. A degree of uncertainty is in their eyes, yet amongst all the confusion, there is an element of order and respect. Organizations are here from every corner of the globe, performing an incredible amount of humanitarian aid, all of which has been greatly welcomed and appreciated. It may sound cliché to talk of the long road ahead and the resilience needed by the people of Haiti to make it through, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The people I’ve met over the past few days don’t hide their doubts, but they make damn sure to follow up those doubts with a statement of confidence, assuring me that no matter what it takes, they’ll rise above.
More to come…. Thank you to everyone for the well wishes and prayers.