Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Team Members Join Blog

Now that I’m back in Minneapolis, our relief workers on the ground in Haiti will continue to post updates on our response. The first contributor will be Leora Ward, Emergency Protection Officer. Leora is based in Washington, D.C., and has been working in Haiti the past couple weeks. Her job is to ensure that women and children, who are more vulnerable in emergency situations, are protected and their needs are being met. Leora’s posts from the past couple weeks will go up tomorrow.

Thank you for continuing to follow this story. Even though media coverage has decreased, the needs in Haiti are still incredible. And they won’t go away any time soon.

We’re still working in Fond Parisien and Terraine D’Acra — giving medical care, providing clean water, setting up shelters, and managing the settlements. We intend to stay as long as we’re needed.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Last Day in Haiti

Photos: (top to bottom: 1) drilling a well, 2) Fistun, and 3) little girl leaving in the settlement with ARC relief worker Shannon)

Yesterday was my last day in Haiti. I decided that rather than fly out to Santo Domingo, I wanted to see how our team was doing at our settlement in Fond Parisien (an hour's drive east of Port-Au-Prince). I'm glad I did.

When I left our team there, we were putting up the first tents for the settlement and digging the latrines. So much has happened since:
*84 people have moved into the settlement, patients recovering from injuries and their families.
*There is a mobile health clinic that comes to the camp each day to check on patients recovering
*A well was being dug into the aquifer to provide the people with clean water.
*More and more tents were going up all the time.
*Each family had a kit of essentials like soap, diapers, a basin and other items.
*And we distributed food for everyone living in the camp while I was there = beans, sardines, rice, biscuits, Plumpy Nut, and more.

The people living there were all happy that they had the things they needed and a space of their own.

I'm glad, because all of these people have been through terrible things. I met one young man in the camp named Fistun.

Fistun had arrived at the camp the night before. He lost his family to the earthquake. He accompanied his mother, who was injured, to the clinic nearby our settlement. His mother wasn't able to recover and she passed away at the clinic. Fistun then came to live at our settlement.

When he came to the settlement, Fistun cried for hours in his tent. The women in the settlement were finally able to calm him.

Fistun has already started to make the settlement more like home. He was fixing up his tent when I met him, and he had hung up some paintings he painted inside. One of the women asked him how he was doing. He said "petit-petit" better.

This is why we're here - to help Haitians like Fistun recover from the earthquake, physically and mentally.

Thanks so much for following me on my first emergency response. I hope my reflections helped give you an idea of the issues Haitians are dealing with. The Haiti recovery effort will last for years. If you'd like to support the American Refugee Committee's efforts, go online to and click donate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sights, Sounds, Smells at Terraine D'Acra

I realized I never described Terraine D'Acra. The land belongs to a factory nearby. It's at the convergence of a few different neighborhoods in the Delmas area of the city. 5,000 people are living there, organized based on the neighborhood they are from.

When you walk through the doors to the settlement, there is trash. Trash everywhere. No one lived in this area before the earthquake, but it seems like it may have been used to dump garbage. A small stream runs through the camp, clogged with trash. The stench is very unpleasant.

People have located their makeshift shelters far enough away from the stream that you can't smell it. The whole area is very hilly. Shelters meander up the hill, with structures on each side of a 'main street'.

If you look at the settlement from the top of the hill, you see sticks driven into the ground in all of the open areas. People have searched for wood wherever they can and begun building the foundation for shelter. But there's not enough wood to complete these shelters, and it doesn't seem people have anything to create a roof with.

Some things about life here are normal. Kids are running around playing everywhere. People are trying to support their families. Women are cooking food to sell to others in the camp.

But people here need help. There's no latrines. People need help building shelter. Access to water is limited. And many people need medical attention. We're getting started by distributing shelter supplies and opening a clinic in the camp. But, there's still a ways to go to get all the essentials for this settlement of 5,000 people.

Stay tuned for more updates from D'Acra.

Clinic Day at Terraine D'Acra

1) Doctor sees a mother and child at the clinic.
2) A woman waits with her child for care.
3) Community leaders plan the layout of the settlement (Latrines, safe spaces for women and children, etc. ..) With American Refugee Committee relief worker Eric James.

Yesterday was a big day at D'Terraine Acra settlement in Port-Au-Prince. We set up a health clinic in D'Acra and saw our first 90 patients - some who had quake-related injuries, who had some health issues related to the conditions in the settlement, and some who simply needed care for everyday issues. Along with our partner organization Egale Aimer serve and another local organization, We Were Able to treat patients and distribute medications to those who needed them. But, at the end of the day the line for the clinic was still very long. Our team has returned there this morning to continue providing care to all who need it.

There was significant progress on planning the Terraine D'Acra settlement, too. In all our work, the American Refugee Committee strives to involve the community in our work from Step 1. The people are living in this settlement, they need to have a voice in how it will function. They know best what they need.

Eric James, our Director of Program Development, sat down with the community leaders and hashed out what should be located where in the settlement. He offered our own expertise in managing such sites as well. After a couple of hours they had a rough plan that everyone was happy with.

Steps like these may seem cumbersome, but without them we might end up creating settlements and programs that do not make sense or function the way the community needs them to.

Today, we'll begin working with the community to develop spaces that are safe and friendly for children living at Terraine D'Acra.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Terraine D'Acra

Internet has been a major difficulty here in Port-au-Prince. I actually texted my last blog post to a friend to post.

There have been lots of developments since I last wrote. Yesterday, we began managing a settlement of 5,000 at Terraine D'Acra in the Delmas area of the city. I toured the very hilly settlement yesterday. (Wish I could send video, but it would certainly fail. Maybe a photo.)

People have begun putting up their own shelters in this area. Wooden stakes and tree branches stick up out of the ground everywhere. People are trying to get whatever materials they can to create shelter.

Fortunately, we had a shipment of tarps arrive from the United States yesterday and today by plane. (There has been an outpouring of support from companies in the form of tents, tarps, medicines, etc. It's terrific!) This morning, we're distributing tarps to the community so that people can get a roof up over their heads. Since the earthquake happened, no rain has fallen in the city. But the situation will become even worse if we begin getting rain and people have no shelter. We'll continue distributing tarps until all in the settlement have shelter.

We're also doing a clinic today. Dr. Bill Markle from Pennsylvania, an American Refugee Committee volunteer, has recruited a medical team to help him stage a clinic at Terraine D'Acra today. With medicines from our shipment, they'll be able to see patients who really need care.

In the coming days, we'll be working to construct latrines in the settlement and create spaces that are safe for women and children.

Yesterday, I met John, a 3-year-old boy living at the settlement at Terraine D'Acra. He offered our team a lick of the lollipop he was enjoying. We politely declined. John was goofy, fooling around, and having a lot of fun, as a 3-year-old should. It was a great thing to see. The hardship of what has happened to his family hasn't quite reached him yet. Our goal is to help John's family get shelter, water, essential supplies, sanitation and a safe environment so he won't have to worry about his family's situation.

Here is a photo of Perry Witkin, an American Refugee Committee board member who helped us organize the cargo plane shipment and distribution, traveling with it from Minneapolis to Haiti.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Place to Heal

Chris is currently without an internet connection, so he sent this update at 11 p.m. (midnight his time) via text message:

Today at Fond Parisien we hit the ground running on our settlement for patients and families living at clinics in the surrounding area. It's a good thing, too. The clinics are doing incredible work, but they're set up primarily to take care of patients. Children have nothing to keep them busy. Adults have nothing to do. And there's very little privacy for families.

Our settlement is ready to accept patients tomorrow. Today we got 20 large tents up and dug and built latrines. Thanks to many generous donors, we have lots of supplies for the camp, too. And the camp will have spaces for children to play and adults to relax.

New patients continue to arrive at the clinics, and there isn't enough space. We got our settlement up and running in the nick of time. I was glad I got the chance to help set up the tents. I'm back in Port-au-Prince now. I hope to see the settlement again, this time with people there and patients continuing to heal.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

At Fond Parisien

Part of our Haiti relief Team has been working near the border with the Dominican Republic at a place called Love the Child. Love the Child is an orphanage that has graciously opened its doors to become a kind of field clinic for people who were injured in the earthquake. There are 130 patients here plus all of their family members.

The clinic is focused mostly on post-operative care, which is a gap in this emergency. Back in Port-Au-Prince, one of the greatest concerns is with follow-up care. There are so many people in need of urgent care and surgeries, that quickly developing a plan for follow-up care has been difficult for organizations providing medical care. As a result, people who've had amputations or other surgeries develop infections and go through trauma all over again.

This clinic has been able to ensure that people are recovering fully.

The care at this compound is very good. And the conditions are good. But it is still a very sad situation. Today, a young girl arrived by ambulance from a different hospital - so that she could receive good after-care here. She had what looked like a broken wrist and her foot had been amputated.

We were discussing the other night how long it will take for Haitians to get over the trauma the country has experienced. As with this little girl, signs of the earthquake will remain for an entire generation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photos from Port Au Prince over the last few days

1. A photo from one of the tent cities where people have congregated in the city.
2. A man in front of a building demolished by the quake.
3. A boy playing in a different tent city. Some of the tent cities are in parks where kids might have an area to play. Others are so cramped there is very little space for anything.
4. Destruction from the earthquake.
5. One of the many signs that people have hung up around Port-Au-Prince appealing for help with food, water, first aid.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Food Distribution

Today we did a food distribution at four different sites in the Delmas area of the city - at 3 of the tent cities that have popped up throughout the city and at one other location.

We targetted the distribution primarily to mothers with small children who might need the food the most. Pregnant mothers received double. We did also distribute to the elderly and some men. In total, we reached 2,200 people today with food.

At the distribution, I met Milia (above). Milia is 20 years old. Today he's living alone with his cousin. The rest of his family died in the earthquake. Milia has no food. No money to buy food. He's finished with university, but he can't find work in Haiti. Without a job and with his whole family gone, Milia can't purchase food for himself and his cousin. He and his cousin are living wherever they can find space right now.

"My house is dirt. My family is dirt. My country is dirt. Haiti is a mess right now. This country is a mess."

Milia's case is not uncommon. Haiti had problems before this happened. And the earthquake has made things many times worse for the people.

The American Refugee Committee wants to get people like Milia to work, cleaning the streets, digging latrines at the tent settlements, or doing other work. It will help the country get back to normal more quickly, but, most importantly, it will give people like Milia a shot at supporting himself and his cousin.

We have another distribution tomorrow morning. People are in serious need of hygiene products, so we're delivering family hygiene kits (soap, laundry soap, basin, towels, etc.) to 1,000 families tomorrow at yet another tent city. I'll let you knwo tomorrow how that goes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In Delmas area

We visited the Delmas area of the city. This was the worst destruction I've seen so far. Buildings down everywhere. How the earth can contort and demolish the buildings is astounding.
Every open area of the city - parks, schools, etc. - has now become tent cities. People have strung up sheets to try and create some shade from the sun. And there are thousands of people packed into small spaces. I don't think there were a lot of open spaces in the city to begin with. People are receiving little to no services - clean water, health, food, etc. - at many of these sites.
We're working with the government for the Delmas area of the city to get life-saving support to people in these tent cities. We want to create some temporary structures for families who are now homeless and living in tent cities. There are also those people who have remained close to their flattened homes, reluctant to leave. We have to make these people feel comfortable enough they can leave their homes and get access to water, food, medical care and shelter elsewhere.
On a last note, people in Port-Au-Prince are trying to get on with life. Markets are opening. People are selling things (what there is to sell), trying to get water. Occasionally laughing. It's the rest of our (the world) responsibility to help them do that successfully.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Port-Au-Prince

We arrived in Port-Au-Prince today and met up with the rest of our team who've been here since last Thursday. We saw a glimpse of the destruction the earthquake has caused. But I'm told it's nothing compared to most of the rest of the city (will give a report of that tomorrow).

As I'm sure you've heard, there was another quake (6.0, I think) centered just outside of Port-Au-Prince today. Our part of the team was still in Dominican Republic, so we didn't feel it. But, the team members who were in Port-Au-Prince did. They're both fine. But I think the after-shock definitely made Haitians even more scared.

A team member was coming back into the UN compound yesterday evening when he encountered stones in the street. Apparently, people are too scared to sleep indoors. So, entire neighborhoods are sleeping out in the street, putting stones at either end to stop cars from running them over in the middle of the night.

More tomorrow.

Jimani Clinic

We arrived at the clinic this morning, around 730 am. We delivered essential supplies for nearly 600 patients who are being treated at the clinic + their family members (each patient probably has 2 or 3 family members with them).

We brought hygiene kit items like soap, towels, diapers, feminine pads, toothbrushes and paste that are essential in emergencies. We also brought mosquito nets, fresh bedding, and lots of cleaning supplies to help maintain the clinic. And soccer balls for something for the kids to do.

People are still arriving here for help. Yesterday there were 80 new arrivals and more are expected today. Injuries are very serious. People who must have limbs amputated, burns, and other serious injuries from cinder block structures falling on top of them.

This is a well-equipped but small clinic. There's not enough room for all of those people who need care and there is no place for people to go once they've been treated. Our team is working on a solution for people who've fled Port-Au-Prince and need shelter and basic services.

On to Port-Au-Prince.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To the Clinic at Jimani

In a few minutes, we're headed to the clinic at Jimani run by Dorothy Vale and Dale (I'm not sure his last name), in a partnership with Mayo Clinic and others. The clinic is just a few km on the Dominican side of the border. Stephanie and Eric from our team visited the clinic yesterday.

Their description of the clinic was like a scene from a Hollywood film. Haitians are being taken by helicopter from Port-Au-Prince for care at the clinic. The small clinic is seeing 300 patients. Doctors are running around treating injuries of the very worst kinds. People are laying on mattresses, outside, on the ground. In the last 40 hours, the doctors have done 60 amputations.

They're low on certain supplies we hope to get them today: bedsheets, IVs, mattresses, stretchers, Adult diapers, masks, scrubs, wheelchairs, walkers, pillows, bed pans, toothbrushes, towels, cleaning supplies, antiseptic, cots, garbage bags. And body bags and a way to dispose of amputated limbs.

Many families left Port-Au-Prince to accompany their family members to the clinic. Up to 500 people are at Jimani and, with more arriving, they're trying to figure out a long-term way to shelter these people. We hope to help with that as well.

More updates later.

Plane to Santo Domingo

I got on a plane yesterday afternoon headed for the Dominican Republic to join our relief team that's helping people in Haiti. I'm sure you've been paying atttention to everything happening in Haiti since the huge earthquake hit. People are hurt and need medical attention. People need shelter, their homes have been destroyed. And they need food and clean water. We're helping.

The team has been in Port-Au-Prince in Haiti since Thursday last week. We have a seasoned team with members who've lived in Haiti, traveled widely, and responded to many other emergencies. seasoned team with members who've lived in Haiti, traveled widely, and responded to many other emergencies. But this is my first time joining an emergency response.

My role on the team is communications - to send everything I'm seeing - back to all of you. To be a voice for Haitians who've lost everything, suddenly and with no warning. And to be the eyes, ears and heart for people who don't see this first-hand

I had plenty of time to think on the 8-hour plane journey to Santo Domingo. I've seen the photos on television like everyone else of people whose lives have fallen apart. Of kids who've lost their parents. Of people who've been badly injured. Of the mass graves.

The whole way my single question was: how will I react? How will I be able to process the terrible stories I hear? And the incredible suffering?