Last week my daughter, Tanya, and Iwent to Haiti. We packed, with the help of some very good friends, 5 large duffle bags of food and medical supplies to carry to the people who were terribly stricken by the January 12th earthquake, and the ensuing aftermath.
It's very hard to put into words what we witnessed. We felt profound sadness and saw destruction of a magnitude that cannot be rivaled. I realize that we are not "disaster relief" experts, and therefore have not been around to see other tragedies, but I doubt that anything can match what we saw when we went into Port au Prince one month after the earthquake.
Devastation in Port au Prince
The two of us wanted to help with our own hands, not just by throwing money at the hundreds of NGO's and other groups who wanted donations from the world. We felt it was better for the people of Haiti to actually put a face to the help they wanted and needed desperately. Caring about humanity means more than shaking our heads in horror.
After speaking with Tyler Westbrook, a friend, we came up with a plan to travel to Santo Domingo, DR, and then to "Good Samaritan Hospital" located on the border of Haiti in Jimani, DR. Tyler and I know each other from years of anti-war protests and street activism. He has been documenting anti-war actions on WhyNotNews.org. Being the mother of a US Marine who did three tours, one in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, I am opposed to all wars and am against the growing US Empire. Over the last 9 years I have developed a perspective as to what has happened and will continue to happen to countries such as Haiti where US oppression and military intervention has caused people so much pain and suffering.
When we left Santo Domingo early Tuesday morning we met Paul, who we didn't know at the time would be our guide throughout the trip. Paul was traveling home to Haiti to see his family for the first time since the quake. He didn't lose anyone, but this was his first time back and didn't know what to expect. It took us 6 hours on a long bus ride to Jimani, where we were met by Tyler and a priest from a Haitian orphanage, Rev. Bourdeau. Piling our supplies in the back of the pickup truck, my daughter on top, we drove to the hospital. A brand new structure the hospital sat alone amongst huts and shacks. Inside the compound were about 100 patients with all kinds of horrific injuries from the collapse of buildings inside Haiti, along with about 100 doctors, nurses, EMT's, and staff who volunteered on their own time and dollar to respond to this tragedy.
Three huge tents were arranged on the grounds, and inside, beds strewn about on top of dirt and rocks with patients ranging from infants to adults, all with broken bodies being mended by the adept hands of the medical teams. We were lucky to stay there. The hospital had rooms for us with beds and bathrooms. When we first started our trip we were prepared to sleep in a tent on sleeping bags in the middle of Haiti if we had to. But as luck would have it, that was not the case.
Upon our arrival, we jumped into medical scrubs and started working. Tanya assisted in the operating room, mopping up blood from an amputation which was performed on a young woman whose arm was infected. This, we found out, was the norm. A limb being taken to save a life was standard procedure in the aftermath of the quake. We witnessed it first hand on our first day. Later on that afternoon, a 6 month old baby died from internal infections. And so our trip started.
Dominican Republic Military Guards
The next day we discovered that the military was posted around the hospital to keep the patients from leaving. The local military chief stopped by to say that they were going to close the hospital to Haitian patients in 2 weeks. The medical staff was extremely upset, and were now rushed to care for the sick only to send them back to unsanitary conditions.
Politics once again played a role.The DR's patience had run out for the Haitian community, and was chasing them out of the country. There was never any love lost between the two, but in a time of a disaster, you hope that barriers would be dismantled. That was not the case, and this particular hospital was in danger of being shut down much sooner than it had anticipated.
The Trip into Haiti
Paul returned on Wednesday morning to take us into Port au Prince. We had medical supplies and food we wanted to distribute. Heading into Haiti our first stop would be the orphanage. Our mission was to find a Haitian village that we could help rebuild or support, and we decided we would devote ourselves to helping these orphans. It was a 2 hour trip and one that rocked all of my senses. The border alone was enough to make you weep. People crawling all over each other, trying to buy food, ship food, sell food, and the border guards patrolling amongst the smells and dust. On our way into the city, we saw tents everywhere, along the side of the roads, and in open spaces. This was just the beginning.
We arrived at the orphanage compound encircled by a gate, and when it opened, we were greeted with dancing, smiling, singing children that brought an overwhelming feeling of happiness as well as grief to all of us. They sang a song that they had created, singing in French. The words were of praise and hope for a better future; that we would help them rebuild their roof that had collapsed in the quake, and get them beds to sleep on. We shed tears for the millions of people who were suffering.