Leadership, Partners, Vision

Haiti – Many Stories

The news reports of the ongoing suffering in Haiti coupled with the tremendous response of people in Canada and many other nations continue to be the predominant story of another week. There is no question of the desperation, but how to respond is open to much consideration. Catalyst has heard reports from several of our partners who have people on the ground in Port-Au-Prince, and have been working there for years. Some accounts depict the scenes as utterly devastating, such as the twitter feed of World Vision Canada’s Dave Toycen, and this video from Absolute.org A somewhat contrasting narrative comes from Willie Hunter from Medical Ministry International:

What surprised Tim, who was in PaP at the time of the earthquake and for several days after when he brought Paola (his wife), seven months pregnant and another friend (nine months pregnant) to Santo Domingo, was the sense normalcy people are trying to achieve in the midst of disaster and loss of family.  Even though we traversed and crisscrossed most of the city we didn’t see one dead body on the streets. We did see people burning one body, apparently a family member by their demeanor, a few yards off the street. People were calmly picking up the pieces of life; waiting in lines before the Canadian and American Embassies, cooking in the huge tent “cities” set up in the parks, soccer fields and open spaces, selling mostly food in normal street markets, carrying bundles on their heads, smoking and talking on the corners, and, of course, moving rubble. PaP is just as you see it on TV – a very high percentage of all buildings are “pancaked” or severely askew. Tremors continue. We felt three in just one hour while visiting a clinic. Most major streets are clear now and traffic is moving as are relief supplies. The “sacking” activity is mostly people entering destroyed buildings, at great risk, and recovering food and other useful items. Undoubtedly, some intact buildings are being broken into and sacked but that is the exception, from our perspective.
He continues:
Within the first hours after the ‘quake our Santana staff was on the phone with public hospital in Jimaní about 22 miles from PaP offering our surgical services. We are well know there since our staff surgeons have done more surgery there than anyone in the history of the hospital. We were told they needed no help because the Dominican Army doctors (56 of them!) had just moved in and had begun to operate. Then, our OB-GYN, General Surgeon and Anesthesiologist went to PaP the day before Tim and I. They spent two full days in and out of the still functioning ORs offering our services. They found there was no room for more doctors and nowhere to stay, bathe or eat. I talked with several other surgeons (one MMIers wearing his MMI badge!) who had managed to get to PaP in the first days and had been very busy and productive until now. They had come in as individuals and had been assimilated by the “big boys and girls of relief” (who are doing a good job). The people we spoke with were in departure mode because acute care surgical cases were dropping off as people were treated and/or died. There is still no place to stay for more than a handful of people and much of that is precarious. Doctors told me in some clinics they were “tripping over supplies” but that the problems now will be long-term chronic care that will be handled by the returning Haitian staff (they have been away caring for their families and property) and the long-haul foreigners.
So what do we understand? The immediate needs are massive and the world is responding. It is urgent that we provide funds to those on the ground who have the perspective and experience to best respond. Beyond that, we need to demand long term strategy at all levels for lasting reconstruction of not only buildings, but social infrastructure and culture. Hopefully that will be happening this week in Montreal. Even an abundance of funding will fail to have any lasting impact if crucial leadership is missing.