As you know, Haiti was devastated with a 7.3 earthquake on January 12, 2010.
There is not a person here in Haiti that was not affected by the destruction and the loss. Homes and lives were taken in a matter of 40 seconds. Over 200,000 bodies were buried in a mass grave with no identification. You could hear on the radio people being asked to pick up the mass bodies off the streets. The stench of death from piles of bodies on one side of the rubble filled streets as people took up residence on the opposite side of the road afraid to go back into any building that remained standing.
I spoke with Mayor Santos Alexi of Leogane (the epicenter of the earthquake) over 80% of the town was destroyed; 10,000 lives were taken – that was 1 in every 5 residence of Leogane.
Pr. Etienne and I went up to General Hospital in Les Cayes as the first of the medi-vaced started coming in from PAP and the surrounding areas the day after the earthquake, to see what we could do to help. One of the patients brought in was his niece who was playing out in the yard when the blocks from the neighbor’s house fell down on her. Her leg was going to have to be amputated.
Haiti’s Children, Inc (HCI) was one of the first responders with supplies (food, water, and clothing) to PAP after the earthquake. We thankfully had food from our last container from FMSC (Feed My Starving Children) we were able to distribute as well as purchase food from the generous donations that started pouring in. Trinity Lutheran Church – Pell Lake, WI had a team that was suppose to arrive the day after the earthquake, and generously donated the first $2300 from the team – that immediately went to purchasing food and water.
As we neared the PAP area, I remember the devastation; it was like a war zone. Buildings down, bodies everywhere, you could hear cries come from all directions. Helicopters circling above – bodies and wounded lined outside the hospitals. Road blocks being put up by protestors, “where is the help” they were shouting. I recall looking over at Pr. Etienne as we drove down the streets and seeing his tears as he sat there in total dismay and feeling the hopelessness of Haiti. “It’s going to take years to recover from this” he cried.
We stayed in PAP that evening with family. The Haitians were afraid to go back into their homes, for fear of another earthquake, or the rest of the house falling on them. We slept on cots out in the yard. At 3:30 in the morning you could feel another aftershock. People were up, screaming “get away from the buildings”. As you listened, you could hear choruses of “Amazing Grace” coming from all directions. We started in what they call “tent cities” with the food distribution (this was before any aide could get into the country with tents) We asked for a police escort in each of the areas. The leaders in the “tent cities were trying to keep order, as best as they could and help make sure that the food and supplies were distributed as evenly as possible. I remember handing food to one family and the gentleman looked at me and asked “where is everyone? Don’t they care? Isn’t anyone coming to help us?”
This was prior to the United States taking over control of the Haitian airport that was destroyed so planes could land with the aide that was trying to come in. The people in PAP and the surrounding area had been without any drinking water since Tuesday, it was now Friday when we were able to bring in a second load of supplies.
Each of our trips back to Les Cayes, our vehicle was loaded with people wanting to get away from the PAP area. 1000’s of people trying to get away from the area, migrating to the south.
We also managed to bring in supplies for the clinics and hospitals; the delay at the airport was affecting the much needed medicines and equipment and delaying treatments causing infections to set in. We brought in what antibiotics we had on hand.
Many groups and medical personnel worked hard at finding their way into the country to help the understaffed and crowded hospitals. Some groups were turned away in the states at the airport. At this time Haiti needed trained Natural Disaster personnel and medical specialists.
A month and a half after the earthquake we were able to get a couple of Paramedics flown in from the Milwaukee area that helped with bandage and wound care at Citi Lumiere hospital in Les Cayes. Surgeries were delayed due to infections that had set in. Amputations were being done on a daily basis with minimal anesthetic.
Missionaries and organizations came together to help where needed. The Apostolic Church from Indiana missionaries worked hard to reopen a much needed hospital – bringing in group after group of specialists, nurses and equipment.
Words from a Special Friend:
We were also blessed to have a PA from Milwaukee come in and help us with Milwaukee come in and help us with mobile clinics in the Les Cayes area. Here is what Pam had to say after her visit in November 2009:
November 10, 2009
I left Haiti this year with tears in my eyes. Not tears of sadness, but tears of joy for all the good that happened during my 12 days in Haiti and tears of sorrow because I would have to leave behind the friends I had become so close to. There is still so much work to do.
Our seven one day clinics were a success. We endured the heat, the long days, and the repeated complaints of abdominal pain. Abdominal pain related to hunger, acid reflux from all the daily stressors, or worms? Eight hundred forty three men, women, and children were cared for by a small team of 6 people. Each day we would pack the land rover with our supplies and set out to rural areas surrounding Les Cayes. The clinic was setup each day in a different church. We started and ended each day with God by our side. There were times I could almost feel his presence. These times were most obvious to me when I wasn’t sure exactly what to do for someone. I would sit for a minute and somehow God would provide the answers to my questions. I truly believe we saved lives at several of these clinics. For others just listening to their concerns and offering empathy and hope was about all I could do.
The problem of not enough medications for hypertension and diabetes continues. The problem of not enough food continues. The problem of lack of running water and poor sanitary conditions continues, but what also continues is the appreciation I saw in the eyes of every patient I spoke to. As I sit and write this today I reflected on what I had written when I returned from Haiti in 2008. At that time I questioned if I could ever go back to Haiti. Did I have the strength? Would things work out better or worse with such a small team? Would I leave questioning all over again why God allows the people in Haiti to suffer? The answers to these questions have become somewhat clearer to me after this trip. Yes, I had the strength. God gave me the strength. Yes, our team was a force to behold. We worked together tirelessly. Even after the clinics were over Gladys and I would count pills till we both thought we would continue to count pills in our dreams. The number thirty was magic. Thirty vitamins, 30 acetaminophen, 30 ibuprofen, 30 naprosyn, 30 famotidine, 30 tums, 30,30,30!! We got so good at counting pills we could carry on serious conversations and count. Such talent was a wonder to behold.
The last question I still struggle with. I know there is no resolution to the problems in Haiti coming soon, but where I fit in is clear. God has given me the gift of knowledge, compassion, and love. A love for all people. Whether I am working in a high tech clinic in the states or a church that has been temporarily constructed using a people to help those in need, to serve the poor. That is why I go to Haiti. I remember Gladys once told me that every time she left Haiti she would leave a piece of her heart behind. I am so grateful for the opportunity to go to Haiti and as I left this time a piece of my heart stayed in Haiti.