Monthly Archives: March 2010

Rains make life hard in camps

By Laura Blank in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti earthquake

Rain and mud can exacerbate health problems in camps. (Katie Chalk/WV)

It hasn’t rained here for more than a week, but it rained again in Port-au-Prince last night. Not that torrential, heavy downpour this Caribbean nation is used to experiencing during the rainy season in April and May. Just a steady, slow kind of rain. But it doesn’t matter. The camps are already crowded, difficult places to live. Rain only makes it worse.

Earlier this week, I traveled down from Boston for my third trip to Haiti in the past several months. I had traveled here for work this summer, the time now known as “before.” Then, as part of my job as a disaster communications officer with World Vision, I was deployed to Port-au-Prince almost immediately after the earthquake and spent nearly a month here in January. After returning home for a bit, I found myself back on a plane to Haiti just a few days ago to join up with our relief response team here in the capital.

Haiti earthquake

World Vision supports children living in displacement camps. (John Kisimir/WV)

One of the things I hear most often from people is, “Are things getting any better down there?” That question is always asked with a bit of hope, but the underlying belief seems to be one full of more doubt than hope. How could a country so fragile before this disaster possibly survive – or even come back better – after this? And could anything improve in just a few months?

There is no easy answer to that question. But yes, Virginia, things have started to get a little bit better in Haiti. The humanitarian community has made headway, addressing critical issues like food insecurity, lack of water and emergency shelter in the early days after the quake.

Millions of people have been fed with staple food items through World Food Program partners like World Vision. Water trucks and bladders have been providing the camps with clean, safe drinking water. More than 50 humanitarian aid groups have been working to provide emergency shelter for the 1.3 million homeless people by the start of the rainy season, and at last count more than 75 percent had received those much-needed items.

Today, more than two months later, other challenges have emerged. Tonight’s rain—and the coming rainy season—reminds me of one growing concern: the health of Haiti’s children.

Haiti earthquake

(Katie Chalk/WV)

The rains exacerbate already-existing problems in the camps: crowded, filthy conditions; exposure to the weather; and lack of nutritious food. In fact, World Vision’s health specialists say the combination of wet weather and unsanitary camp conditions could heighten the health risks for children, including fears of malaria and dengue fever, diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.

I was in a camp known as Saint Preux the other day and saw one little baby, he couldn’t have been more than a month old, sleeping on the “floor” of his family’s tent. Isaac had been born with the help of one of our health specialists, and the “floor” in this tiny shelter was nothing more than the dirt and rocks on the ground. No blanket, certainly no mattress, nothing to protect him from the dirt—or mud—of this camp.

Aid agencies are working fast and furious to address these concerns. More emergency shelter supplies are being delivered, latrines are being built, mobile clinics are staffed up, flood-reduction projects are underway, and discussions continue on more sustainable solutions to ease the crowded living conditions in the camps. Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go.

In the meantime, Haiti’s children wait. The rain has stopped for now, but what will happen tomorrow?

World Vision staff Haiti earthquake

Laura Blank in Haiti (Jon Warren/WV)

Laura Blank is a World Vision disaster communications officer based in the U.S. She was on the ground in Haiti immediately following the earthquake, and recently returned to continue reporting.

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Hot tent, thirsty children

By John Kisimir, World Vision relief communicator in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti earthquake

Wilner (right) and his grandchildren in their tent. (John Kisimir/WV)

On my arrival at Terrain d’Enaf displacement camp one morning, I walk past a group of children who are playing with a pail of dirty water. I want to ask where they live, where their mama or papa is, but Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is not a good place to ask questions like that. Nine out of 10 people are said to know someone who died in the devastating January 12 earthquake.

A tall, old man stands at the entrance of a tent, sweating, possibly trying to get a feel of the breeze. Wilner Jasinthe welcomes me to what he now calls home—a tent among thousands of other tents. He offers me one of the three white plastic chairs in what looks like a two-man tent that now houses 10 people.

Haiti earthquake

Regina wears the same dress as on the day of the quake. (John Kisimir/WV)

It takes a few minutes for me to realize that a tent is not the best place to call home on a hot day.  The heat is rising; sweat drips from my face. I do not feel any circulation of fresh air.

Wilner’s cell phone rings. It is the camp leader, passing on a message. The water tanker has broken down on the way to the camp. World Vision trucks water to the camp every morning and deposits it into a tank for residents to share. But today, chances of getting water are slim. A wave of disappointment runs through the faces of the women nearby. They need five gallons of drinking water every day and more for bathing and cooking.

Wilner moves his chair toward the door in search of a little fresh air. I follow suit. “How did you come here, Wilner?” I ask.

“I had a home and a business that I ran at Delmas Road,” he says. “It is all gone now. Nothing left but a pile of stones.” He looks around the tent, and his eyes settle on an empty water bucket in the corner. “It hurts that I can’t even get drinking water when I need it. Just a few weeks ago, I had flowing water day and night,” he says, then chuckles and shakes his head in disappointment.

Suddenly there is a commotion at the door. Children—four of them. They surround Wilner, noisily pushing, climbing on him, and calling for attention. “My grandchildren,” he says.

Haiti earthquake

The girls guzzle John's water. (John Kisimir/WV)

“We dug through the rubble for two days to save this one,” Wilner says as he holds 2-year-old Erline. Like many other children here, Erline’s scars are visible. Hair on the back of her head is missing.

The eldest is Regina Castele, 6. She survived the quake because she was on her way from school. The checked blue dress she is wearing is the same she had on when their house collapsed. Her wide eyes are alert, always watching. They land on my camera bag—and the bottle of water at its side. She makes a beeline for it, urgency and thirst in her eyes.

Within a few seconds, the children have gobbled down the water. That explains why I take such a bad photo of this sudden activity—it happens too fast and is over too soon. They need more water.

Wilner apologizes for the children’s water raid. “I am not in good health, but I must line up every morning to get drinking water. The children cannot bear the thirst,” he tells me.

Haiti earthquake

New latrines under construction in another camp. (Madeline Wilson/WV)

Children’s health is a priority for World Vision here. Volunteers visit households to teach families about basic hygiene practices and check if there are sick children who require medical attention. World Vision has installed toilets and bathrooms in many camps. Mobile health clinic also operate to treat the sick and monitor child growth and signs of malnutrition, while new mothers can ask for an extra tent to take care of their baby away from the crowds.

“World Vision is doing a lot to make the situation bearable in this camp. Life will get better someday, and we hope we will all return to our homes,” says community leader Ignance Belange.

It is 2 p.m.; the inside of the tent is inhabitable and the outside baked to a crust by the sun. “What’s the plan for drinking water?” I ask.

“We need five gallons, and it costs a dollar if the water tanks do not come. We do not have the money,” says one of the women. But eventually between them, a dollar is found or borrowed, and the water arrives to quench dry throats.

World Vision staff Haiti earthquake

John Kisimir (left) with the family.

I leave Wilner and his grandchildren at 4 p.m., clustered together and looking toward another day. They are hopeful. If the tanker broke down today, it will certainly come tomorrow. World Vision will not let them down two days in a row.

I do not ask about the children’s mother. She remains unmentioned, but I can work it out for myself.  Port-au-Prince is not a good place to ask questions like that.

Related: Haiti: An African’s view (Feb. 23, 2010)

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Food worth the wait

By Katie Chalk in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haiti earthquake

Women are gracious at a lineup for food. (Katie Chalk/WV)

On a drizzly morning after a steady, all-night rain, the women line up patiently and quietly, clutching coupons in their hands. Their feet are covered with mud from the walk here.

Haiti earthquake

(Katie Chalk/WV)

A food distribution has commenced on plastic sheets outside a school building. World Vision has been using this location to distribute World Food Program (WFP) supplies for nearly a month now,  using a hardworking local team of 23 World Vision staff. Since the January earthquake, World Vision and WFP have reached more than 1.1 million people with food.

Haiti earthquake

The distributions are carefully planned and orderly. (Katie Chalk/WV)

Each distribution is very carefully planned, from the security (usually provided by U.N.) to the measures taken to ensure fairness and legitimacy. The distributions always take place in neutral, fenced areas, like this school, away from the crowded homeless camps.

A few days ago, World Vision invited families in three different camps to register for the distribution. If they qualified for aid, they were given coupons and told where and when to come. This is a women-only distribution, though many have husbands or brothers waiting outside the gates to help them carry the goods home.

About 2,000 households will receive help today. The coupons in the women’s hands show which camp they’ve come from, and they are torn in two because this is the second half of the distribution. Yesterday the women collected sacks of rice. Today they’re getting lentils, corn soya blend, oil, sugar, and salt.

Haiti earthquake

Women balance the heavy bags to transport them home. (Jean Wilkens-Merone/WV)

“I don’t know what we’re getting, actually. Whatever it is, it will be useful. We have nothing. None of us are able to find work yet,” says Rosehermite, a grandmother collecting food for her household of 12. “Last night we slept standing up. There was nowhere for the children to stay dry.” She adds that all of her grandchildren are sick in some way, either with fever, colds, or skin diseases.

Carole, who is pregnant, has not come far, but she did it on an empty stomach. She says she feels exhausted and hungry. She surrenders her coupon, puts her thumbprint against her name on a list, and receives her second sack of supplies. It weighs around 25kg, and the best way to carry it is on her head.

Carole says the food is worth the wait. “I’m going to wait till I get home and open it in front of my family,” she says. “I’m very thankful.”

World Vision staff Haiti earthquake

Katie Chalk is a communications manager for World Vision in the Asia/Pacific region.

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Capturing the image

Jon Warren explains how he created this photograph from Ghana.

water Ghana

Every day, women and children in rural African villages walk long distances to collect muddy water from parasite-laden waterholes. I wanted to capture this scene when I visited Ghana in 2006 to document the Hilton Foundation’s partnership with World Vision to provide clean water in West Africa.

Water collecting happens early in the morning. I asked the World Vision staff in Ghana to take me to a waterhole before sunrise, and they graciously agreed. Sunrise is one of the best times for photography, when the light is beautiful and warm.

As people walked up the embankment from the waterhole with heavy buckets full of water, I noticed how dramatic they looked silhouetted against the sky. The sun was just starting to rise. I ran ahead of them and found an open spot where the sky was clear of trees and put my camera on the ground (lying down myself wasn’t quite low enough), clicking as they walked past me. Then I ran ahead again and did the same thing again and again, each time there was a clearing. I followed the group for about a kilometer until I felt I had a good image.

The sky was much brighter than the people, and I knew that I couldn’t have both the people and the sky properly exposed—if I made the people lighter, the sky would just be a white, blank area. To keep the tone of the orange sunrise, I set my camera on manual exposure, making a spot light reading of the sky a little distance from the sun. I set my white balance to the “shade” setting, which warms up photos. The water carriers were solid black silhouettes, and to keep their shapes distinct I had to make sure there was enough space between and around them.

Because I wasn’t looking through the lens, there was some luck involved in getting the photo. In cases like this, I always take some pictures as quickly as possible to check what it will look like, and then I make adjustments. Then I feel ready to concentrate on the real picture.

World Vision photographyCamera: Nikon D2X. Settings: 17-35mm lens set at 17mm. 100 ISO. F/14. 1/125th. Shade light balance. Manual focus. Rapid motordrive.

Questions for Jon Warren? Leave a comment.

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I will not forget

By Heidi Isaza, flying home from Santiago, Chile.

Chile Earthquake relief

Three-year-old Cristian has fun in a Child-Friendly Space. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

For anyone who has never felt a moderate to strong earthquake, it just dawned on me how much turbulence at 30,000 feet resembles the rocking and shaking of the earth during an quake or aftershock—without the danger of the walls falling in on you, of course.

Before I left for Chile, just over two weeks ago, I was one of those people who didn’t know what a strong earthquake felt like. After two weeks of frequent and often intense aftershocks, I have developed an internal Richter scale which tells me if I really need to get out of bed in the middle of the night or if I should run for higher ground.

While I may not be physically present in Chile any more, I am bringing a piece of it, especially the people I met, with me in my heart and my prayers.

Chile Earthquake

Destruction in Talcahuano. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

One of those people is Sandra, a woman from Talcahuano who survived the tsunami. To me, she is the embodiment of the Chilean spirit of survival. When we met her, she was trying to clean her house, even though she knew she could not live there anymore because it had been knocked off its foundation. She couldn’t just sit still and wait for things to happen, she needed to do something—now. Through tears, she told me her story of survival, emphasizing, “You don’t forget these things.” Although I hope to forget the smell of the rotten fish and the contaminated mud that surrounded her, I will not forget Sandra.

I also will not forget the day I spent with Raquel Larena Busto, and elderly woman living on the side of the road in a tent outside of Dichato, with her husband, daughter, and 11-year-old granddaughter. I won’t forget the look in her eyes when we felt the 7.2 aftershock and watched as everyone from one of the most affected areas were evacuated once again for fear of a second tsunami. Her words, “I am going to die afraid,” continue to haunt me.

Even more than the adults, however, I will carry the children I met in mi corazon (my heart). I was astonished by their ability to overcome and find joy, even in the most difficult circumstances. I was especially impressed by their faith. I would love to say that if I were put in the same circumstances, I would react like Ninoska, an 18-year-old former sponsored child, who was trapped in her collapsing room after the earthquake. She told me, “When I got out of the bed, the first thing I grabbed was my Bible. I sat down next to the wall, I crossed my arms, I closed my eyes, and I told my mom [who was trying to help her get out] to leave me because I know where I will go when I die.”

Chile Earthquake relief

Constanza hopes for a better future. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

Thankfully, Ninoska wasn’t one of the quake fatalities, like her aunt who lived next door. And  instead of shaking the foundation of her faith, this situation has strengthened it. Today, she tells her friends, “You are looking at a walking miracle.”

I will also never forget the hope for a brighter future embodied in 8-year-old Constanza. She cried because the room her sponsors had helped build for her and that she and her sister had decorated together had collapsed. But then she paused and said, “Maybe God allowed this to happen so I can have a better house, a prettier house.”

Sandra was right—you don’t forget these things, or these people. I will not forget them, and I hope you won’t either. Please continue to keep Chile’s people in your prayers as they have a long and difficult road of recovery and rebuilding ahead.

Chile Earthquake relief

Heidi Isaza, looking back. (WV staff)

If there is one thing, however, that gives me peace about leaving them, it is knowing that World Vision has a wonderful, caring, competent, and dedicated team of Chilean nationals who have been walking and working side-by-side with those most in need for the past 30 years. They survived the earthquake and all the aftershocks along with their neighbors, and with our support and prayers, they will rise again like the many Chilean flags emerging from the rubble—to continue to provide life in all its fullness to all children in Chile.

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“Camping” in Chile

By Heidi Isaza

Chile Earthquake relief

Ana Marie and her sons, safe and dry. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

I love camping, lying on the ground and looking up at the stars. But I am an REI girl. I like camping because I have a four-season tent, a sleeping pad, a thermal sleeping bag, and the hope to return home after a couple of days, take a hot shower, and sleep in my comfortable bed and warm house.

Chile Earthquake relief

The rush to deliver supplies to quake survivors. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

Thousands of families have been camping in Chile since an enormous earthquake rocked the country on Feb. 27, completely destroying thousands of homes and leaving several thousand more homes structurally unsound and unusable.

Today, I met a woman named Ana Maria. She and her two sons, Luis, 6, and Manuel, 4, had been sleeping outside since the earthquake—camping without a tent, sleeping bags, or any hope to return to their home, as it was severely damaged and in danger of falling down the hill. Manuel is epileptic and was beginning to develop an infection from sleeping outside and waking up damp from the morning dew.

Now, however, they received a bit of relief, in the form of a tent distributed by World Vision. While they still can’t sleep in their home, at least they have shelter and a safe and dry place to be. “We have somewhere to sleep now,” Ana Maria told me with a smile. “This is a blessing from God and a surprise for the kids.”

World Vision distributed the first of 300 tents to families of sponsored children in Lota and will distribute another 300 tents today to those who lost everything to the earthquake and tsunami in Dichato.

Chile Earthquake relief

Heidi Isaza, airborne.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would enjoy camping for six months or more, especially with winter is on its way. I’m thankful that now Ana Maria and her sons at least have a safe and dry space where they can begin the process of starting over.

Related: Scared but standing together (March 9, 2010), Against the Tide (March 3, 2010), Chile: A First Look (March 3, 2010), Back to Chile (March 1, 2010)

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Scared but standing together

By Heidi Isaza in Chile.

Children are frightened in the Bio Bio region of Chile. (WV staff)

It’s been 10 days now since Chile was rudely awakened by a 8.8 earthquake at 3:30 a.m., causing buildings to fall and a tsunami wave which pushed big fishing vessels hundreds of meters inland and wiped whole towns off the map. Things are much peaceful now. Reports of robberies and looting have all but disappeared. In fact, yesterday, 25 percent of the stolen goods were voluntarily returned to their rightful owners.

Nevertheless, as the world begins to move on with the Oscars and March Madness, the survivors of the earthquake in Chile are just getting warmed up for the marathon of recovery that lies before them. I have heard people say that it is going to take 10 years for life to return to “normal” in the Bio Bio region. It will take time for lives to be rebuilt and for commerce to grow again. Many of these tasks will be technical, requiring knowledge, expertise, and materials. But perhaps the most important need is restoring the emotional stability of the people who survived—especially the children.

World Vision brought in relief goods to heavily damaged areas via helicopter. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

“I don’t want to be in Dichato anymore, because I am scared,” 10-year-old Rachell told me, outside the preschool where she and her family found temporary housing along with 17 other families. “I am scared that there will be another earthquake,” she said. Rachell remembers the earthquake that shook her awake and the wave that followed them up the hill as they ran for safety. She remembers when they went back the next day to see their house. There was nothing left.

Every child I have talked to in Dichato, Lota, and Concepción is scared. They have bad dreams at night and they tremble every time there is a strong aftershock.

In the absence of functioning schools, World Vision is helping to bring some normalcy and routine back into these children’s lives. Our Child-Friendly Spaces are a place where they can go to have fun, learn, and talk about what they feel.

A boy is among many displaying the Chilean flag with pride. (Heidi Isaza/WV)

In spite of all of the difficulties before them, the people of Chile are standing together through this tragedy. Neighborhoods have formed impromptu camps. Food is cooked and shared by whole communities. And everywhere you go, among fallen buildings, along beaches scattered with debris, and tents covered with black plastic, you see the Chilean flag proudly raised. That tells me that the people of Chile will stand again—all they need is a helping hand.

World Vision has worked in Chile for the past 30 years and we are not about to leave now—not when they need us the most.

Related: Against the Tide (March 3, 2010), Chile: A First Look (March 3, 2010), Back to Chile (March 1, 2010)

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