Category Archives: Haiti Earthquake

Lest we forget

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Haiti Earthquake

Gina Jean and her family. (James Addis/WV)

Today, I am working from a comfortable office. Exactly six months ago, I was on a plane to Haiti to report on one of the worst earthquakes in human history—one that killed more than 220,000 people. My work environment there included overcrowded hospitals and hastily set-up displaced people’s camps that lacked water and sanitation.

One question I was sometimes asked after returning home was: “How did if affect you personally?” That’s not easy to say. There was a range of emotions. Some experiences were heartbreaking. I’ll never forget the corpses of children lying in the streets and the people trying to dig relatives out of the rubble using small crowbars and flimsy hacksaws.

One woman I met, Gina Jean, was cradling her 4-month-old daughter and living in a tent made of bed sheets. Losing her home was not so bad. Her real concern was that she had not seen her husband since the quake. Was he alive or dead? “How can I continue living like this?” she asked me. “How am I supposed to take care of my children?”

Haiti earthquake

Nicole Muse cares for a child after surgery. (Jon Warren/WV)

But in the midst of tragedy, I was also inspired. World Vision’s relief manager, who lost her daughter in the quake, carried on working so that the lives of others might be saved. Chicago nurse Nicole Muse hopped on a plane without hesitation as soon as she heard the news of the quake. Within hours she found a field hospital in Haiti and began caring for dozens of horrifically injured children.

Coming home after seeing these kinds of things, it can be a little hard to adapt. Everything seems slightly banal. There’s a discussion with my wife about where we will find the money to fence the yard. At the supermarket checkout, tabloids are trumpeting that Dr. Phil’s marriage is on the rocks, and there are updates on the turbulent love lives of actors called Brad, Jennifer, and Angelina.

It can be easy to feel superior to this trivia. But the truth is, after a few months my memories of Haiti do begin to fade. Immediate “concerns” reassert themselves. Even for World Vision, there are other big issues to think about—devastating floods in China, for example, or a hunger crisis in Niger.

So the six-month anniversary of the quake is a good reminder for me and an opportunity to check on progress. A World Vision report on the last 180 days is encouraging in that it shows how much help is getting through: the distribution of food to 1.8 million people; the delivery of 2 million liters of clean water every week; the construction of hundreds of toilets and showers; the continuing work of 10 health clinics; and the ongoing distribution of tarpaulins, tents, and cooking utensils to assist some 120,000 people.

Haiti earthquake

James interviews a quake-affetced family. (Jon Warren/WV)

And yet, as the report notes, the needs remain great. About 1.5 million people still live in emergency shelters. Difficulties in securing construction materials and establishing land ownership rights and the logistical challenge of removing tons and tons of rubble are proving to be major obstacles.

I confess it’s been a while since I prayed for Gina Jean and the thousands in her predicament. I’ll do so tonight. Perhaps you could join me?

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Why I do it

World Vision videographer Tom Costanza reflects on his time in Haiti a few months ago.

Haiti earthquake

(Jon Warren/WV)

I don’t even know where to start. So I guess I’ll start at the end.

Haiti was the kind of experience that changes your understanding of how desperate people can be and how unselfishly others can respond. By the time I left, I was sure I was different. I was definitely more tired. I weighed less. But I also felt that, mentally, I’d reached some kind of turning point. Whatever it was, I began to feel, more deeply than I had in some time, that all I’d seen and heard—the cries of injured children, the pleas of helpless mothers, the anger of people who’d lost everything—was weighing on me, more than it had since I first started in television news more than 25 years ago.

It wasn’t a breakdown—just a vague feeling of fatigue and sadness. The culmination, maybe, of the last year’s frantic schedule. Since November 2008 I’ve covered stories in Niger, Mozambique, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, American Samoa, New York, Ecuador, Cambodia, Zambia, Ethiopia, and back again to the DR and Haiti. Hunger, poverty, disease, earthquakes, a tsunami … it’s enough to make your head spin. The sick and the lame. The hopeless and the hungry. The dying and the dead.

World Vision in Cambodia

Tom shooting video in Cambodia (Heidi Isaza/WV)

People often asked me, “How do you do it?” “I don’t know,” I reply. “I just do.” Why do I do it? is what I ask myself. I could be home on the couch, watching HBO. Instead, I’m shooing cockroaches off my pillow, trying to get some sleep before my next cold shower.

Sometimes I think I know why I do it. When I’m feeling noble, I think it’s a calling. At other times, I think it’s just to satisfy my wanderlust—a taste for adventure, a chance to get a few more good stories to tell.

Then I go somewhere like Haiti, where people sleep on the remains of their crumbled houses and children scream in pain. “God help us all,” I think. Then I turn on the camera, and it captures people like Lomene LaGuerre. She was selling things in the marketplace when the quake hit. Now she lives with her three children under a tarp on a basketball court. She cooks what’s left of her food and summons what’s left of her pride. “I was a businesswoman,” she says proudly. “A businesswoman does not go hungry.”  A few days later, World Vision brings her more food. Her pride will have to wait a little longer.

Haiti earthquake

Tom and World Vision communicator Paula Saez interview families in a displacement camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Jon Warren/WV)

Outside the city, near the Haiti/Dominican border, Nicole Muse, a World Vision child sponsor, holds a small boy with a large bandage. She left Haiti several years ago and is now a nurse in Chicago. When she saw the news, she says, she just had to come. Her Creole makes her a valuable asset at this makeshift hospital, where a few words in a mother tongue, from a mother’s tongue, can calm a scared, hurting, and parentless child.

I meet people like these, and I’m reminded that they are why I do it, why we do it: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I don’t know who said it first, but I like it. It’s why, when I feel tired and sad, I do lay on the couch and watch HBO. And I recharge my batteries and go out there again. And again. And again.

Related: Photographer deployed to Haiti (Jan. 18, 2010)


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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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Haiti: An African’s view

John Kisimir in Haiti. (Madeline Wilson/WV)

By John Kisimir, World Vision’s relief communications expert from Kenya currently based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I am on the trail, following thousands of people on the run from the tribulations of the devastating earthquake in Part-au-Prince, Haiti. An estimated 40,000 of them have fled to La Gonave, an island to the west of the capital city.

They have moved from the massive camps in Port-au-Prince either because they have family or friends in La Gonave or have found conditions in the sorrowful, overcrowded camps unbearable. Moving with them are thousands of children, distressed and hungry.

Parts of Haiti are like a sub-Saharan African nation—from its cultural beauty to an economy on its knees. But there are two things about Haiti that set it apart from a country in Africa. One is that it has been knocked flat out by the earthquake. Second it is not a young nation—it emerged from colonialism and slavery more than 200 years ago.

Haiti earthquake

World Vision staff inspect the quake's impact on the island nation. (Jon Warren/WV)

The country is a mere 680 miles from Miami, a world where expensive Ferraris grace the massive freeways. The Dominican Republic, Haiti’s island neighbor, hosts thousands of holiday-makers on all-inclusive Caribbean paradise tours. Yet Haiti’s children are just as desperate and hungry as many in Sudan, Congo, or Kenya.

Haiti’s poverty is crippling, to say the least. My visit to La Gonave is a testament to a forgotten and defeated people. Its roads are extremely neglected, making it near impossible for vehicles to pass. Residents find mules, donkeys, and their own feet more reliable transportation. Our drive through the hills and valleys was painful—the vehicle shook and swerved, creaking all the way—shaking those onboard like seeds in jar.

The island had an estimated 100,000 inhabitants before the 40,000 new arrivals. Its young people have little or no education and are unemployed. Thousands of those who fled Port-au-Prince have found a place among friends and relatives. Homes are overcrowded, food and water resources overstretched, and there will be challenges of accommodating the new children in schools.

Haiti earthquake

What lies ahead for Haiti's children? (Jon Warren/WV)

World Vision has started food distributions here, but there are challenges in the days and weeks to come. Access to water has always been difficult in La Gonave. The quake has destroyed water tanks in many homes, and a water crisis is looming. Many schools have had classrooms damaged, and it is not clear how many will be usable when schools open. The cost of food has also shot up—the price of rice is up by 60 percent—since supplies from Port-au-Price are hard to come by.

I left La Gonave and returned to Port-au-Prince, the headquarters of sorrow, where street after street of fallen buildings and a million people in camps remind us of the work ahead to rebuild Haiti. This does not only entail responding to the immediate and longer-term needs of a fallen city, but reviving the hopes of those in rural and remote areas like La Gonave—who are now carrying the burden of the displaced.

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No sign of comfort

Fiona Perry, a health advisor for World Vision from the U.K., writes from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Fiona Perry distributes clean-delivery kits to pregnant women in the camps. (Paul Bettings/WV)

On hearing the rain in the morning, I hoped it was someone showering in the next room. But no, Port-au-Prince had been soaked through. Not only have families got to put up with living cramped in a tiny, 6-foot-by-6-foot space covered with sheets, blankets, or sometimes plastic sheeting held up by makeshift poles—now they have to battle the rain.

I have been in Haiti for a month, helping to address the health, hygiene, and nutrition needs of those affected by the January earthquake.  A few days ago, I had one of those experiences that helped me to remember why I am here. I was visiting a camp with a particularly well-organized and obliging committee. We walked through the labyrinth of narrow pathways where close to 200 families live on a plot of land perhaps the size of a tennis court.  Here, World Vision has provided people with heavy-duty plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, and cooking sets. It was great to see that each house had a plastic sheet and most have made every effort to make their hut a home. A kiosk had been established out of an entrepreneur’s home selling fruit, condensed milk, sugar, and spices, and a few of the children were having their afternoon wash. 

Fiona helps set up a mobile heath clinic for displaced families. (Jon Warren/WV)

I was called over to a woman lying on a plastic sheet on the floor, having just given birth to a baby boy not more than a few minutes before. A nurse who happened to be in the camp had helped deliver her baby but had run out of equipment. She needed some more gloves and was out of plastic sheets. There was no sign of any of the childbirth comforts that we in the U.K. take for granted—a nice, soft mattress; a pillow; some nice, soothing music playing in the background; or someone to hold your hand. 

The week before, I had been at the same camp, distributing clean-delivery packs to pregnant mothers, so I sent the camp leader to get a pack from one of the mothers. I took out the clean gloves, plastic sheet, and piece of material from the kit and helped the nurse with the woman’s prolapsed uterus. We both agreed she needed to go to hospital. Her new baby was wrapped in a towel, and we assisted her to walk to the car.  At the busy city hospital, a doctor examined her before telling us he had nowhere to live. I am constantly shocked at how everyone has been affected by this disaster.

When I went home that evening and felt tempted to complain about a lack of electricity, or that I have to eat the same food every day (rice and beans mostly), that there is no light in the bathroom, or that I have to have a cold shower every morning, I stopped myself. One day with those affected, and my struggles seem very small indeed.

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