This trip was only me, while Mr. Fantastic valiantly commandeered the household solo for 2 weeks – no mean feat. I had the opportunity to join a group called Explorers Sans Frontiers, a small non-profit that sends medical and non-medical volunteers to humanitarian projects in Senegal, Jamaica, and Haiti. After the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, there was a group going in March and I was invited to join them. After begging for the time off from work, attending several organizational meetings and getting a Typhoid shot, I headed out with the other ESFers to catch a flight from JFK on a cold morning.
We flew to the Dominican Republic since the airport in Haiti was not yet operational. From there, we drove to Port-au-Prince.
Border crossing from the DR to Haiti
We stayed a couple of nights at the home of a Haitian family connected to ESF. It turned out to be farther than we thought from the hospital where we worked, and we later relocated to the city. We brought tents and sleeping bags for our housing, leaving it there afterwards to donate to people who needed them.
Awesome Haitian food in a home where we stayed
Our transportation around Port-au-Prince
Tent city right by a main road
We got a sweet ride on this UN plane to catch our flight home from the DR!
ESF connected with a local church with Haitian population as well as a Buddhist group in Haiti called AMURT that has been running a school there for some time and is now doing medical work. Through the church we worked at a hospital in the Carrefour section of Port-au-Prince and through AMURT we worked at a clinic at a tent city in the Delmar section of P-a-P. I was fortunate enough to spend several days at each location. We stayed in tents at local homes of church members, and at the AMURT school. Most locals, even if their houses were ok, slept in tents due to fear of more tremors.
Our group had 4 Haitian-Americans who speak Creole and the other 9 did not. There were nurses, physical therapists, a pediatrician, and several people from a church.
AMURT clinic at the tent city in Delmar
We saw a lot of the city due to different work and housing locations. Rubble everywhere, buildings in various stages of collapse, dust in the air, tents all over (even a strip of them on a median between traffic lanes!!!), some tent cities organized by an NGO, others looking less organized, bad roads with potholes, people burning trash, bad air quality in general with all the dust and smoke, once I caught a whiff of death but most of that was cleaned up, at least what could be seen (there are many buildings that are just pancaked floors that likely have deceased underneath). We rode around in the back of pickup trucks, a truck with a curved metal roof and a grate separating us from the outside, a big metal truckbed that could transport cattle, things like that. So I could really see the city. Haitian members of our group told us what used to be in certain areas, like around the presidential palace where park had been now was rubble and tents. Could you imagne that in DC??
The hospital was standing, had supplies + water+ electricity, and was being gradually re-staffed by Haitians after much foreign involvement. Its called Hospital Adventista and has a connection to Loma Linda, a religious univ. inCA I think. Anyway, most of my group worked there all week. I worked in a med/surg tent, a pediatric clinic tent, and inside the hospital on an orthopedic floor. There were many amputees, wounds, casts, external fixators, etc. Pediatricss had babies needing formula b/c mothers had died (so no breastmilk) and kids with flu, fevers, r/o TB, GI issues. The ER had some peds w/burns, a death from TB, and adults with diabetes, a death from an accidental gunshot wound (2 young security guards fooling around) – I heard these from teammates since I didn’t work there. We had translators sometimes. I was wishing I could speak Creole, I learned a tiny bit, but still was frustrated b/c after peace corps Honduras where I had been fluent, I knew I could learn it if I had more time and it was a barrier.
Child play space by AMURT
Doctor notes were in French, English, and/or Creole! The hospital was crude by US standards with windowless openings, flies, and very little technical gadgets. It was like that before the earthquake.
AMURT was really cool. I was really into their mix of Buddhism and service. They do relief work all over the world, and they have been running a school in Haiti for many years. They had all-vegetarian food, yoga and meditation in the AM and PM, no drinking, etc, and seemed very well-organized. The ‘dadas’ (male monks) and ‘didis’ (female monks) ran the place and lived very simply. Non-monks were involved as well. They had MDs coming for 2-week periods to do outreach to the tent cities and were happy to have us to help. All of the supplies we didn’t use are with them since the hospital was well supplied. AMURT is doing bi-weekly visits to various tent cities filling inwhere there are medical needs. We worked in a structure that is going to be a child-centered space. They are really into play therapy and helping kids through the crisis and through poverty. They had games, karate, yoga, etc for kids at the school and want to do this in the camps as well. The kids seem to have no structured activities, no school, nothing. We heard that child slavery is a real danger even moreso now in Haiti, it is heart breaking, they are such beautiful joyful children.
Painted port-au-Prince bus. There were a lot of these, beautiful!!
Another one, this one in front of some collapsed buildings
Little guy with his homemade toy car
Tent city where we worked
View of a hillside in Port-au-Prince from a roof where we pitched our tents
Us on our bus