In Port-au-Prince, "There is much, much more to be done"

The hope of the Haitian people can perhaps best be summed up by Herode Guillaumettre, director of Christian Center of Integrated Development, known by the acronym SKDE, a CWS partner which has worked with CWS on projects related to food security and which has established a clinic on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in the suburb of Lilavois.

CWS's Don Tatlock talks with two earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance

By Don Tatlock
Church World Service


(Note: Don Tatlock, CWS project manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, has been coordinating the CWS Haiti earthquake response in Port-au-Prince. What follows are reflections and observations from Tatlock about life in Port-au-Prince.)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti – The hope of the Haitian people can perhaps best be summed up by Herode Guillaumettre, director of Christian Center of Integrated Development, known by the acronym SKDE, a CWS partner which has worked with CWS on projects related to food security and which has established a clinic on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in the suburb of Lilavois.

"I am not afraid anymore," Guillaumettre told me last week. "I have survived the worst disaster in the history of Haiti and I am alive talking to you now. I can survive anything now.

"It is like I died in the earthquake, but I am alive. I am alive. Thanks, God, thanks, God, thanks, God," he said in his strong Creole accent.

Guillaumettre knows there are so many needs now, but is thankful for the support of those all over the world, including churches. "We are thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ who have not forgotten about us. We are still treating many of the injured and sick and we are feeding them and giving them water. There will be many needs in the future including housing for many who lost their homes. Many are now in tents or home made tents made out of plastic and sleeping in the streets and parks.

Tents are needed now, he said, but already he is focused on the future – what will happen in five months when the rainy season begins, he wonders.

"We were very fortunate last year not to have any major storms, but we don't know what this year will be like. And if many are still living in tents then, this could be another disaster," he said.


Ernst Abraham looking at damaged building
Ernst Abraham, left, director of Service Chretien d'Haiti surveys the damage to the building in which the SCH office was located--on a floor that is now sandwiched in between other parts of the collapsed building.
Photo: CWS

Last week I also visited the office of Service Chretien d'Haiti, an organization that CWS helped establish after another major disaster: Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

I spoke with Ernst Abraham, the executive director of SCH during what was his first visit back to the office after the earthquake. Abraham is an architect and you can see that in how carefully he inspects a building. The SCH offices, something of his second home for years, were located on a floor that is now sandwiched in between other parts of the collapsed building.

As he walked to the back side of the building, Abraham started to point and began talking about one employee who was in the office when the quake hit.

"You know Horlna was in the office when the earthquake hit, she told me when she first felt the ground moving, she immediately jumped under a desk. The desk saved her life and protected her from debris falling on her. Then she told me when she felt most of the movement stopped, she started to crawl out the back side of the office building, which was a big open hole now; the back wall was gone.

"As she crawled to the edge, she started to jump and then someone came to her with a ladder and helped her out."  Fortunately, she did not have any major injuries, just scrapes and cuts from crawling amongst the debris. She has not returned to the office and probably won't, he said.

Abraham noted that the earthquake had made those whose jobs are to assist those in emergencies themselves the victims of a disaster. "They are not used to being in this position," he said, and are having to adjust to the realities of both responding for others and trying to make sense of the situation for themselves and their families. "They still can't believe what happened in a span of seconds and now will take millions of hours to rebuild," he said.

Abraham said that while there is no way the building housing the agency can be ever be rebuilt – there is also probably not even a single piece of office equipment that can be salvaged, he noted – Abraham said he is thankful that all but one staff member has been accounted for.

Though SCH has not had a "primary presence" in Port-au-Prince, with areas of focus being in La Gonave and Kenscoff, areas outside of the capital city that were not hit by the earthquake, Abraham stated that SCH is committed to helping those who have been affected and will do so in coordination with CWS and the ACT Alliance.

Already SCH is the support and host organization of Cuban missionaries who are working with people with disabilities – and there is going to be much in Port-au-Prince needed to assist those with disabilities, both those who have lived with disabilities before the earthquake and those now living with disabilities as a result of the quake.

"There is much to do in Port-au-Prince to guarantee that persons with disabilities are getting their needs met. They are not able to go and stand in the large distribution lines or water lines to get aid from organizations that do not go to them. In such lines, it is the strong and fit who get the food and water," Abraham said.

"Knowing what the needs are and being able to distribute the aid had a lot of advantages than just setting up a temporary distribution area. Our distribution is very different in that we are personally delivering the kits, food and water by our staff and trained volunteers, instead of large distribution centers with long lines."


A final observation in driving around Port-au-Prince and its suburbs. It is starting to feel like street life is returning to normal daily routine, almost giving the false sense that all is OK. The hustle and bustle is returning, the streets are full of "tap taps," the mode of public transportation in Haiti, and there is much traffic congestion and getting around takes a lot of time.

Many people are out walking and the markets are beginning to operate. One can buy almost anything in the streets again. However, in the background you are quickly reminded that life is not anywhere near back to normal and that there is much, much more to be done.

Of course, these are more than just the visual and physical signs. More strikingly, at the first sign of any movement or shaking, people start to run and the fear returns. The emotional toll the people have suffered is still unknown; however, in general Haitians are very resilient people and only time will tell of the lingering deep emotional effects of the earthquake.

How to help

Contributions may be made at www.churchworldservice.org/haiti or by phoning 800-297-1516 or by mailing to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515 (please indicate Haiti Earthquake).

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More on CWS Haiti earthquake response

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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