By JENNIFER RAWLINGS
MY TRIP TO HAITI……DAY TWO ( originally published in Change.org)
Captain Perry was very prompt and picked up John Fugelsang and I at exactly 8:15 am. We loading into the white vans and drove onto the crowded streets of Port-Au-Prince. From the moment we pulled away from the base and onto the streets my jaw dropped and I had trouble processing everything that I was seeing. It was overwhelming.
The streets of Port-Au-Prince are crowded. There are buses and cars that are painted with brightly colored religious murals. A pickup truck might have twenty people riding in the back. There were people on foot and bikes zig-zagging in front of cars. Cars create their own lanes. Dogs and goats wander freely in the streets and every block is a traffic jam.
Four months after the earthquake there is still rubble everywhere you look. It was not uncommon to see a mountain of rubble that is a couple of stories high even though all of the soldiers I spoke to told me that it is markedly improved from the way it was even a month ago.
The sidewalks are covered in piles and piles of trash. Most of the trash piles are the size of a bathtub, both in width and depth. The decomposing trash takes on the color of gray sludge and is surrounded by a swarm of flies and other insects. Often you will see an unattended child standing on this pile of garbage just passing the time.
Children are everywhere on the street, not just small children, but school aged children wondering the streets. There is NO public education in Haiti, so the only children that go to school are from families that can afford private school tuition. There are generation after generation of Haitians that don’t know how to read or have the most basic of education.
Long before the earthquake, horrific poverty plagued the lives of Haitians. Many people lived in shacks without indoor plumbing, without a toilet, electricity or access to clean water.
The streets and sidewalks are crowded with street vendors – their wares displayed on the ground or on a chair. Anything you can imagine you could probably buy on the streets of Port-Au-Prince. I saw food being sold, one vendor selling clothes hangers, rubber shoes, jumper cables… I even saw one woman weaving another women’s hair in the middle of the sidewalk sandwiched between someone selling Christmas wrapping paper and a man selling bow-ties.
We passed the collapsed Presidential palace that is uninhabitable. No one has lived in it for four months yet the government is still watering and mowing the lawn. It was so green and lush it looked like a golf course.
Our nimble Haitian driver made his way up the hills and took us to the camp that Sean Penn has been running since shortly after the earthquake. Sean Penn took us on the tour of the “ tent city” camp that has approximately 55, 000 people living there.
I was impressed with the work that he is doing there. He was very modest and credited a lot of the success of the camp to the US military. When the rains started, the military dug trenches to prevent flooding, sand-bagged the entire hillside and kept these 55, 000 residents from suffering yet another catastrophe. Everywhere I went, people were thanking the US Military for all the work they had done.
The Jenkins/Penn relief organization are doing everything right. They had set up a couple of tents where they conduct free school for the kids in the camp. They were hiring local Haitians to do most of the work in the tent-city. J/Phro only has a fulltime staff of seven on the ground in Haiti. They have set up medical tents. It is my understanding that some of the kids are getting much needed immunizations. There have been over a hundred children born in the camp since the earthquake. There is a women’s’ tent that is so clean and cheery I told him that I would come there for my next check up.
The difference between a non-profit running a camp correctly and putting the donations to work for the people versus a camp being run incorrectly is heart wrenching. At the Sean Penn camp, all of the tents were made of water-proof tarps and there is access to medical care and other services.
I visited another camp run by another non-profit and I started crying when I saw the conditions. No one on this earth should live in the conditions that I saw. There were tents made of torn bed cloth with huge holes for the rain to seep in. A woman at that camp had died a few days before. She had drowned in a couple inches of water because she was too weak to move. There was no medical care and the security guards were reportedly taking bribes.
Rape and security are huge problems at all the camps. The camps are very, very dangerous. There are reports of women being raped multiple times.
However, the fiscally responsible NGO’s that are receiving the money are making a big difference. The people of Haiti still need your help. Please don’t forget them. As John Fugelsang commented to me many times on the trip: “ The earthquake is a natural disaster. Poverty is a man-made disaster.” We can stop the man-made disasters.
Tomorrow will be day three of my trip and the final installation of this series.
(Haitian Relief Organization is a great place to donate)