Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Need to Know Situation

February 19, 2010

It quickly becomes evident that getting our bearings here in Haiti requires more than a map and a sense of direction. The sensory overload that had overtaken us upon first arrival has somewhat subsided and in its wake has left us with the monumental task of figuring out how to get anything done in this country. How do two girls, trying to help a small non-profit, navigate through this massive disaster?

Our initial focus is to help individuals and families that have been displaced and living in tent cities surrounding the NGO’s facility. First task was to figure out who was not receiving aid already.

My biggest fear is to have our good intentions result in repercussions or unrealistic expectations that could lead to misunderstandings, distrust, and eventually bitterness. Many of these people had been promised help, but it had never arrived.

We needed to acquire information—fast.

Our driver, translator, and overall go-to guy is Cajuste, a local Haitian who has been working for the People In Need Partnership since its inception as the on-site Program Director. His home was located on a hillside, a neighborhood called Morne Lazare, which was decimated during the earthquake. He was lucky, he and his family survived, but his wife and 1 ½ year old daughter were among those who fled Port-au-Prince and are seeking shelter in the countryside some 200km away. After the earthquake they wanted to be as far away from buildings as possible and even though they are away from the immediate chaos, they are still living in a makeshift tent.
Cajuste takes us on a tour of the various tent cities nearby. He slams on the breaks as we pass a large group of tents and points.

“50,000 people live here,” he says soberly. We peer into the tent city and can barely comprehend that figure. The next one we come to is significantly smaller, but still not small enough. We only have enough resources for maybe 200 people and we still have to figure out how to give out food without being mobbed. Every time we near a tent city people approach us and tell us they’re hungry.

On our way back to the office we pass a small lot with tents. Cajuste slows and looks at us and asks us if we want to stop. We nod.

As we approach the tent city people come to greet us—a young mother, an older man, kids flock around us. They tell us almost immediately that they do not have food. We wonder how this can be, from the camps we have seen; some of these have obviously received aid. The largest even have huge tanks of water, which are routinely refilled by large water trucks. But the people in this tent city tell us that the aid goes to the larger camps that are just down the road, completely bypassing them.

A quick count reveals that there are approximately 75-80 individuals living in this small lot, many are single mothers or single women. Holli and I look at each other, both thinking the same thing: we’ve found a tent city that we can actually help.

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