by Richard Wesley
In February 2013, MegaCARE returned to Haiti to follow up with our partners and discuss sustainable community development strategies. This was my first return to Port-Au-Prince since our relief efforts in 2010; the trip was extremely successful and an emotional journey for me personally. Here at home almost everyone remembers the 2010 Earthquake that shook Haiti and claimed over 300,000 lives and displaced over 1 million people, but we’ve all moved on with our lives…including myself.
From the moment I arrived at the airport, I noticed positive change. As we drove the city streets, certain land marks were easily recognized while other structures were gone. Even though most of the rubble was removed, the impact of the earthquake is still very evident. The city is now buzzing with energy, traffic and commerce is taking place; people are smiling, street vendors are working and life seem to be normal for the residents of Haiti. The Haitian people are resilient, hardworking and persevering to restore their lives to a sense of normality.
While traveling down the streets of Port-Au-Prince, I experienced flashbacks of what I saw and experienced in the days following the earthquake. Our team arrived 6 days after the earthquake to deliver 3 trailers of food, water and medical supplies as part of our initial relief efforts; the chaos, destruction, despair and pain witnessed on the street was only overshadowed by the smell of death in the air. Body bags piled on street corners as rescue workers continued to dig through rubble looking for any signs of life. Patients were under trees, on the ground or where ever space was available in emergency field hospitals. Children were crying, amputations taking place without anesthetics and health professional working around the clock to save whom they could. I remember consoling one nurse from Canada who was discouraged and crying as she frantically replaced soiled rags from a man’s neck wound before realizing that the quake had claimed yet another victim that day. I knew it was only in my mind, but those images, sounds and smells seemed just as real today as they did three years ago.
We continued down the road and past a corner I knew all too well. Not as much for the landmark, but because of a man named Allard I almost expected to see standing there from 2010. I know it’s been three years, but it now seemed like yesterday for me. This was the site where a supermarket once stood and collapsed on that dreadful day. Each day we drove past that corner; I noticed a lone man standing by himself. Sometimes he was standing up on some rubble others days he was standing at street level. Some days he was weeping while other days he had no expression on his face. We learned he had argued with his wife that day and made her go to the market to get him fresh bread to eat, but she never returned. Each day he stood outside the market waiting to be reunited with his wife. Each time a body was removed from the marketplace, he would rush to the workers only to slowly walk back to his corner or across the street with tears in his eyes. He felt responsible, and said he would not leave until he can take her home. I don’t know how long he stood there, but I last saw him standing at that corner 14 days after the earthquake with the same look of despair on his face.
We later arrived at the 2010 distribution site which was home to 250,000 displaced people living in make-shift tents, and the site where we contributed to a food distribution that fed 50,000 people a day for that week. We met with the camp directors as they explained how they are relocating the residents as quickly as possible although there is still an estimated 15,000 people living in tents at this location today.
As I walked through the camp, faces flashed through my mind. I could still see the distribution taking place and hear the lingering moans of those in need in my head. My mind fixed on an elderly woman named Sofia, who invited me into her tent in 2010. She pulled the six children near to her and asked how she could help me. Help me? I remember thinking how odd of a question for her to ask me after all she’s been through, as I watched her cling to the children.
She later explained in a thick Creole accent, she first thought I was a social worker coming to take the children as I assured her that was not my purpose.
She shared that she and her daughter arrived at the camp 4 days prior, her son-in-law did not survive the quake and that her daughter was out begging for food while she cared for her three grandchildren. She also was looking after three other children they found in the streets who lost their parents that same day. Sofia begged us for food for the children, stating that she’s 80 years old and has lived a full life, but the children have their entire life in front of them.
They had not eaten in 7 days now, and she vowed that the children must eat first. Her body was frail and both of her legs were broken as she watched over the children and shared her heart with me. I urged her to come to the medical camp to seek treatment, and she said only after the children eat. She stated these children are the future of Haiti and will be the ones to rebuild the country. Barely able to speak, I shared with her that Bishop Jakes sent us with food and that she and her family will eat tonight. I remember, tears of joy streamed down her face as she could only utter the words “Thank you.”
Today, there is an estimated 100,000 people living in tents and make shift homes in Port-Au-Prince. These numbers do not reflect those affected in the mountains or other rural areas of the island where the estimates are much higher. Extreme poverty forces children to eat cookies mades of dirt because their parents are not able to purchase food in Cite Soliel which is one of the poorest slums area in Por-Au-Prince with an estimated 800,000 residents. Every orphanage we visited is at or surpasses capacity and in need of support.
During our meetings with local partners and leaders in Port-Au-Prince, we were able to further establish a local distribution network to get food and supplies to children most in need. With our partners we shipped a container of food that will provide an estimated 82,500 meals for these children including diapers and education supplies. The shipment also contained 2 dental clinics, medical supplies and equipment to set up advanced agriculture systems at local orphanages.
MegaCARE purchased additional medical supplies for a medical outreach program serving 2000 children a month in Cite Soliel. We also partnered with a local community to refurbish a water-well that is now providing clean drinking water free of charge to an estimated 20,000 residents. This was the only clean water supply for 20 miles.
In writing this story, I now see that Sophia did “help me” that day. Because her selfless sacrifice and demonstration of love, likens to my Lord and is what compels me to press forward on my most difficult days…compels me to love when others would ignore…compels me to do whatever possible to provide hope and encouragement…compels me to make a difference in the lives of others through MegaCARE.
Through your continued support, MegaCARE is able to reach around the world to help those in need. Thank you for partnering with MegaCARE; together we are making a difference through humanitarian relief and initiatives that are changing lives here at home and empowering communities worldwide.
Thank you for being a difference maker!