On-the-ground disaster relief

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, its epicenter just 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Over 100,000 people were killed, and millions more were affected – injured and displaced. Amongst the widespread devastation and damage throughout Port-au-Prince and elsewhere, vital infrastructure necessary to respond to the disaster was severely damaged or destroyed. This included all hospitals in the capital; air, sea, and land transport facilities; and communication systems.

Haiti Community Support – on the ground in Haiti – was in a unique position to offer immediate help.  Many days before we saw the first US military or Red Cross assessment teams in our neighborhood, we had already been delivering life-saving help to hundreds.

We immediately set up a mobile clinic in Port au Prince to deliver health care to 1000 patients each week.  We also arranged for mobile clinics to visit displaced person camps. A mobile clinic is humble in structure, but a miracle in delivery of care.  We were able to help hundreds of sick and suffering people each day, week after week.

In addition to treating the blunt trauma and deep cuts from the quake, we also found ourselves treating sickness of all varieties – emaciated newborns, horrendous fungal infections, migraines, panic attacks, skyrocketing blood pressure and many other challenges that plagued the lives of Haiti’s survivors. Clinic staff handled the triage line, translated for visiting doctors, and dispensed medication.

Few would believe, reading the press coverage of Haiti, that the greatest resources for quake relief would be the Haitians themselves. We found this to be true everywhere, as people formed community committees, chipped in with good will and help, and shared with neighbors. We were able to find qualified Haitians who care and are ready to work for their communities.  We find these leaders in abundance.

Employing and training Haitians makes our projects more flexible and sustainable. For this reason, small direct-action groups like ours have an important role to play on the ground in Haiti in any emergency. We believe that it is Haitians themselves who can heal and build their society.  Relief organizations come and go. Haiti Community Support remains, building a better future for Haiti.