Haiti's path to earthquake recovery requires more
justice and aid
Interview conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Jan. 12 marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that leveled Port au Prince, Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people and largely decapitating the government, devastating the city's already crumbling infrastructure, and hobbling the work of many international aid groups. Haiti has 10,000 non-profit aid organizations, ranging from major players like Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children, to tiny storefront church operations.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Sherman Malone, co-founder 16 years ago of Haiti Marycare, a Connecticut-based group serving the health and education needs of residents of the small fishing village of Jacquesil, on Haiti's northeast coast, as well as in a poor Port au Prince neighborhood. The organization works in collaboration with local Haitians and the government's ministry of health and education.
Malone, who traveled to Haiti on the earthquake's grim anniversary and amid a disputed presidential election, talks about the impact the earthquake and subsequent cholera epidemic have had on both the rural and urban populations, and how the world can provide assistance to better help Haiti recover.
SHERMAN MALONE: What I call my village -- Jac, Haiti on the northeast coast, near the Dominican border -- many people came as refugees from the city. They came back to extended family in the countryside. Not only in my village, of course, but throughout rural Haiti, which created a very difficult situation, because often the people from the city were the better-off members of the family. Like the story of the city mouse and the country mouse, they were coming to the country to ask help from cousins, aunts, uncles, extended family, who were just subsistence farmers barely managing on their own, so the people who took them in had to make very great sacrifices to do so.
At the same time, when cholera gripped the country, it started in the Artibonite, the rice bowl section of Haiti, in the middle toward the west, and then spread rapidly to Port au Prince as people traveled to the capital city. Then, little by little, it began to spread to the farther countryside. My organization, Haiti Marycare, was able to provide chlorine tablets for water purification and soap and to distribute instructions in Creole for prevention of cholera by hygiene. Cholera normally infects people when they drink dirty water that has the bacteria in it, and the cure for it is to drink very clean water, which is in short supply. So we were able to work on water resources, partly because we had previously worked to clean old wells and to install new ones -- hand-pumped wells, which work whether or not there is electricity. There were three deaths before the community was shocked enough to realize how very valuable the information about cholera prevention was. And immediately, leaders sprang up to assist the staff of the clinic and the ministry of health, northeast, in informing people about what to do.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Sherman Malone, your organization also works in Port au Prince. What happened there, and what's happened over the past year?
SHERMAN MALONE: In the capital, Port au Prince, Haiti Marycare has for some 16 years supported a pre-school/primary school that serves 200 children. Immediately after the earthquake, the school was badly damaged and the well at the school was damaged. And our first action was to repair that well, which made it possible for a manual, hand-pumped well to provide the only water that was available in this neighborhood to about 250 people who were camped on the ground near the school in the days following the earthquake. Food distribution tended to be unfair because the biggest, strongest people would get the most of it. There have been improvements in aid organizations recognizing community leadership. I think Venezuela in particular was in the leadership in that way. They offered food to people who had organized themselves in the camps, and they monitored how the food was distributed to make sure it got to children and women and elderly and frail in a fair way.
We were able to open the school in March and have consistently stayed open and have stayed in touch with this group that started at 250 and gradually some have found places in the official camps and some have gone to the countryside to relatives, and there are now about 50 people who have no place to go. They have to move from place to place either because the rain drives them out or because the owners of those places can't afford to give them a welcome anymore since the earthquake, and they're suffering very much. There was a recent program where it was noted that -- what this person said was -- Haiti needs less charity and more justice. Haiti needs lots more justice, but, from my view, Haiti also needs a huge amount of ongoing material help.
And, the advocacy to hold not only the nonprofit, non-governmental organizations responsible, but also our own government and particularly former President Clinton who's leading the agency whose responsibility it is -- in partnership with the prime minister of Haiti -- to coordinate services and to make sure they're used effectively and that any organization, if it's the U.S. AID (Agency for International Development), or if it's some non-profit or some little group of church people -- anybody who raises money to help Haiti has to be accountable not only to the people who donate the money, which is very important, but also to their partners in Haiti -- to the Haitian people. Our goal, and the goal of principled assistance for Haiti that really helps is to sustain some important effort over time, and, as the minister of health puts it, respond to the emergency, but not at the cost of the commitment to long-term intervention that helps to solve the long-term problems.
Contact the aid group Haiti Marycare by calling (203) 797-1893 or visit their website at HaitiMarycare.org
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