HAITI: FROM THE FRONT LINES (Flavia Cherry)
(Flavia Cherry, Chair Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action)
It is good to see that some efforts are being made to reach women in desperate need, but those of us on the ground are yet to see this happen in many of the areas where there is desperate need for food and relief. AID agencies MUST find a more humane way to reach out to the women and children who are most vulnerable and desperate. I know that the need is great, there is no excuse for what is the reality on the ground here in Haiti as Caribbean citizens offered help and mmany have even been denied entry. It is obvious that the aid agencies, (well intentioned as they may be) are unable to handle the scale of the problem here in Haiti. So why are they not being inclusive and involving more Haitian and Caribbean institutions in the relief and recovery efforts? Something is very wrong about the picture here in Haiti because while international agencies are dropping the ball in an attempt to monopolize aid efforts, Haitians are dying. Apart from lines for women, there is an urgent need for volunteers to go into the camps to reach women, children, disabled and elderly people who are unable to move.
It is a disgrace for so much money to be circling around to all kinds of aid groups and every single day I see so many people hungry, desperate. This situation is simply not acceptable. There are women in camps who have not had anything to eat for days. There are many available Hatians who are willing to assist as volunteers to get the aid to those who need it and CARICOM was willing to send help, but something seems to be really wrong. Why are Caribbean Goernments not allowed to play a more pivotal role, especially as there are many CARICOM citizens and regional security officers who speak creole and would be able to communicate better with the people of Haiti.
What I see on the ground is lots of big fancy air conditioned vehicles moving up and down with foreigners, creating more dust and pollution on the roads. Thousands of millitary officers everywhere, heavily armed like they are in some kind of battle zone. The girl guides and boy scouts of Haiti are also out in their uniforms, but unlike the army of troops, they are up and about, assisting in many ways. I saw of group of the boy scouts and girl guides directing traffic today, Sunday!
From the very beginning, I have been asking why aid agencies did not arrange separate lines for women, children and disabled people. It is obvious that if you leave people hungry for 5 to 8 days without food, they will be desperate and when food finally arrives, it will be survival of the fittest. The international agencies allowed confusion to reign supreme for more than two weeks while sensational and racist media people were merrily portraying images of hungry people fighting for food. At least now that they have suddenly realized the need for separate lines, I hope that this happens at every single distribution point, because as I am writing this email, that certainly is NOT the case.
I would like to share two separate events which I witnessed yesterday.
The first one is what I call a miracle birth. A young lay who had both legs amputated delivered a healthy baby on the ground, under a bed sheet. Not only were both legs amputated, but she had bandages all over her hips. Because of her condition, this expectant mother should never have been left out there on the streets at that advanced stage of her pregnancy because the chances of having a normal delivery in her physical coniditon were very slim. At the time of the delivery, people were everywhere, men, women, children, all huddled together under those sheets, for shelter from the sun. If there were complications, both mother and baby could very easily have passed, as no one in the camp had any transport or means of getting the mother to a medical facility. Other mothers were there with their newborns. This poor mother had nothing, no milk, no clothing for the baby, nothing! A doctor eventually came, but the mother was left there, with her baby, so we brought milk and supplies, including a sleeping bag. I know these are not normal times, but it is exactly for this reason, international aid agencies should be more inclusive and engage all those who are willing and capable of providing support.
The second incident happend in the heart of Port Au Prince yesterday where the largest number of people are living under the most inhumane conditions. I was taking pictures, when suddenly everyone started to run towards the Palace gates. I stood on top of a vehicle and realized that it was President Preval who had ventured onto the lawn and people starting shouting out to him, saying that they were hungry. President Preval came to the fence and hundreds of people kept running towards the fence. Many of them were shouting ¨Lavalas, Aristide, Lavalas, Aristide¨. Several others were asking President Preval why he had not addressed his people and told them what was happening. One woman put it this way: (I have not had anything to eat for four days and no one is hearing anything from the President, we have no idea what our Government is doing). I am using brackets because I cannot find quotation marks on this french keyboard.
President Preval spoke to those who were closest to the fence, but the large number of people who were pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of him, obviously heard nothing. At least I got a picture of the whole scene, including President Preval behind the fence with hundreds of people right next to him on the other side. Something about that scene convinced me even more, that there is really no need for such a heavy millitary presence in Haiti. What Haiti needs is an army of medical, civilian and specialist voluneers who will work with the people of Haiti to rebuild their nation - not a heavily armed millitary of more than 50,000 standing guard over them.
PS: I must express appreciation for the many volunteers from various countries who are giving very genuine assistance to the people of Haiti, but my comments remain relevant because of the reality on the ground
It is heartbreaking to see how disabled people are living on the sidewalks, with no shelter. Women and children are hungry in camps - no bathing, sanitary facilities. Girls are the biggest victims - being sexually abused and raped in the so-called camps, covered by bed sheets and no privacy. Some calling for Aristide! It is a human disaster.
Message from Flavia Cherry,
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 4:06 PM
Haiti - From the front lines
We have organized an international solidarity camp through which all our supplies are being sent to the DR and then to Haiti, directly to the women and the women´s organizations. I would love very much if Andaiye could join us on our team visit, which is currently being planned. For now, our strategy is to reach out as best as we can with supplies being sent from our members everywhere, including the diaspora. It is not nearly enough, but at least we are not helpless when we come accross some dire situations. Our strategy is also to hold aid/international agencies accountable, even if we have to shame them in the process. My efforts are not in vain because I now have an interview with a major canadian television station, so we are getting the news out there.
It is very rough here in Haiti, so I plan to go home for a few days and then return for another week. I am hoping that when our team visits, they will not have to sleep in tents and sleeping bags or wrapped up in sheets, like I am doing now. So I am organizing better accommodation with the help of some of the women´s organizations as well as our members in Haiti. There are some hotels operating but with such a huge millitary presence, they are absorbing almost every decent living space - not to mention the food etc, to keep them there. When I get back to St. Lucia, I am hoping to organize for some Caribbean media people to join our team when it goes to Haiti. So if any of you have any ideas on how to do that, please advise.
What is most urgently needed is feminine hygiene supplies, including napkins for women who have just given birth, pampers for newborns, baby wipes, rubbing alcohol, bras and panties, including clothes for women who have lost everything. Older men are also desperates in need, so we need underwares for them also. I never thought of some basic things like combs, but some of our youth members have lost everything and are living under tents. One comb was being passed around from person to person. So we need to include stuff like combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste etc. Also it is cold here at nights, so we need little booties for the baby´s feet as well as hats and wraps to keep them warm, pampers and baby wipes. Of course, there is a desperate need for food, so as much as we can get would be welcome, but what I have listed is most urgent. Oh, there are no bathing facilities, no privacy in most of the camps, so we urgently need some feminine wipes. It is heartbreaking to see young girls looking for a place to clean themselves and having to settle for right there in the open - men, boys, everyone in full view.
Please send all supples addressed as follows:
URGENT HUMANITARIAN RELIEF FOR HAITI
Ms. Sergia Galvan and Mayra Tavarez
Colectiva Mujeres Y Salud/CAFRA
Calle Socomo Sanchez, No 64
Gazcue, Santo Domingo, DR
Tel: 1-809-315-0571 or 809-682-3128
I know many people have collected stuff but they have not found a way to get them here in Haiti, so ask them to send it to us and we will get them in, to the people who need it most.