Employee Spotlight: Alex goes to Haiti
Recently EMS Northborough, MA employee Alex Najduch spent a few weeks in Haiti working with World Vision Haiti. She went down to the island country with one of her professors from graduate school and a couple other colleagues to work as a resettlement evaluator. During her trip she sent back photos and reports about her time there and how a few EMS products helped.
Welcome to Haiti…
Mountains. Rain. Rubble. Chaos? All were inescapable parts of the Haitian landscape making the first moments off the plane unforgettable. Not a novice to Caribbean islands, Haiti has proved unique in all regards. Port-au-Prince, the country’s lively capital, has come through unbelievable hardships over the last two and a half years and has the scrapes and bruises to show for it. After the January 2010 earthquake 1.5 million Haitians were displaced (a staggering 14% of the country’s entire population) and over 300,000 killed. What is the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude to a country that was already the poorest in the Western hemisphere?
There are roughly 500,000 Haitians still living in IDP camps (internally displaced peoples) and World Vision has taken on the task of trying to help 1,500 regain sustainable lifecycles. This means making sure the children who have been out of school are reintroduced to schools, health concerns are addressed, and adults have access to a livelihood. There was incredible structural damage done to the city in 2010 leaving many families without homes and without the means to rebuild. It is no surprise that this snowballed to create even more series problems within the country. There was dissent in the Haitian government, critical safety concerns in the camps, and in October a cholera epidemic due to lack of proper sanitation.
The bugs have been overly friendly and did their best to welcome me – for this I loved the Ben’s Insect Repellent Wipes (I have never tried these on a trip before but highly recommend!) and pre-treated mosquito netting. The people I have encountered have been good-humored and considerate; starting with being picked up from the airport. Some friends of my professor picked me up and, while a little concerned, had no problem humoring my request to sit in the bed of the truck to see more of the city on our drive. While this thoughtfulness has been consistent I am not so naïve to believe all Haitians are happy with the influx of “white” development workers or the massive control the UN currently has on the country. I hoped during my time here I could see the country realistically and respectfully and actually see the people and not be a passive observer.
Entering the city of Port-au-Prince is something of a surreal experience. We have all heard of the horrors and tragedy left by the earthquake but I had no idea what to expect. It was something of a sense overload – you inhale the air from coal burning trucks, smell the garbage in the streets, feel the dirt and dust under your nails and covering your feet, taste the sweat dripping onto your lips and see the abject poverty around you. But that is text book – if you looked up “developing country” you would get this description. What is sadly unique to this city are the ruins that still stand everywhere. It is not unusual to see stairs that lead to nowhere or buildings with 3 walls – all of which look like a strong wind could blow them down. But what may escape people’s eyes is the pride Haitians have in their appearance; their constant struggle to keep their clothes clean even when it takes an incredible amount of time and energy to wash and dry everything. Or the compassion the Haitian people have for each other and their understanding of the need for cooperation and community. While there I happened across another development worker also wearing some EMS Techwick!
“As my father always used to tell me, ‘You see, son, there’s always someone in the world worse off than you.’ And I always used to think, ‘So?” -Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
It has been over two years since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the small island nation of Haiti – but what has happened in its wake is a story of heroism, compassion, community and misery. While aid still pours into the country, its effectiveness and sustainability are coming into question. I recently returned from a trip to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas where I was working as a monitoring and evaluation assessor for an international non-profit. These are just some stories and pictures of a country determined to overcome adversity.