By ALISON KEPNER, The News Journal
Posted Monday, August 23, 2010 - Reposted with permission of author
CHAMBRUN, Haiti — It’s summer in this tent city near Port-au-Prince, now home to 1,450 people displaced by January’s earthquake. There’s no air conditioning and it’s 100 degrees, but a teenage boy plays ball while wearing a woman’s turtleneck. A toddler runs barefoot in a brown velvet party dress. A young boy takes a branch to decorate his handcrafted toy: red, bottle-cap wheels nailed to a white plastic jug. Already in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the streets of Haiti’s capital look little changed from the days after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake. A pile of broken concrete, two stories high, marks where a school once stood. Steps lead from the street to rubble. Congested roads turn a trip of a few miles into an hours-long journey. There is no equipment to move chunks of concrete and nowhere to put it if there were. “The depravity and the looks of desperation” among the women at the Chambrun camp haunt Gail Guidry, 49, a physical education teacher at Castle Hills Elementary in the Colonial School District. “Their eyes have this look of resignation, like this problem is not going to be solved in their lifetime. This is what they are going to have to live with.” Guidry, of New Castle, along with 25 other members of a Compassion Corps team from Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania, spent 12 days at the end of July and earlier this month providing medical care to Haitians and helping the country restore a semblance of order.
Seven months after the earthquake, not enough has changed, said Rachel Davidson, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware who recently visited Haiti. "Immediately after [the quake] there was some effort to clear main roads," she said. "Since then, to clear the private buildings, not much has been done."
In an op-ed written last month for the New York Times, a group of engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology estimated 20 million to "25 million cubic yards of debris fill the streets, yards, sidewalks and canals of Port-au-Prince -- enough to fill five Louisiana Superdomes."
The Georgia professors cited a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris management draft plan that says it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1,000 days to clear the debris -- if it carried 1,000 loads a day. But there are just 300 trucks in the region, and the team estimated clearing the rubble at the current pace could take 20 years. "It's a huge problem," said Davidson, who is part of a team studying the quake's community disruption. "It's not the kind of debris you can move by hand. They need major equipment, which they don't have."
At the tent city in Chambrun, mothers wait six hours or more before doctors and nurses can examine their children. By now, those crushed in the rubble likely have been treated or have perished. In the weeks following the quake, teams of doctors amputated gangrenous limbs and stitched infected lacerations. Today's needs make for less exciting headlines but are serious and chronic. Most babies have ear infections. Almost every woman complains of a vaginal infection. Children and adults alike are malnourished and dehydrated, with dizziness and headaches. Their salivary glands are infected and their stomachs hurt. Many have rashes and respiratory infections. "By diagnosis [we are treating] a lot of things that are directly linked to long-term hunger ... and chronic dehydration," said Dr. Lou Rafetto, a Wilmington oral surgeon. "We saw people who would only eat one meal a day and whatever they ate was whatever was available."
Compassion Corps sponsored an earlier visit to Haiti in March, following dozens of like-minded efforts from others in Delaware and Pennsylvania and hundreds or even thousands more from around the world.
A group of medical missionaries organized as the Delaware Medical Relief Team have traveled to Haiti at least seven times with more than 80 volunteers working in Jacmel on the southern coast. This summer, more than 100 people from the region are traveling there to run a women's and children's camp and medical clinic for the Haiti Family Initiative.
The Compassion Corps team in Chambrun has a huge need for antibiotics and prescription drugs. Often, the team prescribes what is routine by U.S. standards: washing with antibacterial soap and applying body lotion to children. Vaginal infections are widespread and could be a sign of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to infertility, Rafetto said. Without testing or records, he treats what he suspects.
"Unless you get the opportunity to see if your treatment is effective, you don't know if your diagnosis is correct," he said. They can't treat illnesses without the right medicines. That's the case with one man at the Chambrun clinic who has an enlarged prostate. The medical team does the best it can with limited supplies.
Clean water is the most pressing need, said camp leader Volman Vernet Aurel, 32, who was a radio journalist before the quake. The camp is a valley of blue and white tents. The closest well is more than a mile away. The people need homes and a hospital, said Immanuel Jean-Fils, a soft-spoken 10-year-old who shares a tent with five family members.
Education, health care pivotal
Haiti's rainy season brings a daily downpour. The roads rush with muddy water. Mud and waste and rain spread diseases, such as cholera.
At dusk, when the Compassion Corps' bus weaves through Port-au-Prince, children call out: "Hungry! Hungry!" Team members toss packaged food from their backpacks. A plastic bag of Oreos falls short. When the bus pulls away, two boys dive into the mud to find it. While $10 billion in international aid has been pledged to Haiti, recovery is slow.
Tricia Wachtendorf, associate director of the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center and associate professor in sociology, said Haiti was ill-prepared to manage such an immense recovery. Infrastructure "was a challenge in Haiti before the earthquake even happened," she said.
A report released earlier this month by RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization, says future prosperity in Haiti is dependent on rebuilding a nation "capable of providing public services like education and health care." "Haiti will remain vulnerable to natural disasters, political turbulence and civil unrest until it develops effective institutions," said James Dobbins, co-author of the study and a senior fellow at the RAND Corp.
No means of support
Haiti's economy is a huge obstacle. There is a labor force, but no work. Jude Marcellus, 47, worked at a construction site before the earthquake. The income allowed him to support his family and send his children, who range in age from 5 to 19, to a private school. Marcellus, who speaks English, lost his home, his job, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law in the earthquake. He lives in a tent about 10 minutes by foot from Chambrun. There is no school for his kids. "I am out every day to look for the food for my children," he said. For now, he volunteers as a translator for the medical team. "Sometimes I am living in miserable poverty," he said. "My children cry to me for food and I cannot help them." His wife, he said, might leave him because he can no longer support her. "People feel very bad. Because some people, they have kids, a family. They have no food, no medical, nothing for the life," he said. "They live by faith. When they find, they take. When they don't find, they live without." There is hope in faith, Marcellus said. "I am a Christian, and I believe God can do a miracle," he said.
Mackenby Verelus, 31, is another translator. "The earthquake has broken everything," he said. "I got to work years to get comfortable [life] for me." Haiti must seek a new beginning, Verelus said. "After this earthquake we got to do things in another way in Haiti," he said. "We still have hope. The hope for Haiti is we have to focus on education."
Contact Alison Kepner at 324-2965 or firstname.lastname@example.org.