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WCCCI partner Free The Children in Haiti – updates

By admin | January 20, 2010

Craig Kielburger, founder of Free The Children has been providing updates on the devastation in Haiti:

“We met Marie and her husband Ronald on the steps of the Mission of Immaculate Conception convert. The nuns here have long been friends of our organization, helping to give children in the area just outside Port-au-Prince an education.

Today, despite the structural damage, they are providing refuge for families rendered homeless by the earthquake.

Ronald is a tall thin man and Marie is a voluptuous woman still glowing from her recent pregnancy. Their daughter, three-month-old Manoueshka, sleeps peacefully on a mattress beside us. Without disposable diapers and with no means to clean cloth, the couple set up layers of old sheets on a mattress they were able to pull from inside the convent.

Normally, finding diapers wouldn’t be a problem for Marie and Ronald. The couple had good jobs and was quite well-off prior to the earthquake. But there money is tied up in banks which collapsed. They also lost most of their documents when their home did as well.

The bit of cash they normally kept in the house was drying up. They weren’t quite sure what they would do next.

Learning this, we couldn’t help but sympathize. Most of us in North America keep our earnings in the bank. If we woke up one morning to no power across the country and our institutions gone, our reserves likely wouldn’t go far either.

Our convoy is now making its way into Port-au-Prince and the destruction is becoming much more significant. Along the road, what can only be described as camps for internally displaced persons are everywhere. With little room in which to operate, the people are crammed together creating walls out of sticks and clothing.

Still there seems to be a solidarity to sleeping outside. Communities are emerging. Children play hopscotch in the dirt.

What we fear now is what happens when the rain comes. This is not the rainy season in Haiti so sleeping outside is feasible. But, once the rain starts people will likely head inside the unsafe structures. The weight of the water will likely cause more damage.

As we passed one camp, a sign stood out on the road.

It stated simply, “200 people. No food. No Water. Help.”

The sign itself was a simple plea for the basic necessities in life but symbolized so much more. There is order and governance emerging in these camps. We’ve seen no leadership from the government. While the institution may still exist, it has no control.

Going forward though, there will be a voice in these tents. There will be leaders who emerge. Some will good while others will undoubtedly become gang-like. Still, there will be a voice.

As we headed to the airport, the fuel shortage took on a new dimension. The cars are off the road and there is not a vehicle in sight. But the lineups at the gas stations are long.

The lineups are made up of people crammed together. They wait for hours in these lines, bodies pressed up against one another, with water jugs that they use to collect fuel.

We came across an aid worker named Jim. He is an American who has lived in Haiti for 15 years. He has a wife and kids in the town of Pignon and is doing his best to help out. Because he has spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we were taken aback by what he had to say.

“Haiti is a failed state.”

Jim had harsh words on how the aid was being distributed and expressed how disturbed he was by the lawlessness on the street. He also estimated that only a fraction of the bodies have been found and could only speculate what that would mean for public health in the coming weeks.

That was his main outlook. Not today or tomorrow. What about next week? The month after that? Sure the camps were organizing in solidarity now. But, how long would that solidarity last as food and water becomes more and more scarce.

To him, this is effectively a warzone without the armies. United Nations Peacekeepers keep order in some areas as if there is a battle going on. This fact worried Erin a little. While their presence is important, she remembered seeing posters in UN headquarters following the 2004 coup stating, “Child prostitution is illegal even in this country.”

It definitely raised questions. What kinds of protections would be in place for women and girls as the basic necessities in life remain scarce and desperation sets in?

None of these questions have easy answers. Neither do those of Ronald and Marie.

Back at the convent, the symbols they once turned to in prayer did little to ease their worries. Haiti is a deeply religious nation with 80 per cent of the population professing to be Roman Catholics. Here though, the status of Jesus had lost an arm and the Virgin Mary cracked in half.

Outside on the hard ground, little Manoueshka still slept silently.

The baby is an American citizen. Marie flew to Miami six months ago to have her and she carries an American passport.

The couple went to the American Embassy hoping to be evacuated. Officials informed them that only Manoueshka and Marie would be able to leave. Ronald would have to stay behind.

We inquired as to what they would do. We received only silence.

Marie looked at Ronald. Ronald looked down at his sleeping daughter.

The question was one she couldn’t ask. It was one he couldn’t bring himself to answer.”

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