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WCCCI partner Free The Children in Haiti reporting a week after the devastating earthquake

By admin | January 21, 2010

Craig Kielgurger, founder of Free The Children and his team are about to leave Haiti to return home to Toronto, Canada. In one of his final reports, Craig talks about the spirit of the people as they adjust to daily activities with a new focus: surviving one day at a time:

Velena’s bright-coloured dress stood out against the rubble surrounding her.

The shattered concrete is the remains of a landmark Caterpillar tractor shop that visitors once saw when they got off planes at Port-au-Prince airport. On this day, it bore no resemblance to its former self surrounded by one of the largest camps for internally displaced persons in the area.

Velena, about 7 or 8, led us with determination to her tent. We found it constructed of sticks she and the other children had scavenged with a tarp draped in between.

She is smart and resourceful. Already, she had dug a latrine behind the makeshift homes. The kids told us that the Haitian Ministry of Sanitation was coming around regularly to clean it out.

We were relieved to see Velena had taken these measures. In other parts of the camp the human waste was overwhelming. An aid worker told us he was thanking God this was not the rainy season. Haiti already has the highest rates of infant and under-five morality in the Western hemisphere. The wet weather would only contaminate what’s left of the clean water systems, leading to a spread in deadly water-borne illness.

Velena and her neighbours came to the camp from the impoverished neighbourhood of Solino in Port-au-Prince. The few possessions they were able to recover they brought to the camp in tattered pillowcases and old rice sacks.

When we got to her plot, Velena’s father Richard was returning with two aid boxes he had managed to retrieve for the family. They were marked with well-known logos like CIDA, USAID and Oxfam. The family crowded around as they were opened.

One box contained personal hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and maxi pans. The other was filled with pots and a few dishes.

Velena looked up asked, “What are we supposed to put inside the pot?”

We visited six IDP camps on this day. Only one had received a food shipment. That’s not to say other measures weren’t being taken. One man told us that people had been coming around to take names and information. He wondered if that meant aid would be coming.

Getting from place to place is Port-au-Prince is a challenge. Traffic is wild even with United Nations Peacekeepers and policemen directing people. A few inches of space is enough for people to cut you off.

Passing us was an ambulance being escorted by an officer with a loudspeaker.

“You! The yellow bus!” he yelled. “Stop there. Pick-up go up ahead.”

The ambulance appeared to be taking the wounded to the MSF field hospital. The view inside was blocked with tarps on two sides. Stretchers were set-up at the reception area in front. The doctors administered care as best they could.

This was an encouraging site. Others were not.

Corpses continue to be pulled from the rubble. Sadly, many remain alongside the road. Those on the street seem to have become immune to these images. People continue by on their mass exodus out of the city carrying what few possessions they were able to recover.

Money is running short. Despite that merchants are out of the street, trying to sell their supplies before they spoil. In some cases, they too are doing their best to find relief. One woman sold day-old hot dogs and small candies for half their usual price.

“People need something to make their children happy,” she says before admitting they can’t afford much more.

An orange merchant, about 45-years-old, told us she sold oranges on that corner every day since she was a young woman. She carried them in a bright yellow plastic bowl. We watch as she peeled the fruit, cut it into slices and handed it over to her customers with a grin.

She took no money in return.

“I can’t let them go hungry or thirsty,” she says. “Today I am just happy if I have helped to quench the thirst of a few.”

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