On the Ground in Haiti: Hell and Hope

Bill Quigley Feb 4, 2010

Smoke and flames rose from the sidewalk. A white man took pictures. Slowing down, my breath left me. The fire was a corpse. Leg bones sticking out of the flames.

Port-au-Prince police headquarters is gone, already bulldozed. A nearby college is pancaked. Government buildings are destroyed. Stores fallen down. Tens of thousands of structures destroyed; hundreds of thousands homeless.

Giant piles of concrete, rebar, metal pipes, plastic pipes, doors and wires.

Corpses are still buried within the mountains of rubble. No estimates of how many thousands of people are dead inside.

Electrical poles bend over streets, held up by braids of thick black wires. On some side streets, the wires are still hanging down to the ground.

Buildings take unimaginable shapes. Some are halfway standingone facade erect, the other sloping to the ground. Some have collapsed like cakes. Others, smashed like children’s toys.

Everywhere are sheet shelters. In parks, soccer fields, in the parking lot of the TV station, tens of thousands literally in the streets and on sidewalks.

Thousands of people standing in the hot sun waiting their turn. Outside the hospital are clinics, money transfer companies, immigration offices, and the very few places offering water or food.

Troops and heavy machinery are only seen in the center of the city.

After days in Port-au-Prince, I have seen only one fighttwo teens fought on a street corner over a young woman. No riots. No machetes.

Children wait in line for food in downtown Port-au-Prince, Feb. 2. PHOTO CREDIT: MARK OVASKAHope is found in the people of Haiti. Despite having no electricity, little shelter, minimal food, and no real government or order, people are helping one another survive.

Men and boys are scavenging useful items from the mounds of fallen buildings. Women are selling mangoes and nuts on the street. Teens are playing with babies.

Beautiful hymns are lifted as choirs calling to God in every sheet camp, every evening. People pray constantly. The strikingly beautiful tap-tap cabs, brightly emblazoned with “In God We Trust” or “Merci Jesus.”

Everyone needs tents and food and medical care and water, but when you talk to people, most will lead you to an ailing great-grandma or the malnourished childsomeone weaker, in even direr need of help.

What should outsiders do, I asked Lavarice Gaudin? Lavarice, who helps the St. Clare’s community feed thousands each day through their What If Foundation, said, “Help the most poor first. Some who labored their whole lives to make a one-bedroom home will likely never have a home again. Haiti needs everything. But we need it with a plan. Pressure the Haitian government; pressure USAID to help the poorest.”

International volunteers who work hand-in-hand with Haitians are welcomed. Others, not so much.

Lavarice saw the Associated Press story that reported only one penny of every U.S. aid dollar will go directly in cash to needy Haitians. “I can understand that they distrust the government,” she said, “But why not distribute aid through the churches and good community organizations?”

And: “We hope this will help us develop strong leadership that listens and responds to the people.”

And: “No matter what, we will never give up. Haitians are strong, hopeful people. We will rebuild.”

Bill Quigley is Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and a long-time Haiti human rights advocate.

This article originally appeared on The Smirking Chimp.

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