Monday, November 22, 2010

The thirst


It's the first sound we heard as we walked past the wooden sign with the words 'Antre Colera' (sic) written in sloppy permanent marker, hanging outside a hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti.

They were mopping.

Cleaning up the waste left behind in the open air "rooms" in the hospital's courtyard by the cholera victims who have died already, or were transfered to another clinic.

Two steps in, the sound changes.

The brush of the mop against the muddied floors gives way to the faint sound of moaning.

The roar of agony is coming from a woman laying on a bare wooden cot.  She stares blankly at me as I enter the dimly lit room and just keeps groaning, with one hand on her stomach.  The pain from the cholera proving more than she can bare.

A few beds away, a husband holds his wife's hand as an IV drips lifesaving fluid into her.  He just stares at her- laying here, barely strong enough to open her eyes- in shock that after everything this country has been through, this disease could have been what claimed this young woman's life.
Across the room a toddler shares a bed with her mother.

The clear cords from the IV hang down into each of their arms as a family member holds a cup and encourages them to drink more.

Along with fluid, Dr. Pierre-Paul Cadet, a Haitian born doctor with offices in Haiti, West Palm Beach and Lake Worth says the antibiotic, Cipro will help fight off the disease, especially in its late stages.

He, and other volunteers with the Palm Beach County based Haitian Education Community Association (HECA) raised money to buy 5,000 prescriptions of the drug that they brought here today.

A volunteer with Medicos Sin Fronteras (Doctors Without Borders) tells Cadet that this particular hospital is not using Cipro for treatment, but she accepts the donation anyway.

The group then moves to two other hospitals and drops off duffle bags filled with the antibiotic which medical professionals say, unlike the first facility, they *will use.

They have to try something.  This hospital is so full that several patients, including a child, are kept in beds in the hallway.  The conditions are far from sterile, and people are dying,

But, the head nurse says she feels that things are actually good at her facility compared to others because *only 11 adults and 2 children have died there from cholera since the outbreak.  Far better than the mass fatalities noted at other hospitals and clinics.

It's easy to see how the number of overall recorded cholera-related deaths in this country has surpassed 1,100.  Patients the HECA volunteers speak with say they drank from the river they knew was contaminated because they were thirsty and had no other source of water.

Water donations are scarce, and bottled water is too expensive for most Haitians to afford.  A regular size bottled water costs fifty cents.  While many Haitians are out of work, those who are employed average a daily salary of about 2 dollars.   That's a quarter of their earnings for a single bottle of water!  

So, the spread of the disease continues, from the rivers, and possibly from the hospitals.

Those entering and leaving the first hospital are asked to wash their hands with water from a giant bucket.  There is no soap, no sanitizer, just a quick rinse off with 'clean' water.  Just inside the hospital gate, a man used that same bucket of water to fill up empty bottles, likely to sell.

While the earthquake cleanup seems to finally be moving on, the thirst that clouds all sense of risk is now killing so many who survived that January day.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Haiti-bound again!

In the morning, I'll head back to Haiti again. This time, I'm going with a group that is bringing Cipro, an antibiotic that fights cholera, to Haiti. We're bringing about 5,000 doses to 4 hospitals in some of the areas hit hardest by the deadly outbreak. We're told this is the largest amount of this kind of drug to be allowed into Haiti to date. Pray that we are able to get in without any problems and get this medicine to the 5,000 people who will likely die without it.
Don't worry. We will have lots of security and will be safe about what we eat/drink.
I'll be updating my blog as much as I can, and posting updates on My station is being so awesome by supporting me as I cover this immensely important story.
For more information from one of the groups on this mission:

Mishna Update

The little Haitian girl who traveled with my group to the U.S. following January's earthquake remains in federal custody 10 years later. Here's the story I did this week about Mishna:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grave Digger

BON REPOS, HAITI -- "My life has been very bad. Very bad," Mirlande Joseph explains as we drive away from Ruuska Village, a home for unwed mothers and orphanage where she works.

Her car thuds and convulses as she passes over the rocky dirt roads while sharing her story about losing both of her parents when she was eight years old.

Her aunt raised her and nearly a half dozen other children.

There was never enough food; there was never enough anything.

So, her life began to follow a path that like so many other young women in this country.

She didn't get an education.

She got pregnant young.

That baby died.

She got pregnant again.

That baby was born very sick.

The paternal grandfather heard that Barbara Walker, an American, ran a village in Bon Repos where they might find help.

He brought the baby there and begged Walker to try to save the boy.

Walker was willing, but she wanted to meet the newborn's mother.

Joseph reluctantly came to Ruuska Village.

That day changed her life.

Walker offered to let Joseph live in the village while the baby was treated.

Joseph, who spoke no English, began working for Walker by washing clothes, making a few dollars a day.

While she spent her hours working, the baby was well fed and began getting better.

Even healthy, Joseph knew she couldn't give the child the care he needed, so she put him up for adoption.

When the baby left for the United States, Joseph continued working for Walker.

She was alone, and missing her son.

But as she fell back into the feeling that all was lost once again, she found a new spark of hope.

Walker approached her one day and asked "Would you like to learn English?"

The two played word games together every day and after a year, Joseph could speak almost fluently.

Joseph began learning the adoption process and was promoted to assist Walker with the process of getting other needy children in into safe, loving homes all over the world.

The 31-year-old even saved up enough money to buy a house.

Then, the earthquake struck while Joseph was out dropping off paperwork for several adoptions.

Walker immediately called her cell and said, "Either a bomb just hit or it's an earthquake."

The line cut out and Joseph rushed back to the village, knowing there was a chance the children may be dead.

Incredibly, there was only some structural damage.

No deaths.

No injuries.

After a long evening of calming the frazzled children, Joseph returned to her home to find it leveled.

After working all of these years, her one possession was gone.

In the six months since the quake, she's been busier than ever at work.

Sleeping there, eating there, spending countless hours a day trying to get the babies, who are still abandoned at the orphanage on a regular basis, out of Haiti.

The car we're in comes to a loud stop as Joseph pauses in her story.

"This," she exclaims, "is my new house!"

She saved up part of the money needed to rebuild.

Walker is helping her with the rest.

In a time when hardly anyone is rebuilding, Joseph, who started her life with nothing, is building her own palace.

A home she'll share with her youngest child, Ruth.

These kinds of fairytale endings are what Barbara Walker is all about.

She is hardly the fairy godmother you might picture.

Take your vision of a missionary: even tempered, soft spoken, smiley - and reverse it.

That is Barbara Walker; she is as rough and tough as they come.

Before she became a missionary whose favorite self-portrait is a toss up between the one of her with a giant snake around her neck and the one of her crouched down with a bible in one hand, a huge gun in the other - she was a grave digger in upstate New York.

The 66-year-old laughs as she shares darkly humored stories over breakfast about rotting skulls falling out of caskets.

She's quick to shout an order, and even the most macho men stop to listen.

The day after the 'quake, I got into her beat up truck that rattled past the fallen buildings of Port-au-Prince.

We came to a bridge that was blocked off and a man came to the window saying it was damaged, so we couldn't cross.

She said, "Screw that!" and hit the gas, driving across the bridge anyway because she was certain the men blocking the bridge were only trying to divert us to a group of thieves.

It's that tough attitude that's helped her survive numerous muggings, having guns pointed at her, and the struggle that is every day life here in Haiti with no running water, no air conditioning, and dozens of women and children to feed.

She started this village a decade ago with a donation from the Ruuska family.

She was just a missionary at the time who helped that family adopt a child.

When they later had money left to them in a will, the family gave her $10,000 and told her to do anything she wanted with it.

She could have gone home to New York to be with her children and grandchildren, but Haiti had already grabbed onto her heart so hard it tied her here.

She knew she wanted to give women in Haiti a "hand up, not a hand out," so, she built Ruuska Village: a home for unwed mothers and an orphanage.

Behind the blue concrete wall and gate is a tiny gravel road with small concrete houses on each side.

Each woman accepted into the village gets free rent in one of those homes, job training, and an opportunity to earn money by working at the village doing things like washing clothes, as Joseph did.

They also get free child care and financial aid to send their children to school and pay for their uniforms as well as supplies.

And, after completing the job training they get money to help pay for a home of their own.

There are a few rules here at the village.

The main one: no men.

"Which means, no brothers, no fathers, no uncles, no male cousins, no male "companions" men!" Walker explains.

She considers this, a type of "birth control," while she educates the women about things they wouldn't learn otherwise including the risks of unprotected sex.

Plus, Walker explains, they don't, "need a man to pay their rent anymore."

Walker goes on to say, "God has blessed them with a new home better than they could ever have dreamed of. They must use this as a stepping-stone toward the beginning of a whole new way of life."

In helping women build these new lives, she gives all of hers.

Walker's life is tough.

Instead of enjoying her retirement years, she stays up late at night organizing adoption papers.

Her desk - is her bed.

The tiny twin sized mattress is in the corner of her office and volunteers parade in and out of the room throughout the day to use her computer.

She has zero privacy and zero time to herself.

The roosters outside begin crowing long before dawn - telling her it's time for another grueling day of running errands, buying food, gasoline, supplies, facilitating adoptions, taking phone calls, answering e-mails, organizing volunteers, taking care of children and making sure their mothers are on track.

She is known throughout town for her blue dresses (she has an entire closet full of blue floral dresses - it's ALL she wears) and for her no-nonsense attitude.

When she drives through town, people on the street call out, "'Ello Barbara!" and around the world children are with their new families, living safer, healthier lives because of her.

Walker could walk away now and know that her life has been incredibly impactful.

She could say her work is done and return to her family in the U.S.

But she won't stop.

She is rebuilding what was damaged here in the quake while buying more property to expand the village.

And while much of Haiti is crumbling, her heart and her mission continue to grow.

She knows not every story will have a happy ending like Mirlande Joseph's, but she believes each one like it helps dig Haiti out of its dark grave.

A Reason to Sing

BON REPOS, HAITI -- To close your eyes, you'd never guess these were the voices of children who've lost everything.



Smiling so big you know the joy came from somewhere deep.

Each of the 130 children who call the children's home at World Harvest Missions near Port-au-Prince home have a different sad story.

10-year-old Stevenson was buried in the rubble of his house for hours before he was found.

He was the only person in the house to survive.

His parents, siblings and best friend were all killed.

He had nowhere to go, until Miriam Frederick came along.

The Lake Worth resident founded World Harvest Missions which strives to save lives in Haiti in a number of ways.

The orphanage is continually taking in children, many of whom are found abandoned at their gate or in the streets because they were born with physical or mental disabilities.

The children attend school at the orphanage where classes are still ongoing this summer to make up for time lost in class after the quake.

But this mission is about more than these children who, because of the generosity of donors, are able to play, care-free on the swing sets and know that someone is looking out for them.

This mission is about making an even wider impact on the impoverished nation.

Outside the brightly colored gate of World Harvest, the streets are filthy and people beg for food.

Inside - a sprawling sanctuary that makes your forget you're in Haiti.

When you first enter the grassy compound, you see the food depot were cans, boxes and cartons of food, most of which was donated by people in Palm Beach County, are stored.

The food feeds the orphans here as well as those at other orphanages.

Frederick and her volunteers also take food out to the tent cities.

To the left, there is a beautiful, brightly painted building where volunteers sleep and eat.

So many people have poured into Port-au-Prince to offer a literal helping hand, that Frederick has several groups sleeping in tents in the middle of the property because she has no vacancy inside.

Those volunteers go out an missions throughout the city and go into the mountains to aid the other countless tent cities and orphanages.

Frederick and a team go out to throughout this region of the country looking for men, women and children who lost limbs in the 'quake and need help.

Once a week those people are brought back to World Harvest Missions where they can be fitted for prosthetics.

People's lives are better because of the work being done here.

Despite the horrors just outside the gate, she believes she's bringing a bit of brightness where there would otherwise be none.

And she believes these children, who at one time had nothing, are some of the few in the country with a chance at a life that will really be something to sing about.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Darker clouds

BON REPOS, HAITI -- The literal dark clouds began moving in to Port-au-Prince around 5pm, but the figurative ones blew in for Ifanier Bazile a few weeks ago.

He, like thousands of others here, lost his home in the 'quake.

He has spent the past six-months trying to figure out where to go next, and how - with 9 children he can't afford to feed - he will save enough money to build a new house.

It was stressful to think about even when he thought he had time to continue living for free in a tent just outside of the capital.

Then he found out - he is being evicted.

He along with everyone else in his tent city has been told they have one month to move out because the owner of the land plans to build a hospital on the property.

So, now, the homeless become even more homeless.

And as they learn of the intense rain that is expected to pass over Haiti tonight with this tropical wave, they remember to be grateful for the tarp roof they are fortunate enough to have over their heads...for now.

The Devil's neighbors

BON REPOS, HAITI -- He calls it "the devil's house," refusing to allow anyone to refer to it by its real name, the Presidential Palace.

It is what Carlos Jean Charles has to look at every time he steps out of his home in the tent city just across the street from the crumbling white government building that he says makes him think of the greed of President Preval; greed and carelessness he feels are responsible for the condition this country is still in 6 months after the quake.

Charles's tiny tent, that is just big enough to fit a twin mattress on the dirt, is made of burlap sacks and tin. A bright dinosaur print bed sheet is his front door.

And this is where he lives with his eight year old daughter, five year old son and wife, who lost her leg when the family's house crumbled on top of her during the 'quake.

Theirs is one of approximately 3,800 tents in this one tent city, where Charles explains violence is rampant.

He introduced me to a woman named Natalie who claims she was brutally raped by several men just a month ago.

People living in the tent cities have "lost their minds," he says, and thus turned to crime.

He claims people steal because they can't get food or water and children as young as 8 have turned to prostitution in the tent cities just to earn a few dollars to feed their families.

"I know they say so many donations been made to Haiti. Where are they? I don't see anything," Charles says.

He sells paintings just outside of the "devil's house," but doesn't make enough to feed his family.

Today, he said his wife went out to a place where they heard there would be hand outs.

He said he would have been turned away if he went to ask for food, so his wife offered to go, even though it is a struggle for her to get around on crutches and with no transportation.

"I'd almost rather die than live in this misery," Charles says, "That's really terrible."