Monday, March 15, 2010

Highs and Lows, Strikes and Gutters

I've noticed lately that my outlook on things here change by the minute. Every time I think things are going well and some positive may eventually come out of this tragedy, something brings me back down to earth.

A few examples...

On Friday we spent the whole day in the warehouse distributing medicines and supplies to the various hospitals and clinics who we are now working with. Everything they received was specifically requested and can be used to treat the patients in their facilities no matter what their capacities are. These partners vary in the services they provide (one group of doctors from the Tzu Chi Foundation are doing acupuncture in a displaced persons camp) and the numbers of patients they see, but they are all providing their services and the medicines for free. One of these groups was telling us that they are going to ship in these pre-fabricated houses and set them up in a camp so that people will eventually be able to get out of these tent and tarp shelters. People seemed to be doing really good work and at the end of the day, we felt like we had done something to improve the health care of the people being treated by these types of groups. The outlook seemed bright.

Later that night however, we had a long talk with Pino, the owner of the water purification and bottling factory that our warehouse is located in. He has crews in here 24 hours a day, every day except Sunday, making over 10,000 bags of drinking water a day. And in doing so, he directly employs thousands of people. And I had never seen Pino get angry until he heard that overseas groups were going to ship in and build houses for the people in Haiti. What Haiti needs, he said, are jobs. And industry. And investment. And infrastructure. People need to work and they don't need houses built for them. He said when he opened the factory, he had 10,000 people lined up for a job and at the time, only had 500 available.

Hearing this makes me think of the old "give a man a fish" saying. So far, the international community has raised almost $2 billion for Haiti and with that, the immediate needs of shelter, water, food, health, and sanitation are being addressed as best as anyone could have hoped for. But you can see the picture of Haiti in a year from now. That money will be gone and there won't be any more opportunities than there are now except for the few who still have jobs working for the remaining NGOs. If even a fraction of the money raised was spent just to improve the roads (an obviously unglamorous proposition for how to spend aid money) it might be possible for some industry and trade to develop. So needless to say, after the talk with Pino, depression set in...

But alas, today was a new day and we were able to load up a truck with 12 pallets of supplies (mostly Pedialyte for kits who need fluids replaced) to the Petionville Country Club--former golf course and current site of the largest tent city (70,000 people at last count) in PaP. The four medical clinics inside the city see an average of 3,000 patients per day and just as we were walking into one today a baby was being delivered and was eventually named after Alison, the American nurse who delivered her.

When it came time to unload the truck, since there was no forklift we rounded up a team of about 30 people to bucket brigade the supplies into the storage tent. In the line with us, was a guy from the Center for Disease Control who has been studying the health infrastructure in Haiti since April and has now been tasked to study the possibilities for outbreaks in these camps. He said that because of the unsanitary conditions in the camps, they are predicting huge problems of diarrhea and dehydration and the Pedialyte we were unloading would literally serve to "quell the outbreak." It made unloading this truck for four hours in the 90-something degree heat feel pretty good. And afterwords, Sean Penn thanked us for what we are doing because his group is the one running all the medical tents in the city!

But then, just as we were on a high from the day, on the way home we saw a relief truck in front of us carrying boxes of food get hijacked. Basically, a few guys jumped into the back of the truck, opened up the gate, and just started throwing all the boxes out to their buddies waiting on the street. The driver was in the tractor part of the truck and had no idea what was going on. I guess as long as the food is getting to the people it's not a big deal but unfortunately this will probably get sold.

We'll see what happens next...

No comments:

Post a Comment