By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
After the earthquake in Haiti in January of this year, there was an outpouring of support — physical, financial and spiritual — for those whose lives were left in shambles. But what has this support brought to those most in need?
A program at Le Moyne College on Oct. 7 featured a panel of speakers who have lived and worked with the people in Haiti in the months since the earthquake.
James Cirincione, a retired pediatrician, William Canny, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) director of emergency services in Haiti, and Robert Hood, a businessman and director of the Haiti relief effort at St. James Church in Cazenovia, told those gathered about their experiences helping the country rebuild. Father Donald Maldari, SJ, began the evening with an overview of the country’s troubled history.
Paul Welch, social action ministry director for Catholic Charities, chaired the event. “I think tonight what we’re looking for is a little hope,” he said. “We have to
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be hopeful. That’s our role to be hopeful
and to act.”
But although all of the speakers said they found hope in the people of Haiti, they also described a country that, eight months after the earthquake, is still struggling to make even the most basic progress toward recovery.
Canny, a graduate of Seton Catholic Central High School, provided a slideshow of pictures of the work being carried out by CRS in Haiti. Buckets and boxes of food were being prepared, backhoes cleared out trenches filled with rubble and children were being nursed back to health.
But the photographs also showed sprawling tent cities, collapsed buildings and a cardboard sign hanging from twine with the words “pre-op” written on it.
“Shelter is probably the most critical next step,” Canny said. An estimated 1.3 million people are living in tents or in shelter made of cardboard, tin, tarps and sticks. Some small plywood structures that are more resistant to the weather are being constructed, but Canny said even getting these transitional shelters built has been a struggle.
“We’ve run into gridlock with the government’s incapacity to acquire designated land and work together with associations like us to move people into these temporary shelters,” he said.
The goal was to build 250,000 of these transitional shelters but Canny said only 12,000 have been built to date.
“Another issue is insecurity in the camps. There have been reports of attacks and rapes and the abuse of women,” Canny said. “We were all a little bit caught off guard by this.”
In response, more lights have been brought into the camps. There are now separate latrines for men and women. Women are being provided with whistles, and civilian units patrol the camps.
Hood, a retired commercial developer, has traveled to Haiti over 30 times, four of those visits were since the earthquake in January. His parish, St. James in Cazenovia, has twinned with St. Ives Parish in Thibeau, a rural village 30 minutes from Cap-Haïtien.
He spoke of the desperate conditions he has seen first-hand.
“They’re living with no water, no food,” Hood said. “I was walking around and I had to go to the bathroom. Where do you go to the bathroom? The tents are as close together as these chairs here. So I found a row of Porta-potties and the first seven were filled to the top of the seat. In 100 degree weather. And people are living with that every day.”
He said some women are trading sex for food; thousands of bodies are still buried in the rubble and a handful of elite families are demanding bribes at the city’s ports and interfering with the upcoming presidential elections.
He said Haitians who must line up to get replacement I.D.s in order to vote often give up after the frustration of a long wait, and those who are able to vote will have to choose from over a dozen candidates who have no platforms and provide no information to the mostly illiterate voters.
“I don’t see Port-au-Prince being rectified or cleaned up in 10 years,” he said.
Cirincione said workers at the hospital where he volunteered told him a necessary piece of medical equipment was delivered to the country, but government officials demanded an exorbitant “importation tax.”
“Every month for six months they went back to pick it up and every month they were told they had to pay the tax. Finally the people at the court realized that the bribe was never going to be paid so they released the equipment.”
Perhaps the most moving photographs came from Cirincione, who had just retired, moved to Florida with his wife and was “having a grand old time” when he received a call from a friend who asked for his help in Haiti.
He showed photos of women who came in from devastated villages to help cook meals for those being treated in the hospital, of young boys who became fast friends in the tent camps, of a baby with a washcloth on its head whose left side will forever be paralyzed after part of her leg was shorn off by falling debris.
“The majority of children, and certainly the majority of children we saw, are malnourished and anemic — and almost all are both,” he said.
Many of the photos showed children missing parts of a leg.
“Almost all of the injuries were crush injuries. A severe crush injury really can’t be treated any way other than amputation,” Cirincione said.
He showed a picture of a little boy looking into the camera with big brown eyes. “Now this little boy, we guessed he was about two years old, he was brought in on [a] helicopter. He had no name, no I.D. His left leg had been amputated,” he said.
Once Cirincione and his wife returned to the U.S. they learned that the boy had been reunited with his mother.
“These people are absolutely amazing. They take care of each other in an absolutely inspirational way.”
This is a sentiment shared by both Hood and Canny. “No matter what you give to these people, you will receive back far more than you ever gave in the first place,” Hood said.
Yet aid workers are continually frustrated by the slow progress in helping the people of Haiti fully recover.
“It’s still not where anyone wants it to be,” Canny said. “It’s been slow, difficult, painful for all of us. But we do see some glimmers of hope — particularly in the Haitian people.”