marlienebastien_fc.jpgTande se Youn- We se de.

That’s Creole for the saying, “Hearing it is one thing, seeing it is another.’’

I arrived in Haiti last Friday with a big delegation of city officials, Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, North Miami City Councilman Jacques Despinosse, state Rep. Yolly Roberson, community activists and city employees with a sense of purpose.
First step: Cite Soleil. Within a New York minute, we were surrounded by an army of men, children and women, including pregnant women.

Marie wanted us to see her still inundated one-room house. Her earthly possessions were meager. A makeshift bed supported by four blocks and flattened carton boxes served as a mattress. She had a few rags. The family’s only clothes were the bedcovers.

In the middle of the bed lay a very small, 6-day-old baby. She was born at term, but she looked so tiny. She could have been mistaken for a doll.  Her name is Denise. She cried a very weak, barely audible cry. She had not had anything to eat all day. It was 4 o’clock. 
Her mother was so malnourished that her breast milk had dried up.

The other children looked bright-eyed. Their pupils were widened with hope. Cecile was desperate. She has seven children, no father and no work. She saw us as the miracle she had been waiting for.

“Take my baby,’’ she cried as tears streamed down her face.  “I’ll cry until my tears dry up. But then, I’ll go to sleep knowing that my baby is safe. My baby will be fed.”

Saturday, we went to the airport to oversee the disembarkation of all the collected goods.  The generosity of the Miami community is undeniable. Bags of rice, beans and spaghetti piled up and up. It was heartwarming.  DHL flew the supplies to Port-au-Prince…for free.

World Vision provided the franchise. They’ve worked in Haiti for 50 years. They had a well-established structure to distribute the food.
They were excellent!

Aside from a small glitch that was quickly resolved, the process was smooth.  The food was ready to be delivered.  Cite Soleil got the first batch…we didn’t make a dent.  Hungry crowds lined up for hours waiting for deliverance.  Here is the catch:  There were 10 times more people outside waiting, wishing for a bag of rice, beans or cornmeal than there were inside.  It was the same scenario all over. 

The need is so great, you never can do enough. Next stop: homeless shelters. As soon as the convoys hauled into the yard, we were surrounded by huge crowds…women and children constituted the majority…again.

So many children, handicapped and elderly people. Masses of people yearning for a loaf of bread, pushing, pressing, pushing to move forward, to be the one saved.

The children were sharp, smart.  They wanted to be teachers, doctors, engineers. Even in the most desolate place on earth, hope abounds. The children were kind: They said. “Thank you,’’ smiling genuinely, sincerely.

Last stop: Cabaret. There, I saw firsthand the breadth of the devastation.

Vast plantations of bananas, potatoes, and corn were destroyed, gone with the land into streets that turned into rivers. I stood inside a house that sits in the womb of a large river. 

Young and old waded their way through dirty waters.

An old man stopped to share his story: “I lost everything,’’ he said, pointing to a small sack on his head. “This is all I have, but God’s took me that far, I know he won’t let me down.”

Most schools in the capital and in the countryside are used as homeless shelters. There is no alternative plan, yet school starts in two weeks.  The collapsed bridges are still down.  Millions are still cut off from the rest of the world.  Haiti is in a state of emergency.  The government has failed. The state needs to act now: Declare a state of grave emergency. Present a short- and long-term plan for redress.

The Haitian Diaspora can and should help. But I agree, there must be a vision, a strategy, and, God, some leadership!

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.

Photo: Marleine Bastien •