This is the second in a series of accounts of Wanjira Banfield’s recent mission to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Martin Luther King Jr. once stated, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” It’s morning in Martissant, Haiti.
With electricity still non- existent throughout the country, many yearned for the natural light of the sun.
We awoke on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday Jan. 18, to the sound of a rooster crowing in the distance, cars whizzing and honking by, women singing in the streets, and children laughing and playing in front of the building.
After prudently freshening up with just a bucket of cold water and a bar of Dove soap, I received fresh gear from my teammate, Frantz. We dressed and headed out to assess the damage throughout the capital, and to begin the distribution process.
A young lady who was sitting by the stoop, braiding her 8-year-old daughter’s hair, told me, “Every day is a blessing, so we are thankful and we are grateful for the grace of God.”
We wasted no time. We knew that every hour, every minute, every second that went by was lost time for providing the necessary care to the injured children, the stranded survivors and the terrified citizens of Haiti.
We hopped into the back of the pickup truck and headed out of our alleyway toward the main road.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw next.
It was a mass exodus; something right out of a disaster scene in a horror film.
Hundreds of people, children, young men and women were crammed beyond capacity inside jitneys and small buses. Infants and young babies held on tight with nothing but the arms of their mothers to keep them from falling by the wayside. Everyone was desperately on a mission to head out of the capital, either toward the border or the countryside of Haiti.
Fights erupted at the gas station across the street because the demand was a lot heavier than the supply.
We continued our drive out of Martissant.
The earthquake’s destruction of buildings and homes left us in awe. It was much worse than what we could have imagined, and nothing like what we've seen on TV back in the U.S.
In the middle of town, a large flag pole stood naked where once a prestigious Haitian flag waved over the people.
As if someone pulled the wrong block from a Jenga game tower, building after building seemed to have crumbled down with no mercy. Huge chunks of cement covered much of the cracked streets. Houses and hotels that at one time stood in elegance and candor were reduced to nothing but piles of rubble and decaying human remains.
Cars were gutted by previous flames, leaving a charred shell of metal. My heart sank as we drove by bodies laying on the corners of the streets, unidentified and decomposing.
We stopped in front of a large pile of rubble and cement in Carrefour, Haiti which was an extremely hard-hit area. As we climbed over the cement bricks, the signs of life that once existed were unequivocal. A washed-up teddy bear lay among the ashes, photos of families that once hung against the walls were scattered beneath the dirt, and the lingering stench was always a reminder of death’s presence.
Our team leader, Greg Gourgue, remembered this same place just months ago as a firmly standing, fully occupied apartment complex.
“That building was an apartment building…1500 people lived in here….I think about 10 of them…survived,” Gourgue solemnly stated.
We arrived at a church turned makeshift treatment center in Carrefour.
Lines and lines of moaning and injured people waited patiently to be seen by the minimal medical staff onsite.
The injuries varied from minor to severe, from a lot of crush injuries, to missing limbs, to infected wounds. According to reports on MSNBC, doctors throughout the region have been performing over 60 to 70 amputations a day, and many without the essential necessary medical supplies.
That was more than evident here.
With a hospital over capacity and more people trickling through the gates, the medical staff only had enough medical supplies for two days.
We were grateful to link up with Dr. Roger Jean Charles, founder of the Foundation for the Development of Universities and Research in Haiti (FDU) and a good friend of Airline Ambassadors. He was crucial to our groundwork efforts in helping to get over $1 million worth of aid to the hospitals. Although we were making strides, the concerns were beyond the visible.
“With no clean water in the city, we can expect epidemics of cholera, typhoid and the like,” Jean-Charles said.
The anguish in the eyes of the people exposed a much deeper wound, one that no medication could fix; a deep unfathomable wound to the soul.
Yet there was a strained effort to restore some type of normalcy to life in Haiti. I peeked beyond the gates of the hospital and saw a man climbing the ladder of an electric pole, attempting to fix it. I saw young boys playing soccer across a deserted embankment with smiles on their faces, and many others clearing debris off the streets while waiting in anticipation and patience for help.
We knew things were going to take time, and that there would be challenges along the way.
But there was a gleam of hope.
We were set to meet with Minister of Health Alex Larsen, who vowed to get things moving, and swiftly set in motion a plan to get the necessary aid to the people of Haiti.
Editor’s Note: Look for the next part of Wanjira Banfield’s Inside Haiti series in next week’s edition of the South Florida Times.