LAKE WORTH — Eight months after a massive earthquake hit Haiti’s capital, local relief efforts continue to provide medical services and essential supplies to hundreds of Haitians.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department in Lake Worth and the University of Miami Global Institute Project Medishare are helping to meet the basic needs of many.
The idea for helping the people of Haiti came from Deputy Pierre Rouzeau, who, like colleague Deputy Patrick Desir, is of Haitian parentage.
Rouzeau told Capt. Rolando Silva about his idea and Silva warmed to it and they assembled a team to take the lead.
Catherine Murphy, spokeswoman for Project Medishare, said streets have been cleared of bodies but not much else has changed.
“There is no clean water or food. The rubble has not been removed. It’s very much like it was after the earthquake,” Murphy said.
Project Medishare organizes volunteers, including doctors, nurses and physical therapists to travel to Haiti weekly to serve seven-day shifts, being relieved by another crew by week’s end.
Directly following the disaster in January, 250 beds were set up at Port-au-Prince’s airport to form a makeshift hospital, Murphy said.
“We’ve seen 30,000 patients and performed 5,000 surgeries since the earthquake struck Haiti,” she said. “There are clinics but no trauma centers for victims of car accidents and heart attacks.
They need everything. Haiti was not in great shape prior to the earthquake.”
Helping to supply those needs is a group of officers from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department.
Haiti Earthquake Relief, Operation Kenbe Fèm, meaning “Hold Strong” in Creole, is the second phase of a relief effort sponsored by PBSO and the city of Lake Worth.
Deputy Patrick Desir, Sgt. Rick Ponce, Deputy Pierre Rouzeau and Capt. Rolando Silva delivered supplies in May to Croix-des-Bouquets and St. Mark, Lake Worth’s sister city.
The two cities were not directly affected by the earthquake but people have sought refuge in them, Rouzeau said.
The officers are set to return by mid-October with an estimated $175,000 worth of dry foods, rice and oil and recycled police equipment.
The donated items for the Haitian police department include gun belts, holsters and handcuffs, enough equipment for about 200 officers.
“The police departments have sustained a great loss of people and relatives themselves,” Rouzeau said. “There is no 9-1-1 system in Haiti. By providing equipment, we can indirectly help these people. We will also try to provide flashlights and whistles for women [to call for help].”
Thousands of women and children live on the streets in tents and are vulnerable to rape and other crimes.
Safety is a concern for the Haitian people and many relief workers are there to aid the troubled nation.
“We didn’t have our weapons with the first trip. The police commander didn’t have officers available [to help protect us]. We were vulnerable,” Silva said. “But it’s just the risk you’re going to have to take if you ever want to get anything done.”
The need is great in Haiti and the people are suffering in unimaginable ways, Silva said.
“People are living in garbage, standing water, waste. They have to live like that. Many homes have been destroyed,” he said. “I saw people living in areas that we wouldn’t legally be able to keep animals in the United States,”
There are injuries, no medical supplies and many survivors are far away from any hospital, Silva said.
Murphy said Project Medishare has set up a 45-bed critical care facility in Port-au-Prince since June 7, replacing the makeshift hospital previously at the airport.
Murphy said Medishare operates the only neo-natal and pediatric ICU on the island, and it may have to close soon due to lack of funding. Hospitale Bernard Mev Project Medishare has been running for months on private donations, she said.
Rouzeau said although the situation is dire, the country and its people will survive this horrible time.
“I constantly watched many young Haitian people struggle over the rubble of the buildings along the roads and sidewalks while on their way to school,” he said.
“In the midst of such catastrophe and peril, they continue to strive in pursuit of an education, a better way of life with extraordinary determination.”
THE MORE YOU KNOW
For information about PROJECT MEDISHARE or to make a donation, call 305-243-6699 or log on to www.projectmedishare.org.
For information about Haiti Earthquake Relief, Operation Kenbe Fèm, call Deputy Pierre Rouzeau, 561-202-9638.