I came to Haiti as an ambassador for the International Medical Corps, an organization that I have been working with for over a year. Their teams arrived 22 hours after the devastating earthquake of 12th January and have been a powerful and leading medical presence ever since.I arrived in the Dominican Republic from London on the night of March 18th, and met up with my friends Margaret Aguirre from International Medical Corps, and David Serota, a talented filmmaker who has come to document the long-term health care needs that lie ahead for Haiti.
We flew the following morning to Port-au-Prince and were met in the chaos by Andy Gleadle, our operations director, (the kind of 'man mountain' that you hope to be around in disaster zones like this one) and were briefed on the security issues we potentially faced. For starters, the local jail was destroyed in the quake, and as a result, 5,000 prisoners are free and roaming the streets. There were serious security problems in Haiti before the earthquake, but of course everything has now intensified. Three NGO workers were kidnapped the previous week, so Andy told us what to expect and how we would be protected (a two-car convoy at all times, watchmen by the tents etc). Afterward we drove to the guesthouse to meet the team, drop our bags and then head out to start the day.
Our first stop was St Louis, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, to visit Dr. Joseline Marhone. I sat with her in the shade of a tree, her patients surrounding us on beds in tents nearby, and asked her to share her experiences with us. Her house was destroyed in the quake, but thankfully she and her son were in the basement at the time and survived. Her two cousins upstairs did not survive. I found it so difficult to ask the questions that I suspected would be hard for her to answer. Journalism of this sort does not come naturally to me, but she explained that it helped her to talk about it. So she speaks, with a resilience and strength far superior to mine upon hearing her. She was the director of nutrition for the Ministry of Health in Haiti. The nursing school where she taught collapsed, killing every one of her students. She told us that she had found that the best thing for her to deal with her enormous pain was to keep busy and carry on doing what she does so well. To date, on the grounds of the ruined church where she once worshipped, she has treated over 4,000 people. International Medical Corps has provided her with the medical supplies and volunteers that she needs in order to do this. She is so beautiful and open, walking around with a smile that melts, wearing the same long blue cotton skirt that she was wearing on January 12th when the earthquake struck.
My role here as ambassador is simple: we need to raise awareness of the road ahead for Haiti – and raise a significant amount of new funding through appeals to the public. Most people just don’t realize that the problems Haiti faces are really only beginning. This country was in desperate need before the earthquake hit. The problems they are now facing are tenfold. The onset of the rainy season, which is imminent, means that the temporary camps that are housing hundreds of thousands of people will be washed away. Water-borne diseases will be rife, nutritional needs will become even more prevalent and there is inevitably a massive increase in sexual and gender-based violence within the camps. Donors have been incredibly generous, but as always, much, much more is needed.