I traveled around the hardest-hit areas in southern Haiti with the team sent by NPH, so I got to see how some communities had only mild damage, while other places really had been destroyed. One of the most devastated has been Sant Amitye Vijwin, a town where survivors are living in harsh conditions, still scrambling for food and shelter weeks after the quake, a truly desperate situation that can be helped.
We arrived in the town, yesterday. Most of the buildings and homes were severely damaged and now are too unsafe to stay in or they just collapsed right away. That has left most of the residents homeless, having to stay with friends or relatives whose houses survived, inside of damaged buildings or, like most, out in small, improvised huts they build. Getting there was extremely difficult due to the damaged and blocked roads on the way. The result is that the town has been practically cut off from the outside world for weeks, a community now basically cut-off from getting food, medicine and everyday supplies, with almost no outsiders having arrived to offer help because almost no one knows what has happened there yet.
As we drove into the town, our vehicles had to stop due to a collapsed wall that blocked the street. As we walked in, many local people came over to talk to us, friendly and curious to know if we brought help. Helene, a mother of eight, was very talkative. Carrying her youngest in her arms, she told us about her oldest, a 14-year-old girl. “Classes had started when the quake began. The build shook, then the walls began cracking. Thank God that she escaped from her school as it collapsed,” she said. Helene’s husband works on the docks at the port of the city of Les Cayes, but because there is no electricity or cell phones aren’t working in her town, she has not been able to get in touch with him.
Helene takes us through the streets, pointing out the small wooden shelters where most people are staying. Huts really, they are made of whatever branches and scrap metal people can gather. Helene takes us over to the very poorly constructed shelter where she is forced to sleep crammed with her eight children every night. Her shelter has no mattresses, not even a carpet- they are all sleeping on piles of dry straw. These wooden huts are where most of the town’s residents must sleep every night, most on dry straw. However, many nights the straw does not always stay dry. We are now in the rainy season, so rainwater sometimes flows down from the hills and floods many huts in parts of the town.
The sanitary conditions of the town really stunned me. The bad smell is the first thing that you notice as you walk around. There is no system for taking care of garbage, so there is a month’s worth of bags, cans and food waste all over. A lack of enough working toilets or latrines for everyone means that people go to the bathroom wherever they can. When it rains this causes many puddles to turn into sewage water. Due to this and the garbage, the flies swarm around the town. Clean water is difficult to obtain, the nearby creek where many now get their water does not look too clean. These difficult conditions have led to many people getting sick, especially children. Everyone is covered in mosquito bites and many have skin infections. With the bad hygiene situation and with no doctor or nurse available, residents are suffering from preventable and treatable illnesses.
Getting something to eat is a daily challenge. No help has arrived from the outside yet. Hungry people are scrounging through wrecked homes and shops looking for food. Some are stealing from the fields and orchards of nearby farms, while others are gathering plants from the wild. Desperate people have even eaten corn husks, which causes terrible stomachaches. Some residents have salvaged tea kettles and pots they can use to cook with over fires, but most do not have even these implements to cook with. These unfortunate ones are forced to share one pot among many families, forcing each group to wait its turn to use it.
As a Haitian, I was shocked and saddened by what I saw here, the worst I have ever seen. As we left, I thought about what can be done right away to help these people. Their basic daily needs are the most urgent thing we can help with. They ought to get tents soon to have proper shelter during the rainy season. Food and cooking gear are needed, as well as clean water to drink and bathe in. Latrines must be built and garbage collection begun. Having medical staff and medicines will help to heal the sick. Then, slowly, these hard-working people can begin to restore their damaged town and continue with lives that were interrupted by the earthquake.
Support our Emergency Earthquake Relief program to support families in towns like Sant Amitye Vijwin. Learn more about how you help victims of the Haiti Earthquake.