Stephanie Walker and Chris Jones, Vermont volunteers extraordinaire, jumped in and began sending out requests for donations and were also able to get complimentary baggage allowance from Jetblue, with the result that we brought 9 bikes with us Read more
Haiti: Hurricane Matthew
The most powerful Hurricane in the Caribbean in a decade passed over Haiti with devastating results. Violent winds and heavy downpours have deeply affected the country that has not recovered from the mega earthquake in 2010 and remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
We evacuated all the kids and staff at our center in Port au Prince the day before the storm hit, (no easy feat!). We were especially concerned for our center/school/children’s home, worrying the retaining walls would not hold up and we would lose everything to the force of the river. We monitored the storm all day, and were able to stay in touch with teams around the country via skype and whatsapp. The hurricane ended up bearing more west than initially predicted, sparing Port au Prince from being flattened. There was localized flooding, loss of homes and a number of bridges were washed out, but our center was still standing when the storm moved on.
All our kids and staff have returned and the school is open. Our team in the Southeast experienced tremendous amounts of rain and some flooding, but our school and all the programs are safe.
Unfortunately other parts of Haiti were not so fortunate. In the southeast, many villages have been devastated. The town of Jeremie in particu;ar was hit hard. In a recent report from a pilot doing a fly over he states: Jeremie, “It’s wiped out. Barely 1 percent of houses are standing. The people are alive … they survived. But soon, they may starve. They’re cutoff.” He went on to say here are some villages where they still haven’t been able to hear from a single person.
The Anse Rouge district in the northwest was badly affected as well. We have sent in a small team to do an assessement in the southwest and will follow up with aid. Here is an excerpt from the repost sent by our team coordinator in the Anse Rouge area in the NW:
“The heaviest impact has been felt in the coastal villages which have been battered by 10′ high waves and 75 kmh winds, destroying houses and roads. The main connection between Gonaives to the south and Anse Rouge has been cut off. The % of houses damaged moderately to severely is still being assessed, but it is already clear that the heaviest impacted areas have been Anse Rouge, Coridon, Point des Mangles, and Gran Savan. Fishing boats and equipment have been destroyed in virtually all the coastal villages. The extent of the damage reaches the mountainous areas all the way up to Commune Terre Neuve, with reports coming of farms and roads washed off and livestock lost. As of today heavy rains continue, the dry rivers in the area have cut off connections between villages, making thorough assessment in the entire Commune more difficult at this point.
The main type of assistance which we can foresee being most useful is unconditional cash vouchers to support families in shelters and those most vulnerable, house reconstruction/construction, livelihoods assistance (primarily fishing and salt livelihoods), and seeds/tools. We will be meeting with our traditional partners here in Haiti and will let you know what kind of emergency programs will be activated here in Haiti. I will be present at the National Emergency Coordination meetings in Port-au-Prince and will share all relevant information as well. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any questions, and we’ll greatly welcome any news of possible assistance for this emergency effort”
A big concern now is to make sure that people get safe drinking water and safe water for washing as the threat of a major cholera outbreak is very real. The doctors in Haiti are saying “though the storm has passed, experience tells us that the worst is yet to come.”
If you would like to be part of this relief effort, please consider making a tax- deductible donation now. Thanks much.
The most powerful Hurricane in the Caribbean in a decade passed over Haiti with devastating results. AMURT has a large team in Haiti who from the first day fanned out to remote communities to assess and assist. You can donate for these efforts here. Read more
In 2013 the Dominican Republic made a change to the country’s constitution that would lead to the deportation of thousands of people of Haitian descent. In response to an international outcry, the DR ‘officially’ suspended this controversial deportation, but has turned a blind eye to ongoing wide-spread violence against Haitian. Many families we talk with have shared harrowing stories of escaping with just the clothes on their backs after their homes were fire-bombed and crops destroyed, and the humiliation and despair they feel of losing all they had worked so hard for over the past many years. The refugees are scattered across the drought-racked, barren land near our center in Anse aPitre. They subsist in tents fashioned from sticks and cardboard. With little protection from the heat, no reliable source of food or water, facing each new day becomes a challenge.
For almost a year now, Amurtel has set up child friendly spaces for over 500 children, providing a hot meal each day for the children and pregnant and nursing women. The conditions are appalling, and with the spring rains, cholera is on the rise. These people, families struggling to stay together, understand despair, but as our Amurtel organizers have told us, they also understand the power of endurance. There is hope- there is always hope, as the women began to participate in Self Help Groups and the children manage to resume their education. ◆
Report from Joni Zweig:
With 19 kids under 10 running around, singing, laughing, riding bikes, wanting a cuddle, needing a refill on their plate, life in our children’s home in Port au Prince is never dull (or quiet!).
Our children are incredible, and watching them blossom is one of the highlights of my visits to Haiti. Usually, after checking my bags for treats and getting a hug, the first thing they do is bring me their school notebooks, excited to show off their accomplishments. We were told by so many to expect these kids to be slow to learn due to the severe malnutrition they experienced in utero and immediately after birth. What we have seen is the opposite- children assuming leadership roles in their classes, and embracing learning with joy and success. Perhaps the formula of healthy food, lots of playtime, a strong emphasis on art and music, and unconditional acceptance is a strong factor in encouraging the well-being of the children, each one an individual with special talents and abilities, and all responding so positively to the love and nurturing that is the foundation of the home.
On my most recent visit, Lola proudly showed me the prize she had won at an intercity school competition. The youngest in her category, she won top honors for her beautiful drawing on the environment. Kristamin, who arrived with one of the worst cases of eczema anyone had ever seen, was beyond proud of her ability to read and write. Although close to 8 years old, she had never attended school due to her skin condition. She had also rarely been touched or held. She is glowing now with the healing only inclusion and unconditional love can bring. Her skin condition is still a constant challenge, but a new world has opened for her that includes school, playmates, and lots of snuggles. In a small space with so many needs and wants, it always amazes me how the children look out for each other. These children recognize they are a family, and embrace the security that knowledge brings.
Over the past year it has become very apparent we are out of space. When I walk around the house at night, there are small bodies, sleeping on mats everywhere. With 2 bedrooms, 19 children, and 5 adults, privacy is a rare luxury. Imagine these same numbers as teenagers and you can understand the concern. Additionally our current location in Port au Prince is no longer safe. The nearby river offers relief from the tropical heat, but each heavy rain, brings floods that cut us off from the road. Violent crime is also moving into the neighborhood at an alarming rate.
With all this in mind, I traveled with Didi, our country director and main ‘mother’ of the home, to our center in Anse aPitre. There we have to build a new home for these children, one that has space for them to grow and flourish in a safe environment.
Now comes the challenging part- drawing up plans for the school and raising the funds to build it. It would be wonderful if we could break ground a year from now- and by the end of next summer, have our children settled into their new home and ready to begin their school year. Would you like to be part of creating this dream for the children? There are plenty of ways to plug in- we need ideas for the design of the home; people with expertise in architecture, solar engineering, large and small fundraising event planning- you get the picture. If you are interested in being part of this grand endeavor, please let us know. We are all excited about creating a more sustainable future for these amazing children.
In the white afternoon sun and dust, about a dozen children run through the barbed wire gate of the camp to one dirt hill after another, urging their plastic bag and stick kites into the air. Their numerous brothers and sisters stay behind with parents or the families living in shelters close to their own, sitting in shade where they can find it, fanning themselves in the relentless heat. Behind where they sit are five hundred families more, all sharing six latrines and with no access to water. While the rain would be a welcome relief, it would also destroy the shelters, mostly constructed of cardboard boxes and old T-shirts whose colors and designs have long since faded in the sun.
More than 60,000 people have left the Dominican Republic to live in camps like this. After the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic agreed two years ago to uphold a law stripping citizenship from thousands of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic and an increase of acts of racism and intimidation against Haitians in the country, many Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans have settled in camps just across the Haitian-Dominican border with little water, food, and support of any kind.
It is in this environment, where children have little to nothing do all day and find their educations disrupted that AMURTEL has begun offering summer camps for youth. In two of the three camps in the southern border area of Ansapit, AMURTEL offers summer camps for about 200 young people. The camps provide children with educational activities, a hot meal and water, and time to play and be kids.
In a recent study, Columbia University and World Vision found Child Friendly Spaces like these summer camps to be effective in providing psychosocial support to young children experiencing trauma. “CFSs provide young people with a safe place to play…and experience healing from any trauma they’ve experienced. They also allow children to return to healthy routines and experience a sense of normalcy again,” says Health MacLeod of World Vision.
Child Friendly Spaces are nothing new for AMURTEL Haiti. Since 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, AMURTEL has facilitated activities for displaced children and children living in poverty. Now, as the crisis of displaced people worsens along the Haitian-Dominican border, AMURTEL, which has worked in Ansapit for almost ten years and runs schools and empowerment programs in the area reaching more than 700 families, is well positioned to support these vulnerable individuals and, in particular, children, for whom the trauma of relocation, hunger, and insecurity is most acute.
In fact, in enrolling children in the camps, the biggest challenge that AMURTEL staff faces is limiting the size of the camps to a group facilitators can manage. With more funding, AMURTEL could expand the size of these summer camps and provide more robust meals to the participating children.
Mcleod describes, “We know the long-term impact of [children’s] exposure to traumatic events can be huge if not addressed.” It is precisely as these families decide where to go next and how to manage their family’s new and uncertain future outside of the Dominican Republic that their children are most vulnerable. And it now that proven programs like Child Friendly Spaces are most important for those children’s futures.
We were invited by an NGO to participate in a program setting up Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Banan, Haiti, a large community near the border with the Dominican Republic, about 9 months ago. This is a very different model from the more traditional micro finance programs we have been doing and after going through training on how to facilitate this approach, we became quite excited about the potential for empowering women and families.
The Self Help Group approach is based on the idea that poverty is essentially a denial of basic human rights. The data on women living in poverty is shocking: 70% of the world’s poor are women. Even though women and girls put in more than half of all working hours they own less than 1% of the world’s goods. In many areas in the world they are excluded from education, health and social services and have no property or ownership rights. This exclusion of women and girls from access to and control of resources and opportunities for development reinforces poverty. In times of economic crisis, women bear the burden of providing for their families basic needs; one in three women cares for the nourishment and education of her children without a man’s help. This huge responsibility is often not balanced by access to decision making, either within the family or in community or political levels.
The importance of the empowerment of women to overcome poverty is the foundation of the above-mentioned context. The SHG model seeks to combine the social, economic and political aspects of community development, leading to empowerment. It is founded on rights-based principles that facilitate an atmosphere wherein individuals and communities realize their potential and work towards their own. Basically, the women in a community are invited to participate in a SHG—made up of about 20 members per group. Each group meets once a week, and sets up a savings program. Each woman commits to bringing in a certain amount of money each week, which is then recorded in her own ‘bank book.’ The money is kept with the elected secretary of the group, and is available for to be ‘withdrawn’ when the woman is ready to use it. Along with the amount saved by each member, there is also an amount each person gives to the general account. This is used in case anyone in the group has an emergency and needs a loan, in essence, providing a security net for the members of the group. At each meeting, the SHG discusses the underlying reasons for poverty, their ability to overcome it, and members support each other in finding options for growth. It seems like a simple approach but it is incredibly powerful. In Banan, Amurtel has organized close to 1000 women into SHGs and the results are amazing.
At a recent meeting of about 300 of the women, the women spoke on the affect the groups have had on them personally and their families. One woman spoke of how after 6 months, she was able to take her savings and invest it into a vegetable stand. She went from saving 14 cents a week to 2 dollars a week, and now has 3 vegetable stands. Another spoke of how when her daughter recently died she was able to pay for a casket and her funeral. One woman shared how she has been able to buy shoes for her children so they can go to school. All the women spoke with strong emotion of the importance of the group- what a difference it has made to know they are not alone in their struggles, and of how much stronger they feel as women and their ability to demand change. Each woman motivates the others to keep moving forward, and collectively they have brought some much needed changes to their community. One example they shared with how difficult it was to find a market for their goods. They would have to cross the border and sell in the DR, which was a long and demoralizing trip. After discussing it amongst themselves they went to the mayor and petitioned to have a market started in their own town.
The Self Help Program is scheduled to continue for another year. After that Amurtel hopes to have the women themselves take over program and continue to expand it.
Tropical Storm Isaac tore through Haiti this week, leaving a trail of uprooted trees, serious flooding and mudslides. The Amurtel team had to evacuate our place and move to higher ground for a few days, packing up kids, cats, teenagers, and staff. For those living in the camps, Isaac was a big setback.
Our director was on the phone all night during the storm, arranging for over 100 people in Sitwon camp to move into our school building there. We moved large groups into buildings in 2 other communities as well, feeling relief that at least the people had a safe place to weather out the storm. Food became an issue almost immediately, so Amurtel went into the camps and set up feeding stations, cooking large pots of rice and beans to distribute to the families most in need. With all the rain, cholera is once again on the rise, sweeping through communities that were most effected the floods. Over 6000 people living in the IDP camps lost their homes, and as of today, August 28th, we are getting calls from multiple communities needing help with food, shelter and medical care.
As always, we will do what we can~and we know you will too!
This trip consisted of visiting inspiring projects, attending security briefings at the UN and spending long (yet productive) hours in meetings with our AMURTEL team in Port au Prince to create a map for the next 6 months.
Weather was a hot topic–with the rainy season upon us, flooding and cholera are constant worries. The days were beautiful: brilliant blue sky, warm weather and lots of flowering trees. The nights were a bit more dramatic: ear-splitting thunder storms shook the house for minutes at a time and torrential rains flooded our ground floor school each morning. Many nights were sleepless as we took turns patrolling to make sure the river did not flood our second floor and put the kids at risk.
The earthquake caused so much debris to spill into the river that water levels now rise one or two meters with just an hour of heavy rains. And the bridge to get to our house currently resembles a scenic waterfall more than a drivable bridge, with water flowing over rather than under. In Haiti, something always keeps things from being boring!
We have a positive update from our volunteers & staff on many fronts. Schools are filled with children eager to learn and parents happy to help. The 6 children in our home all attend our main school in Bourdon–and are amazing; I couldn’t believe how much they’ve developed since my last visit. Malika, when first brought to us, was thought to have cerebral palsy, was unable to even roll over on her own and never spoke. She is now ahead in her class, laughs and jokes around, is perhaps the best dancer ands ings up a storm. Jojo still gets her little old lady look, but now laughs, joins in the games, and can even be mischievous. Lola is more on top of life around her and rarely cries, and with Sasu, rides bikes, shares hugs and laps and loves to keep track of the popcorn and mangos.
Fillito and Chuku love the daily flooding since they help the big guys dig out the drainage ditches–what a great excuse to play in the mud and get dirty head to toe. Being with the kids is always one of the best parts of visiting our center in Port au Prince. Who’d have thought we’d all get excited to see kids get into mischief!
And as of two weeks ago, we have a new little one. Loudia’s story is pretty rough; her mom was electrocuted when a street cable snapped and hit her, her father suffers from severe mental illness and there was no other family able to take her. At first we declined taking her as our resources are already stretched so thin, but when she came to our center so malnourished and literally starved for food and affection, no one could say no. I can’t wait to meet her.
With summer reeling past us, we are working hard to provide the very popular summer programs for children living in the camps. Currently we have promised 4 camps and have another 2 pleading with us to do summer programs there as well. Each camp will enroll anywhere from 150-200 children. The pressure from the parents is tremendous to continue these programs; for many families, it is the only way their children will get a hot meal each day, and stay safe from the violence around them.
The MicroCredit Program is an enormous success!l We hear from our community organizers that it gives hope to many women and their families (see Elianne’s story). With only a small amount of funds left in the budget, we discussed whether to offer another round of loans to women already in the program or add more women.
We also evaluated the training programs offered to the participants: classes in non-violent communication, business startup and management, health, yoga and stress management. These all continue to make a difference for the whole family.
The big challenge we arefacing now is how to continue our post-earthquake programs with so much of the funding for Haiti disappearing. Our school in Sitwon Camp is thriving, with the parents asking us to add more grades. The women in the Micro credit program are requesting that we continue the program for themselves and to include more women from the camps.
There is also a big need for employment opportunities for those women not involved in the credit program, yet anxious to work. The local community in Bourdon LaValle is asking us to reopen our clinic. And as they are the most affected by the current set of storms and flooding, their need for more permanent shelter is urgent.
We all see the incredible benefits of the programs and no one wants to pull out. We know too much: specifically how great the need and how simple some of the solutions. After going over budgets, meeting with staff and volunteers, we agreed to commit to our work with the women in the camps for three more months, while we more aggressively seek out grants and donor funding.
We look to you now: those who have helped all along to allow Amurtel to make a difference, to ask for your support. Donations of course are extremely helpful, but contacts can also be of huge benefit: do you know someone, a group, or a corporation that might be interested in supporting our work? Foundations who fund women’s empowerment and health in Haiti? Education and child welfare?
Please send us an email with your comments and contacts. I am happy to give presentations to interested groups.
Thanks so much. — Joni Zweig
This is the story of Elianne Marcelus, one woman in our microcredit program, funded by AMURTEL donations!
“Before the earthquake I used to have a house that had 8 rooms. My family and I used to live upstairs and rent the downstairs rooms to others. Then everybody died. I survived but was very badly hurt and very ill. I was unable to do anything for my own, not even going to the toilet. A friend of mine took some of my children with her to her place, but I was too hurt to go anywhere, I could barely move.
“I was in the street like so many others.
“Some doctors took me, if not I would have died. They took me to Santo Domingo in the DR, with some other people in very bad conditions. They didn’t have enough equipment to operate on me there, so I had to wait or come back to Haiti. I didn’t want to come back without getting the surgery, so I waited with my pain for a week.
“Finally a boat came with supplies. After three days they came for me and I was operated on. After 4 days they had to bring me back in order to make room for the new hurt people that was coming to the hospital every day. I was brought back to Haiti. When I arrived I realized I didn’t remember any telephone number of my family. MINUSTAH brought me home.
“I didn’t have a place to go. I didn’t have a home anymore. I was sick and I had to sleep in the streets, with no shelter, as so many others had to do. My children came back. I thought of this neighbor of mine. We went beside her house and with some cardboard and scraps of metal we found, we made a little shelter. I had noting. I had lost everything. My husband could not find anything to feed us. We were so hungry. I trembled of hunger…
“One Saturday my husband went out and somebody gave him 100 Gourdes. I went to the little shop I used to go. I owed money to that woman. I gave her the 100 Gourdes to pay her back, but I asked her to give me some bread in advance. She told me they had finished all the bread.
“But I could see how she gave to other customers. I felt so ashamed that I could not move for a long time. I just stood in the street. One person even asked me what I was doing there without moving…I felt so ashamed I couldn’t talk. When I came home my children were crying. I made a soup with water and a little salt we had, and I sent them to sleep. I was awake the whole night. The next day I went to another neighbor to ask if they had any food, but they closed the door. I was so filled with shame and sad that I could not give food to my children.
“At the end of that week a member of Amurtel came and invited me to a meeting. I didn’t feel good and I didn’t believe anyone could help me. But I went to the meeting and was asked if I wanted to be part of the microcredit program they were starting.
“That little money from the Microcredit Project changed my life. I went many times to the market to buy food for selling. And when I sell all I came back to the market to buy more. That little amount of money took me very far, from a terrible situation. I am able now to feed my children. That little money allow me today to be here talking to you and I am very thankful for that.
“I am not ashamed anymore.”