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.
After a long bureaucratic struggle – four new children at last arrived in Familia AMURTEL. They are from the same family, but had been separated when taken into protective custody. Two were in foster care, and two were in a large state institution. Thanks to the efforts of Corina, our dedicated case manager, and our whole Familia AMURTEL team, they have finally been reunited and are settling into their new home at Familia AMURTEL Panatau!
They are delighted to be together and are bonding with the older children and our house-mothers. Their birth mother lives in a nearby village, and is able to visit them on weekends, which is another reason why the case manager from the Child Protection Department wanted them to be with us.
It is lovely to have the house filled with the laughter and happy noisy sounds of small children again! Our older teenagers are enjoying the opportunity to be big brothers! It is a historic moment for everyone. ◆
Hundreds of refugees have been positively overwhelmed by the warm welcome from the Canadians, many who greeted the newly arrived Syrian families with balloons and flowers at the airport. What a sense of relief to finally have a chance to put down roots and settle into family life.
Initially Amurtel offered free English classes to the women living in the temporary housing set up by the government. These were met with tremendous enthusiasm. After a month or so, the families were moved to permanent housing, and our team continues to visit with individual families, providing support in learning the ropes of living in a new city/country/culture. Many families do not yet speak enough English to get by and so rely on the Amurtel volunteers to help sort out bills, navigate school enrollment forms for their kids, etc. Team members also find much needed supplies for each family, helping them create warm and cozy homes. Maher, a man stricken with polio as a young boy, had been dragging himself around with crutches, something that was both painful and debilitating. He and his family were ecstatic when Amurtel delivered an electric wheelchair. He said he felt his whole life had just opened up for him.
Many of the families Amurtel works with speak of the grueling last few years with fear and sadness. They have recounted to us the terror they experienced as their homes and neighborhoods were bombed while they huddled with their children in basements; the long and dangerous journey to flee the battles, trying to protect their children as best they could. These people were nurses, engineers, teachers, farmers in Syria, living normal family lives in close knit communities. And then the war came to their towns and they were forced to flee with whatever they could carry. Slowly those memories are being balanced by ones of their children excited to make new friends and learn a new language, of making new friends themselves, both within the Syrian community and with the Canadians who have stepped forward to welcome these new neighbors. It is wonderful to see the healing and transformation a hand extended in friendship can bring to an otherwise bewildering and often scary journey.
Right now there are more people fleeing their countries than at any time over the past 50 years; people desperate to escape violence, famine and persecution, seeking a safe place to raise their children. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees 2016 Global Appeal projects there will be approximately 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons each year from 2014 through 2017. That is one person for every 122 people worldwide. Service in this area is desperately needed and currently Amurtel is working with Syrian families in Ottawa, Canada and Athens, Greece as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent seeking safety in the Anse Pitre area of south east Haiti.◆
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.
It’s a hot day at the port, more like June than April. The sea breeze coming in over the water helps cools down the mothers and babies waiting outside our small camper cum Mother-Baby Area. We’re parked outside the port’s stone warehouse, a large windowless building converted into a temporary refugee shelter. Located midway between the few other ferry terminals that have also become shelters, we’ve been able to serve some of the thousands left stranded at the port when the northern European borders closed towards the end of February. Since then, our midwives, breastfeeding specialists and other women volunteers have shown up daily to keep the small but amazingly functional space going. The inner sanctum of the camper has turned into a safe space for examining pregnant and postpartum women and for breastfeeding counseling as well as just talking when a mother’s emotions or pain are running high. The more open spot towards the entrance is the baby bathing area. Taking turns using the one tub that fits snugly into this tiny corner, mothers shuffle their littlest ones in and out, feeling relieved for this bit of sanitation in an otherwise less-than-hygienic environment. These services, plus the nuts, seeds, and dried fruit we give daily to the pregnant and lactating mothers to supplement their meager meals, create a steady flow of regularly returning mothers and babies along with new ones arriving every day.
During these nearly two and a half months, camps have been erected at different areas throughout Greece and the refugees are being gradually moved from the port. By Easter, May 1st this year, the remainder of them are scheduled to be gone. This signals for us a movement into another phase, from the more immediate emergency response into longer term care. The where and how of that care is still evolving but our focus of mothers and babies in the perinatal period remains unchanged.
AMURTEL Assists with Syrian Refugees Resettlement Program- Ottawa Canada
Canada is setting an excellent example of welcoming Syrian Refugees in a massive effort to resettle 25,000 by this spring. Syrian families began arriving in November of 2015 and as each plane would touch down, dozens of Canadians would be there to greet them with balloons and flowers.
From the very beginning, Amurtel team members began planning how they could help these families settle in to their new home. After an initial meeting between Amurtel Coordinators Jane and Fadwa and the newly arrived women, it became clear that learning English was one of their top priorities. So Amurtel set up free English classes in the temporary housing where the women were living. The classes were met with tremendous enthusiasm and very well attended. After a month or so, the families were moved to permanent housing, and as the Government began setting up English classes, Amurtel switched gears to work with individual families, all of whom had previously participated in our English classes. Jane and Fadwa created an ‘adopt a family’ program, where Amurtel volunteers would work closely with individual families, being a ‘go-to’ resource to help with the many challenges that come with living in a new city/country/culture. The families do not yet speak English and need assistance in interpreting electric bills, navigating school enrollment for their kids, etc. Amurtel volunteers also match specific needs, such as household items and children’s school supplies, with local Canadian families who can provide these items, then pick them up and deliver them to the Syrian family, helping create warm cozy homes.
The families we are working with are so obviously relieved to finally be settled in a safe, welcoming environment. It is wonderful to see the faces of the children excited to be starting school. Many children share with us stories now of making new friends, of learning English, and showing us papers from their favorite classes- math, science, English. A big change from the heartbreaking stories we have heard as families recounted personal stories of fleeing from their homes as they were bombed and bursting into flames, of the loss of family, of leaving behind not only all their possession, but their livelihood, their professions. The appalling stories of life in refugee camps in Jordan – of being constantly wet, muddy and cold, with little food or clean drinking water. To finally be settled in a place that is safe, that offers a future for their children- and most importantly perhaps, where they truly feel welcome, has made life something each family now looks forward to. And for our Amurtel volunteers- it is an honor to be part of this new chapter.
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It was a swelteringly ho
t August day in Victoria Square, downtown Athens. Inside one of the many spontaneously erected refugee tents sat a very pregnant woman with two small children at her side. Even from outside on the pavement, we could see sweat on her brow as she fanned herself continuously and looked miserably uncomfortable. Seeing how swollen her feet and legs were, we asked her how pregnant she was. She did not speak English but her husband falteringly answered, “Nine.” Nine months pregnant? “Why don’t you stay here and have the baby and then go on north?” we asked. This was still the time when refugees walked from the border of one country to the next, sometimes for days on end. I could easily imagine the horrifying thought of her going into labor in the middle of nowhere. Shaking their heads vehemently, all they could say was, “NO!” pointing north with a determination that nothing could change.
The desperation and urgency in the minds of the hundreds of thousands of people transiting through Greece on their way to northern Europe is staggering. Of the thousands arriving on Greek shores daily, statistics tell us that 20% of the women among them of childbearing age are pregnant or have small babies. Statistics also tell us that amongst refugee populations, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among women. Our teams of midwives, doulas, breastfeeding specialists, concerned mothers and proactive women are present in the camps in Athens and periodically on the island of Lesvos to meet these women and babies and offer su
We’ve seen many mothers ready to give birth any day and newborns sometimes days old. Many long for reassurance that their babies are allright. A brief maternal or infant check can go far in calming their fears. Many mothers are not able to fully breastfeed while en route, even though breastfeeding is the norm in their cultures and some have successfully breastfed one, two, three or four children previously. While they are well aware that stress is the cause, many of these mothers are unable to relax as they move constantly from one unknown country to the next. Talking to them about breastfeeding while traveling or helping with safe infant supplementation can provide not only information but also the simple woman-to-woman support they need.
For most mothers, fear for their children’s safety grips their minds the most. While moving from camp to camp, from boat to bus to train to going on foot, it’s a constant worry, especially for infants and toddlers. Being shown how to use baby carriers can so oft
en be a great relief for mothers and fathers alike. Knowing that the child is on them and with them at all times creates a sense of safety and subsequently, helps to shelter the child from some of the traumatic effects of the journey. As one mother said after being given an infant wrap, letting her wear her two month old close on her chest, “I feel more at ease. My hands are free for my older children while my heart takes care of my baby.”
This wave of migration is unprecedented since WWII and is changing the face of Europe and the Middle East. It’s also changing the way relief organizations operate. At least here in Greece, the majority of refugees stay as few days as possible, sometimes only one or two. The numbers are so massive, the turnover so rapid, the languages spoken so diverse, the cultures so varied, the reasons for fleeing so complex, and the pressures on the host countries so great, that aid agencies are having to reinvent policies designed for relatively stable or homogenous populations in times of disaster. Scores of individual volunteers and spontaneous volunteer groups have sprung up, particularly on the Greek islands where the refugees cross from Turkey in inflatable dinghies. Amurtel, as the only NGO focused solely on the needs of women and babies from pregnancy through infancy, works together with many of these groups, with La Leche League (an international breastfeeding organization), and with the Athens municipality to create spaces and services for these most vulnerable of refugees.
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As thousands of refugees rea
ch Greece’s shores daily, Amurtel focuses on the crucial needs of pregnant women, birthing women and mothers with small infants. These women and babies are greatly affected by the lack of stable shelter and routine, nutritious and culturally familiar food and emotional support. They often look exhausted and desperate to stop and yet they go on. The AMURTEL team of midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, concerned mothers and women with skills in the area of childbirth and infancy go regularly to the refugee camps in Athens and the island of Lesvos to offer support for breastfeeding, infant care, postpartum care of new mothers and assistance during birth if necessary.
We also supply emergency birth kits to the camp medical tents if they don’t already have one. We attempt to provide a warm woman-to-woman touch and offer infant and mother care supplies that are as close as possible to what mothers are used to in their own countries. We also continually search for ways of being emotional supportive in an appropriate cultural context.
Donations are greatly appreciated! Be sure to mark the donation as being for ‘Refugees Greece!’