AMURT has been involved with the hunger problem amongst the poor and the homeless in Los Angeles for the last 25 years. Our breakfast feeding through Mama D’s Kitchen is legendary amongst the folks of Skid Row. It makes a huge difference in their lives. The program is maintained entirely by volunteers and public donations. Read more
AMURT is establishing a number of regional hubs in Kenya that will serve as engines of development into the foreseeable future. These development centers reflect AMURT’s commitment to long-term dialogue and action with local communities to support their efforts to improve life. 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
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.
For the past 10 months, Amurtel volunteers in Greece have been working with refugee families, providing support for pregnant and nursing moms and newborn babies. 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. Amurtel, as the only NGO focused solely on the needs of women and babies from pregnancy through infancy, works together with many of other groups, to create spaces and services for these most vulnerable of refugees.
Excerpts of reports from the field:
“It was a swelteringly hot day in Victoria Square, downtown Athens. Inside one of the many refugee tents sat a very pregnant woman with two small children at her side. Even from the pavement we could see sweat on her brow as she fanned herself continuously. Seeing how swollen her feet and legs were, we asked how pregnant she was. She falteringly answered, “Nine.” Nine months pregnant? 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.
The desperation and urgency in the minds of those transiting through Greece on their way to northern Europe is staggering. Statistics tell us that amongst refugee populations, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among women. Our team of midwives, doulas, and breastfeeding specialists, are present in the camps in Athens and periodically on the island of Lesvos to meet these women and babies and offer support.
We’ve seen many mothers ready to give birth any day and newborns sometimes days old. A brief maternal or infant check can go far in reassuring the family.. For these mothers, fear for their children’s safety constantly grips their minds. While moving from camp to camp, from boat to bus to train to going on foot, it’s a constant worry. Being shown how to use baby carriers has offered great relief for mothers and fathers alike. Knowing the child is on them and with them at all times creates a sense of safety and helps shelter the child from some of the traumatic effects of the journey. As one mother said, after being given an infant wrap that let 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.”
With the closing of the borders at the end of February, camps are gradually being moved from the port into the countryside and people will be staying for longer times. In May, Amurtel outfitted a small camper as a mobile clinic, allowing our team to meet with women in multiple camps.
A more recent field report:
“It’s a hot day at the port. The sea breeze coming over the water helps cool down the mothers and babies waiting outside our small camper. 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 borders closed at 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. The more open spot towards the entrance is the baby bathing area. Taking turns using the one tub, mothers move their littlest ones in and out, feeling relieved for this bit of cleanliness in the often grimy 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.”
In response to the changing conditions, Amurtel is moving into a new phase of care, addressing the longer term needs of these families, with our focus on working with mothers and babies in the perinatal period staying unchanged. ◆
AMURT and AMURTEL (Ananda Marga Universal Relief Teams) are responding to the floods in Louisiana that have now caused 13 deaths and has been labeled the worst US disaster since Hurricane Sandy. However, despite the severity of the situation, the disaster is not getting the attention that it deserves. Read more