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Three Letters Re: Some Comments and Some Personal Experiences in Haiti

I thought that you and your family might be encouraged by the following: There was an extraordinary occurrence in Haiti on February 17th. Here is a blog entry with a YouTube link [1] about a nationally declared three days of fasting and prayer in Haiti. Amazing grace.

The final sentence in the entry is the most sobering:

“The only sadness that I feel today is for our nation. While a nation that has long been under Satan’s domination is turning to God with total commitment, our nation, founded on Godly values, has rejected God and is rapidly trying to forget that His name even exists. Let us pray for revival.” – Sheila M.

Hi James,
Its been a while. I just spent eight days in Haiti building a radio station in Crois des Bouquets. We were working with a church and pastor I have worked with before. He had about thirty Haitian people who lost everything in his home, plus 10 Americans, three on our radio team, and an evangelistic team out of Florida.

Our team went in with tent, MREs [2] and Mountain House food. a water filter plus all of our necessities. fortunately we didn’t need our food but donated it to the house hold to aid others. We left our tents, sleeping bags, and air mattresses behind and told the Pastor to give them to people he knew who really needed it.

We got a radio message from the states inquiring about an internally displaced persons (IDP [3]) camp who had been sent aid
by a ministry in Indiana. Apparently they had not received their aid yet. We checked and thought we had the right IDP camp. They had not had anything to eat or water in over a week.

My first thought being an old army sergeant was: “Where are the privies?” There were no sanitation pits dug, and people were relieving themselves out in the open. This was just about three miles from the airport at the river bridge. There were two large tent cities in the same location with absolutely no sanitation facilities.

I talked with the leader of one camp and ask why they had no latrines dug. They had absolutely nothing to dig a hole with. I told him that if they didn’t do something immediately about the problem, that disease would go through that camp in short order, and could wipe them all out. I told him I would get a pick and some shovels. I did so the next day.

On the following day we were leaving and the camp had a team out digging privies. Praise the Lord.
James, and readers, there was at that time absolutely nothing being done about sanitation in the camps. The U.S. Army was really concerned about this issue, but their hands were tied. There were no NGOs [4] addressing the problem either. It is a major issue with the medical people I met.

I did see about ten brand new porta Johns at the IDP camp across the street from the presidential palace. But there was no one using them. I’m sure they were put there for the news nosies, just for the cameras. I know in the next month there will be a second disaster developing, and there already is in one camp. (I got word from a person that I trust and that is in the know, that a large TB outbreak had already occurred in one of the IDP camps.

The Haiti government is very inept and un prepared for any disaster. the UN, USAID, UNICEF, Red Curse, et cetera are all just having meetings and doing very little to help the situation.

All I saw when I was there was Christian ministries getting the job done. I know the Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Blessing, Friend Ships, Catholic Relief, Mennonites, Baptists, et cetera are in there getting their hands dirty and getting the job done.

I would just say in closing that the first thing after a disaster strikes, and people are having to camp out, or go into a camp is to dig a suitable latrine, and make some effort to keep clean. One of the first things that our servicemen in all of our services learn in basic training is field sanitation. If our military were turned loose to help I know full well they would go in there and help provide some form of field sanitation.

I do have to say the Christians are pulling together in Haiti, and people are turning to Christ by the thousands.
Blessings, – Dave M. (A Blessings For Obedience World Missionary Radio [5] volunteer)

Mr. Rawles,

I thought I’d drop a note having been in Haiti from the day after the quake to a couple weeks ago, and having run an ongoing program there for a few years now. I wanted to comment on the issue of rioting in Haiti versus. Chile. I think the core issue was that people in each country were faced with different immediate challenges.

In Haiti, like many other developing countries lacking Chile’s level of building codes and construction standards, Port Au Prince was extremely vulnerable to a quake. Because the quake hit only a few miles from Port Au Prince you had complete destruction of entire zones of the city, with entire blocks where 4/5 of the buildings just collapsed. As a result the death toll was 220,000 people.

The immediate job for a large percentage of the city became how do I dig through these buildings to rescue those 220,000 people or at least recover the bodies. The self organized work crews were pretty incredible. For much of the rest of the population the immediate task became how do I find my family and find shelter. Most of those alive were in front of completely destroyed houses (1.5 million homeless) Even when looking for a few immediate resources because so much was destroyed people were salvaging collapse sites more often than looting.

In addition the atmosphere was somber and surreal, the work crews pulling out bodies everywhere in the city and piling them, the people crying for help, the surgery taking place on the street. I would say that everybody I spoke to who emerged from that situation left with a truly profound sorrow in their hearts. Missing a day or two of food was pretty secondary for most people. Many Haitians have dealt with food insecurity and hunger before, that wasn’t as much of an immediate issue. Even for aid workers it was hard to even remember to eat much less worry about it.

Outside Port Au Prince people were largely just melancholy, it is a small country, everybody had somebody who died, everything was shut down, you couldn’t get money from banks or buy food in stores for a week, yet there weren’t people in the streets till the very end of that, and even then it was just some organized marches in front of the banks for them to re-open. Within four days in Port Au Prince many of the aid services started emerging and food and water started to become more readily available. Within 6 days some money transfer services started opening in the rest of the country and commerce started again.

Thankfully in Chile, outside of the terrible devastation in the Tsunami zone, comparatively many of the structures in the earthquake zone stood. So the challenges faced were different. The people seen on television looting seem more concerned about scarce resources than trying to dig out their trapped friends and family out of the rubble. With a death toll under 1,000 so far the number of people who are directly missing people or who came back to find their home collapsed on their family must be much lower. Which leaves more people concerned about “Where do I get food, where do I get water” than “How do I dig these people out, dear god there are so many people dead, everywhere”

I think in the end the Chilean people will look back on this tragedy and realize how prepared they were as a nation, that they had put the standards in place to keep their buildings standing and they will take that to heart in preparing on a personal level. I am hopeful things will calm and they will find the strength to rebuild.

For the readers who want to know how to prepare for seismic situations let me offer 3 bits of gear advice, always have a full unbreakable water bottle on you, always carry a whistle, and always keep a respirator (even if just an n-95 mask in a pocket, you would not comprehend the toxic cloud that is created when a city collapses, it was like 9-11 everywhere). Beyond that if you are in a developing country in a seismic area with poor cement block construction (lots of parts of Peru, Guatemala, Thailand, Dominican Republic, India, Pakistan, etc) in older style buildings try to sleep near an exit to an open courtyard, try to stay in one story buildings, stay away from adobe. The safest bet is to try to stay in modern hotels, the big chains force proper construction techniques. If the quake hits get out and watch for falling hazards. Many prayers that the readers of this blog never have to face anything like what people are facing in Chile or Haiti. Sincerely, – Peter H.