By Faith Bontrager
Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders
Faith gives her perspective on the disaster in Haiti, having just returned from providing healthcare to earthquake victims.
I recently returned from a unique opportunity to do Haiti relief stateside. I worked with the Red Cross in south Florida, assisting those evacuated because of the earthquake.
I worked with both Haitians and Americans; teachers, missionaries, business people, and visitors to Haiti. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from; your life changed dramatically on Jan. 12.
I have previously worked on the Gulf Coast post-hurricane Katrina and did a community assessment for Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders post-hurricane Ike. Disasters entail so much loss.
However, I find it difficult to even comprehend the sheer magnitude of loss of life in Haiti. When I asked my translator, who lived in The States but had family in Haiti, "How was your family?" She responded, "We only lost four." ONLY four?…. yet I know what she means. Entire families were wiped out by the quake.
I spoke with people who have lost children, a spouse, a mentor, most of their family, jobs, communities… everything they knew. One family went to Haiti to attend a funeral but the earthquake hit before the funeral.
From a mental health perspective – many have experienced extreme loss without any of the comforting traditions – no visitation, no funerals, no remembering all the happy stories about the loved one, no grave to visit. And there wasn’t just one loss. It happened again and again and again.
People carried the wounded from place to place seeking medical attention. Sometimes they were able to get help. Sometimes they weren’t. Others were trapped in the rubble with a loved one. Sometimes both people were rescued. Other times one died before help arrived. Sometimes the two people were taken to different care areas and they didn’t know what happened to each other.
Initially you just do what you need to do to survive. So many have yet to process the loss. But the emotions are coming…
Re: physical health. For those here, many will need prosthetic devices, PT, skin grafts, rehab… In addition to the vast number of injuries from the earthquake we now see injuries (including children) of those injured by rescue vehicles.
This was a largely unhealthy population before the quake. Nutrition for the common person was poor. I am concerned about spread of disease in Haiti (especially as the rains start). Plans for Haiti need to be creative and sustainable. They need to include provisions for personal or community gardening, consideration of ways to make a living, etc.
South Florida has been incredible in their welcome of the Haitian refugees. Yet I am afraid tension will mount. It is wonderful to see people open their homes to family and to complete strangers. Yet health regulations don’t allow 15 people to live in a two-bedroom apartment.
The humanitarian parole status doesn’t allow people to work. (South Florida doesn’t have jobs anyway.) Yet without work, people are dependant on already stressed social service agencies. People’s futures are uncertain. Many Haitians are on short visas yet they may not be finished with follow up surgeries and rehab in that time. Haiti won’t be stable in six months. Where do you go when you aren’t home and have no home to which you can return?
I didn’t mean that to sound like a "commercial" but there will be a need to rebuild Haiti. I know that it will be some time yet before Haiti is stable enough to start rebuilding. However, it is not too early to think about it. Thanks to all of you who have offered financial support or are ready to show love by picking up your tool belt.
Thanks all of you that e-mailed, messaged, and especially–those who prayed.
Want to join a Disaster ReBuilders team to Haiti? Express your interest via this online form.
Visit the Haiti page often to see what else The Fuller Center is doing to help rebuild Haiti.