Ailish O’Reilly is Haven’s Programmes Manager in Haiti. She was on the island of Île à Vache off the south coast of Haiti when Hurricane Matthew hit last week. Here, she tells us of the experience and of the devastation caused to the community.
WEDNESDAY | DAY TEN
We are up with the lark and on the wharf in Madame Bernard by 5am to collect a shipment, but it is another miscommunication. The aid is already in depot in Kaykok, so we can head home for a communal breakfast on top of the hill. Thanks to the early start, we are back down the hill at an early hour, and get all our visits in to the orphanage, before hitting over the mayor’s office for a new day.
The work on preparing the kits continues, and, although it looks a bit chaotic, it is actually organised chaos. We are waiting on a US military helicopter to come in, but they postpone to Thursday.
We have arranged with our partners in the community outreach programme, FONTEN from Les Cayes, to come and do an evaluation visit with our families. We dispense food and hygiene kits to Rose Michelle, Jean Nexon, Carlo Pamphil, Belinda Seide, Boldy Simon, and Mai Joseph.
The homes are in various states of repair or disrepair. By far the worst are Jean Nexon’s and Mai Joseph’s. Jean Nexon lived in a cahute [grass house] with his mother, brother and sister. He is fourteen years old, and seriously malnourished. The night of Hurricane Matthew, they went to a neighbour’s cahute so that everyone would be together. The huge mango tree in the garden fell right on top of their home house; had they stayed in it, they would have been killed. Such are the vagaries of a hurricane, swapping one straw hut for another. Jean Nexon will get follow-up visits, as he shows sign of a foot infection.
Mai Joseph’s house has also sustained a lot of damage. Walls have fallen, the roof is gone, and, sadly, his mother’s bakery oven is broken. The oven is a steady source of income for the family so this, along with the house, is a big blow. Mai’s father has built a temporary dwelling of grass and tin right alongside the old house, and the family will live there for the foreseeable future. Everyone on our programme is happy to see us, and to receive aid and some support. Over the coming week, we will visit all sixteen families.
On the route between houses, I get a chance to call in to the homes of three of my friends. I could cry when I see the houses where, only months before, we sat in front gardens, shared food, chatted, sang, danced, celebrated birthdays. I am glad to see them; they know I don’t have time to stop but we promise to make time soon.
It is back to Madame Bernard on the motos and to distribution services. Mandy Thody, a visiting aid worker, comes by the office. Mandy is co-ordinating aid drops in Seulette and La Hatte. It is great to meet her after all our correspondence by phone. The drops have gone well, and the aid distribution had reached all those areas, so we tick them off as complete for this aid run.
It turns out that Mandy’s community group and our programmes have overlapped, and some of the connections we have been trying to make in that community are not solidified. Numbers are exchanged and meetings arranged for two weeks’ time, once the immediate pressure is off. She is on Île à Vache three to four times a year, so we look forward to coordinating our efforts.
We are awaiting the use of the police car to start distribution. The deputy mayor has given us a list of CPC team members in four zones, so we call each of them to arrange a drop point. In the meantime, we send a supply to Sr Flora to distribute in the area around Madame Bernard.
We ring De Gras orphanage; they have a pick-up truck, and he is on the road at the moment. Half an hour later, we are loading the pick-up and heading to the zones. We are just waiting on the car to collect the last consignment, when we realise there is a boat at the wharf. We ask the captain if he would do one more run and we quickly load the boat for Gran Sab. Jonas, the CPC representative, has come to the office, and travels out with the boat to ensure the consignment is properly unloaded and distributed.
We are delighted: the six runs have almost cleared out our depot and, as best as we can determine between Mandy’s distribution, the De Gras distribution and our distribution via the Mayor, all zones have now received a quantity of aid.
Included with the food aid is water and a small quantity of tarpaulins. There are warnings of rain, and we don’t have enough tarpaulins to cover all the houses, but at least these few may be of some help.
It is a busy, busy evening, and another late one, so it’s home for a bangers and mash dinner. I prepare the food, John cooks, and Damien washes up. We sit on the porch for a short while after reflecting on a good day. The coordination with the mayor, the CPC, and other community groups on the island has gone well.
It is a good exhaustion tonight and, short of falling asleep in the chair, we are all gone home and in bed by 9:30pm. There is barely time to check messages: mental note to self – call home tomorrow!
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