Four Months After Haiti Earthquake: Need Continues

More than a million people remain homeless from the January earthquake as hurricane season looms over the Caribbean country of Haiti. The homeless, the hungry, those struggling to survive myriad challenges make up the images of the picture of Haiti four months after the earthquake. The need is everywhere – if an area was not directly hit, it has been affected by the migration of those looking for food, for water, for more than a tarp over their heads and dirt under their backs when they finally lay down at night.

"If there is one thing that everyone should know about the efforts to help the people in Haiti, it is that the need is ever-present, and we will be doing this work for a long time," said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. "The people are struggling day-to-day, and we are their only hope. While we are working hard to meet their needs, we have to do more and make it happen more quickly for them. We need everyone’s help."

Building homes

One of the biggest needs is housing. The rainy season already has started and hurricane season will not be far behind the rain. It takes only a few inches of rain to put lives in danger because that's all that is needed to produce flooding and mudslides.

Food For The Poor is ramping up homebuilding and its capacity is increasing in order to make the goal of 5,000 homes in Haiti by the end of the year. One of the places the homes are being built is in Mahotiere, where many of those who fled the quake area have sought a better life.

“In other areas, people are able to move out of tent cities and into new homes. This is especially important for the children.

In this report from the field, one woman tells of how her life changed on the day of the quake and what is happening to her now.

Veronique Pierre sensed something was wrong on the day of the earthquake. Her husband, a fisherman in the village of Taino, Haiti, a small village about a two-hour drive west of Port-au-Prince, was out fishing the afternoon of the earthquake. Pierre scanned the ocean for her husband and watched as the waters went calm.

"I saw the water get sucked out to sea; the water was flat,"Pierre said. "Something wasn’t right."

Her husband made it back just before the earthquake struck. Their home and everything in it was destroyed.

"Our house was down on the ground. We were crying because we had family in Port-au-Prince," Pierre said.

Pierre’s two sister-in-laws died in the earthquake. Her grandson, Robins Gedeon, 15 months, was with relatives in Port-au-Prince. Not knowing if he was alive, Pierre left Taino and walked to Port-au-Prince to find Robins and bring him home with her.

"I was determined, I walked over bodies to reach him," Pierre said.

She found Robins, unharmed and with friends. Pierre returned to Taino with him, despite only having a makeshift tent to live in. Pierre and her husband recently received a new home from Food For The Poor.

"It's God’s grace that we were given this house," Pierre said.

The agency has been building homes in Pierre Payen, and new homes are being started now in Trou Du Nord, Demier, Chastenoye, Delogner, Gros Chaudiere, Mahotiere and Grand Goave.

Building schools

Haiti has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Nearly 50 percent of the population over the age of 15 cannot read or write (CIA Factbook, 2003). Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school because of the expenses for fees, books and other costs. Only a small percentage of those fortunate enough to begin school complete their primary education.

Education officials in Haiti estimate that the earthquake ravaged thousands of school campuses from the elementary level on up, including three of the country's main universities. A majority of the schools located in Port-au-Prince are in ruins. On almost every street, blackboards, desks and notebooks were heaped among the rubble. Without buildings, chairs, desks, books, chalkboards and innumerable other materials and supplies, it is clear that the schools will not reopen for the current school year.

The collapse of the country's school system strikes a crushing blow to the Haitian society. In this country, education is as precious as water and residents view it as the only path to a better life. For many children, a regular school day provides the only meal of the day.

"School is life," said one school employee.

Food For The Poor has a goal this year to build 8 to 10 schools.

After site assessments, the organization has determined where four prefabricated schools can be built. Two other schools – one in Petite Goave and one in Pierre Payen – are more traditional concrete construction and those two will be started in the next two months.

In order to increase the speed at which schools can be built, the agency will use a prefabricated, steel-and-sandwich panel construction method for schools where the location meets the specifications. The advantages of this type of building system include quick installation, good insulation that saves energy, buildings are easily disassembled and reassembled in a different location if needed, and the use of galvanized steel guarantees no corrosion.

Without the construction of new schools, students will be taught in environments that are not conducive to learning. Although there are dedicated teachers and parents who are willing to assist the schools, the lack of infrastructure means that classes will be forced to meet outside or in unsafe buildings.

"Getting the schools back in place is a priority," said Angel Aloma, Executive Director of Food For The Poor. "In the short-term, it is important to restore some sense of normalcy for the children. For the future, it is imperative that we employ education as a way out of the hopelessness and illiteracy that so many endure now."

Continuing relief efforts

Food For The Poor continues to provide general relief for the Haitian people. Since the earthquake, the agency has delivered 681 tractor-trailer loads of food, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, building materials and other goods. The people of Haiti have been provided with millions of meals from the rice, beans, canned goods and water shipped into Haiti. The feeding center at the warehouse and office complex continues to provide thousands of hot meals every day, and other food such as rice, beans and pasta are being distributed. FFP/Haiti distribution includes a network of more than 2,000 beneficiaries that either receive direct aid -- orphanages, schools, hospitals -- or beneficiaries such as associations, parishes, churches, congregations and community groups that, in turn, distribute to other people in need.

Food For The Poor, the largest international relief and development organization in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry poor in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian agency provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance, with more than 96 percent of all donations going directly to programs that help the poor. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.

Contact:
Kathy Skipper
Director of Public Relations
954.427.2222, ext. 6614
kathys@foodforthepoor.org