By Executive Director Catherine E. Wolf, MD MPH

I finally have a slow but present internet connection so I can give you a personal update with regard to our situation here in Jérémie, Haiti.  As you’ve seen on the news and read on our website, Hurricane Matthew was a devastating storm with widespread destruction and Jérémie sustained the brunt of it.  We were without cell phone contact from early morning on Tuesday, October 4th, until Friday evening, October 7th.  Internet was down entirely until late last week.  We are grateful for all the prayers, emails, phone calls and concern that has been shown to us and to our staff here in Haiti as well as the people in the communities we serve.  We praise the Lord that all of our staff are safe, although several of them lost their homes.  Let me update you regarding our present situation and share some reflections about the tragedy and what it means for the future.

  • Our house in Jérémie was entirely flooded due to water coming under the windows, but we’re fortunate that no windows or doors were broken. We lost our solar panels, so we go without electricity except for a few hours in the evening when we use our backup generator or inverter and batteries.  Our water drums on the roof blew off and most of the plumbing pipes were broken, so we’re in the process of replacing them.  In the meantime, we have water in a cistern and are using buckets of water for bathing.  All the wet boxes have been cleaned up and the house is getting back to normal.  Our driveway, which was entirely filled with fallen coconut trees, finally got cleared last weekend and our yard helpers are cutting up fallen branches and clearing the debris.  A few flowers actually survived the storm!
  • The clinic was flooded also as many of our new, wooden windows broke in the strong winds and fell off. The room that had the most damage was the pharmacy, where bags of pre-packaged medications were blown onto the flooded floor and medication bins were blown off the shelves.  Cherlie and I spent three days last week up at the clinic cleaning things up and re-organizing the pharmacy.  We had to wash and re-package hundreds of medication bags in order to re-stock the shelves.  Some medications were lost entirely when water seeped into the plastic medication bags.  But the work is now done and we’re planning to re-open the clinic on Monday, October 17.
  • The drive up the mountain to Gatineau last Wednesday was a sobering one for Cherlie and me as we passed houses, churches and schools with varying degrees of missing roofs, broken walls and changed lives. Everyone we passed just shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders in resolute acceptance of the tragedy that God allowed to pass.  The Haitian fatalistic world view was evident in full force.  There was one thing that tied us all together, though.  As one person put it so simply, “Everyone got a piece of the cake.”  In other words, everyone was affected by the storm in some way.  Houses that weren’t destroyed were flooded, everyone’s crops were destroyed and livestock died, no matter who owned them.   As such, everyone has a burden to bear.  Many lives were lost, especially the elderly, some of whom were our patients.  For them we all grieve.  Many farmers who were up in the high mountains harvesting beans at the time of the storm perished, as their flimsy stick houses blew away, and steep mountainsides slid out from under them.  Our hearts ache for their families.  Some pieces of this cake were harder to swallow than others.
  • As we passed landmarks in town and along the road that are now changed, a landscape that will never be the same, lives that have been impacted forever, I realized once again how resilient and long-suffering are the Haitian people. When 2 rooms of their house fall down, they pack all 10 family members into the 2 rooms that are still covered.  When the whole house falls down, they put up tin walls and a coconut leaf roof and sleep inside.  When there’s no food for them to cook, they boil water and make sweet tea.  And, everywhere you look, you see smiles.  Smiles?  After a tragedy like this?  Yes, smiles because they’re alive.  And, that is cause to celebrate.  No attempts to blame anyone for anything, no analyzing to determine how the situation could have been handled differently, no moaning and groaning about lack of government services or safety net.  The Haitian safety net is the Lord and it’s obvious to all that He’s in control.
  • The last thing I want to share is the amazing rebirth that has already begun. Banana trees are starting to sprout from their cut-off trunks, leaves are starting to re-appear on the trees, grass is beginning to grow and wilted corn is beginning to stand up.  Things will never be the same, but the Lord and nature shows us that there is a future.  And, that’s what we are looking towards – rebuilding homes for people in the communities we serve, replenishing livestock, re-planting gardens and fields.  This is what you and we together can do for the Haitian people that we serve through our clinic.  Relief agencies are at work trying, in spite of security obstacles, to distribute tarps and food supplies and we are helping when we can obtain supplies from these larger organizations.  But, our focus is on the future, when the “big guns” have left and our people are hungry and in need of permanent housing.   We’ll be there for them, to help them rebuild their homes and their lives, to help them improve their health and to comfort their aching hearts.  We’ll be there with them, working alongside them, caring for them.  We hope that you’ll be there right beside us!

 

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