The assessment team returns from Haiti
We're glad to report that AFSC’s assessment team has returned safely from Haiti where they spent time in Port-au-Prince viewing firsthand the immense devastation of the capital city. They report that the formal structures that keep a country running were very hard hit, especially because many government ministers and mid-level civil servants died in the quake. Many institutions that were the pillars of the community such as churches, medical facilities, and schools were badly damaged or were destroyed.
According to assessment team member Jorge Lafitte, AFSC Regional Director of Latin America, the situation in Haiti is not like other disasters in which AFSC has recently responded. The destruction of the capital city and the collapse of the Haitian middle class, who sustain the country makes this a very different crisis.
However, some of the poorest areas in the city were not as greatly affected because buildings there are not large permanent structures and were not as lethal if they fell. People in these areas have slowly returned to informal systems of survival and our team noted that there seemed to be little violence and looting.
A variety of makeshift solutions has developed with formal camps of 80-100,000 people or many groups of 700-1,000 banding together where they can, and some residents camping in front of their destroyed homes. In talking with them, our team found that people hope they will reconstruct their houses and it is safer to stay close by.
Geri Sicola, Associate General Secretary for International Programs, was also on the assessment team. While in Haiti, Geri was able to visit one of the three centers where AFSC is providing emergency assistance to people living in a makeshift shelter on the grounds of school. On that day more than 600 people were provided a meal. Our partner, Swiss Interchurch Aid, is using a private home’s kitchen to produce the food—an example of the practical and generous gestures being made by so many Haitians in this crisis. The meals include rice, beans, vegetables, and the ingredients are purchased locally or in the Dominican Republic, bolstering local economies.
Our assessment team found out some good news about our support for the feeding program – the meals are costing less than anticipated. So, instead of providing 10,000 meals, AFSC’s contribution may now fund 16,600.
The team also met with Handicap International, another partner agency. AFSC purchased vital emergency kits for their “roving” work in devastated neighborhoods including sheets, ropes, mats, water filters, jerrycans and kitchen utensils and provided funds for shipping medical supplies.
We are in the process of hiring staff in Haiti to continue examining avenues for ongoing AFSC work, set up an office, and coordinate with other organizations. Other staff from the Latin America region or the central office in Philadelphia will make a follow-up trip in the near future.
Meanwhile, our offices in Miami and Newark, New Jersey, continue their outreach to Haitians living in the United States to inform them of Temporary Protective Status (TPS) changes. AFSC staff is coordinating with other groups and volunteers to help Haitians fill out applications correctly and avoid fraudulent predators.