Friday, February 05, 2010

Two Chapters of My Life Collide - Haiti and the 82rd Airborne - Eyes, Ears and Boots on the Ground

If you have been reading this Blog in the past few weeks, you are aware of the fact that my heart is deeply touched by the events transpiring in Haiti. You are also aware, then, that back in the 1970's, I helped to run the small village hospital in the mountains in Fermathe operated by Haiti Baptist Mission. In monitoring the Haiti Baptist Mission website, I learned that members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division out of Ft. Bragg were helping to evacuate patients from Port-au-Prince to the medical facility in Fermathe.

I became aware that a soldier that I know from his days as a West Point cadet, LT Eric Wong, was among those deployed to Haiti with the 82nd. He and I have been communicating about his team's mission in Haiti - exchanging questions and answers mostly through the wonders of Facebook. When I asked for his assessment of what is currently happening in Haiti, he offered some frank and moving observations, which I share here with his permission:

"Well there are many needs--pretty much everything you can think of. The primary needs are the basic ones: food, water, medical care, etc. In the military, we use SWEAT-MS to evaluate an area, that is sewage, water, electricity, academics, trash, medical, and security. We've established most of the necessary security and medical needs. We are attempting to address the water situation by giving out water, establishing water purification systems, and other means. We also distribute huge bags of rice daily. We are still not close to meeting all of the water and food needs.

Once we leave Haiti, the medical situation will probably dip but be ok. Security will be questionable at best. The sewage situation here is non-existent. People excreting on the streets and sidewalks is a daily and common occurrence, which poses a big sanitation problem. Electricity is in and out throughout the city. If buildings do have power, it is likely coming from a local generator, which is how our hospital is run. As far as I can tell, academics here are non-existent. There are schools, but they don't seem to be running. Most are damaged, completely destroyed, or condemned. Finding motivated Haitian teachers (or any motivated Haitians for any unpaid work) is very rare. Trash is everywhere, period. I don't know if there are trash dumps or even trash collecting companies, but if there are, they are certainly failing. It is evident that some dump trucks have just dumped their trash load in the local water canal (which no longer has water because it is so full of trash). As I said earlier, security will be an issue once the military pulls out. Any Haitian security forces, whether government, police, or contractors, are often corrupt, underpaid (if paid), lazy, and careless. Local security forces will have a very difficult time controlling local gangs and the 7,000 convicts that recently escaped.

From my perspective, it will take a very long term international effort to get Haiti up to a decent living standard. Even before the earthquake, as I'm sure you know, Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. And even after the earthquake, it is severely over populated. As the months go on, attention towards Haiti in the international sphere will dwindle and fade, as will hope for any major changes in Haiti. The world's attention span is very short. Other national entities and non-governmental organizations are already pulling out, only three weeks after the earthquake.

I hope some of that helps. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions or give you any information. The prospect of possibly continuing to give aid to Haiti in the long term definitely has my interest. Please keep me in the loop with your plans, and maybe I can help you while I'm here on the ground working with other organizations."

Here is clearly a soldier with a cold and analytical eye and a warm and caring heart. He warns of the danger I wrote about in this space last weekend of "compassion fatigue." Once Haiti falls off of the front page, it must not retreat to the back of our minds.

I have a growing list of individuals who have asked me to keep them in mind for-long projects for rebuilding Haiti and its people's sense of hope. Please let me know if you would like to be added to that list.

Keep praying and giving.

God bless.

Eric, I thank you and your colleagues for your service and for serving as our eyes and ears in Haiti for the moment.


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