By Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J.
National Director of JRS/USA
(Port-au-Prince, Haiti) Feb. 5, 2010 – We arrived in Port-au-Prince Wednesday afternoon, traveling by car from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic through Baharona, where Jesuit Refugee & Migrant Service has a warehouse for food and supplies. Trucks leave for Haiti daily, crossing the border at Jimani and then on to one of the 12 distribution centers staffed by Jesuit teams.
It is moving to see the dedication and hard work of volunteers from the Dominican Republic and other countries who gather and fill the trucks with the much-needed supplies. When I thanked a young volunteer for his good work, he replied, "What else could I do?"
In Fond Parisien, a Haitian town across from Jimani, we visited a well-staffed medical center on the grounds of Love a Child Healing Center. Just minutes from the center we visited a camp of 200 displaced poor Haitians with few resources and no electricity. When asked what they needed, one woman replied, "A little salt and a little meat. We haven't had meat in a long time."
Here at the Jesuit novitiate in the Tabarre neighborhood there are many signs of the disaster, both physical and psychological. Fr. Miller Lamotte, S.J., the Director of Novices, told me, "Whenever I enter the novitiate building, I feel that it is still shaking. Then I realize that I am the one shaking!"
Everyone on the Jesuit team agrees that this is the time for creating plans for the medium and long term for our work here in Haiti.
Fr. Kawas Francois, S.J., French Canada Provincial's Delegate for Apostolic Ministries in Haiti, indicated that with the creation of informal of displacement camps throughout the city, there is a growing incidence of diseases such as diarrhea due to lack of potable water and poor sanitary conditions. These crowded living conditions underscore the medical emergency that still exists in the capital.
Fr. Kawas insisted, however, that many people still lack food and go hungry. He described the International Organization for Migration (OIM) system of seven food distribution centers as still in need of greater organization. "The centers open at 8 in the morning and long lines begin to form at 3 a.m. Still there are people who do not receive food."
Fr. Kawas indicated that OIM – which is one of the coordinators for distribution – needs to open more centers and work more closely with neighborhood committees to assure fair distribution to hungry families. He pointed out that hunger touches the lives more than the poor. People of middle-class means experience hunger. Their homes have collapsed; they are unable to access funds because most banks remain closed. They live in the open air and search for funds from friends and groups like the Jesuit relief effort.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA has received several offers of donations consisting of clothing, food and blankets. While we certainly appreciate these offers, it is simply not possible for us to accept them. The best way to help is to donate financially to organizations such as JRS/USA responding to the disaster. Cash allows relief professionals to procure exactly what is needed in a disaster situation and ensure that donations are culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate. Cash donations do not use up other scarce resources, such as transportation, staff time or warehouse space. As needed, cash can also be transferred quickly to where needed, helping bolster the economy of the disaster-stricken region.
Learn more about JRS in Haiti here: http://www.jrsusa.org/haiti
Learn more about JRS in Haiti here:
202-462-0400 ext. 5946