Now, our trip to Haiti was not a sad trip. I did not leave the country despairing, overcome by tales of poverty and woe. There is massive suffering, yes, and poverty. But we spent the whole trip in the company of people who were active—-people who were either helping to rebuild Haiti, or healing the sick, or creating art and music, or educating themselves. It was exciting. I feel hopeful.
But the camps in Port-au-Prince were dark, there’s no denying.
We were originally going to spend more time in Parc Jean Marie Vincent, but tensions had been high in the camp recently. Violence had increased some. And the PIH staff thought that a group of our size (on all accounts—-we’ve got a 6’5” redhead with us for crying out loud. We tend to stick out)—-they thought it was probably wiser not to tour the camp.
A brief aside: PIH is not scared of poor people living in poor conditions. They don’t travel with security. They don’t carry guns. They go into places like the camps openly and serve the people. They are a bunch of doctors, and they tend to believe (and for the most part rightly) that people aren’t stupid enough to pick a fight with the people who will save you when you get cholera. But there’s no sense in tempting fate when the fate of so many Grammy winners is in your hands. Bwa hahh ah hahhaha ah. So we didn’t see most of the camp.
We did see the PIH clinic. It’s a collection of 8 or 9 large army green tents set up on a piece of graveled land just inside the border of the park. Dr. Louise Ivers was guiding us. It was pretty “M*A*S*H style,” she said. Except, we assumed, for the hilarious antics of Hawkeye and the gang.
Dr. Ivers is an Irish doctor who’s been working in Haiti for PIH since 2003. She’s been working in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake. Things that would make a person laugh, she laughs at. Things that would make a person furious, she gets furious about. She is amazing and lovely. But then again, as a band, we are racist for Irish people.
The clinic was mostly empty when we were there. There was a Red Cross food disbursement going on elsewhere in the camp, so potential patients and much of the staff (many who live in the camps as well) were off waiting in line.
Dr. Ivers pointed out the women’s health tent, and the closed tent within the women’s health tent—-facilities were minimal, but PIH wanted to provide privacy and dignity to patients.
Out in front of the clinic were a couple of basketball courts, with kids playing on them (not basketball at the moment, but Dr. Ivers did say games occasionally went on). Across the basketball court, there were two large white tents labeled “British Red Cross”. That, Dr. Ivers said, was the school. Or rather, not the school, but a gathering place for children. Because there weren’t enough teachers to call it a school really, and it was hard to judge if the kids could be learning anything. But it was a space for children to gather during the day, a safe place, rather than wandering around aimlessly through the camp. But then again—-there was space for, what, 500 kids? From a town of 50,000?
Dr. Ivers never projected despair. She projected pride in the work the people around her were doing to help. She projected an intense determination to make life in the camps better. But that determination was colored by a full and painful consciousness of the suffering that her patients face; a sharp sorrow at the inhuman conditions that these people have to live in. That determination was intensified, too, by anger at ineffective help, from any sort of bureaucratic dithering or avoidance of the truth.
The sense of tragedy piled upon tragedy came to me with the story of the schools in the camps. They weren’t exactly schools because of the lack of manpower and infrastructure. But additionally, there is pressure from outside sources and the government not to designate official schools in the camps. They don’t want to “incentivize” people to stay in the camps—-implying that the more permanent services that are installed, the less likely people are to leave. But people aren’t likely to leave no matter what. Because there’s nowhere to go.
Much of the international staff of PIH expressed deep frustration with the international funding situation. Emergency funding for projects in Port-au-Prince is drying up, so NGOs, unfunded, leave to go where the money is. Like a team of surgeons, partway through an emergency operation, leaving to check on other patients. The next phase of “development money” has yet to flow. Dr. Ivers described setting up with PIH in Parc Jean Marie Vincent along with the Red Cross, and being the only people providing services for essentially a whole city. After appeals for help, other organizations came and things began to get better—- logistics were improved, things began to get more organized. But now it’s back down again to just PIH and the British Red Cross.
Parc Jean Marie Vincent used to just be a sports park. A place for community basketball and soccer and the like. At the clinic, we talked briefly to the director of the—-still technically—-sports park. He was active—-visiting people, talking to his, well, the term now I guess would be constituents. Trying to find out the people in the most trouble, trying to help them. Trying to identify services that could be provided. He was a governmental officer, after all. He did have some measure of authority and responsibility. But he was really looking forward to someday just working on sports again.
Here’s a video on Parc Jean Marie Vincent from January. Conditions are still largely the same as described: http://becrollins.com/2011/01/pjmv/
This quote jumped out at me, from Jacky Coutier, a resident of the Parc:
For myself, I’m asking again for a proper sanitation plan. This isn’t something that can be done by a cash for work program in just 2 days. And I’d like to say Partners in Health could use a partner themselves. Partners in Health takes care of health, but health and sanitation go hand in hand.