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Destruction, Hope and Faith in Port au Prince

by JOHANNA BERRIGAN

Port au Prince.

The day is winding down. I prepare to go to sleep in my tent at Matthew 25 House, house of hospitality and makeshift “soccer field hospital.” Each day in Port au Prince has been an incredible combination of bearing witness to overwhelming destruction, suffering and death. At the same time we are with people who exhibit such courage, hope and faith. I am in awe of the outpouring of compassion and help from all over the world.

Yet, so many people in these poor communities still have not received food, water or tents for shelter. A priest from one of the local parishes here in Port au Prince said, “The emergency medical relief is about over, now everyone needs food, water and shelter.” He, along with anyone we have spoken to, lives in fear of what will happen to the people when the rains come. It is awful to think about; everyone is living on the streets. A “fortunate few” have tents, but most are living in makeshift “sheet tents” as Bill Quigley called them. We are trying to get information about aid distribution and why it is not reaching these communities.

We are trying to investigate what is being brought in because we have seen no sign of food and water being distributed by anyone. People are begging for tents. We understand that there are tents available, but they are not being distributed because apparently the UN doesn’t want the people to stay in the city. They want them to go to organized displaced persons camps outside of Port au Prince. For all of the promises made by our administration to not abandon the Haitian people in their hour of need, the Haitians are not exactly feeling the support. This is most disturbing in light of all of the love, compassion, support, and concern we witnessed from people all over the country before we left.

Each day we have gone out to the neighborhood of Carre Dur, the location of our future community health center. This community, near the church of St. Claire, had not seen any health care providers since the earthquake. Our community health agents organized in an amazingly efficient and humbling way a “field clinic” consisting of a tent, and a tarp. Exam rooms for privacy were created out of sheets. We saw from 88 to 134 people each day. Some, wounded by the earthquake, still had not had care: fractures, infected wounds, various kinds of trauma.

A young woman was brought to us who was extremely ill and had been hemorrhaging for days. There was no possibility of care for her. We were able to carry her in a sheet to the car and take her to the “field hospital” here at Matthew 25 House. There she is receiving very good care. She would have died without intervention.

We saw another woman who gave birth four days ago in a tent on a football field that has been turned into a displaced persons camp. She explained that after the baby was born another woman helped her cut the cord, most likely a lay midwife. Heartbreaking in an inexplicable way is looking into the eyes of the elderly who have lost everything: their homes, meager possessions, and children. There are so many stunned, grieving and fear filled people.

The destruction of downtown Port au Prince is beyond imagination. It is very sensational to see it on the news, but to see it up close, smell the stench of death, and listen to the stories — while tears flow — of who is under the rubble is another thing all together.

I woke up at 5:00 this morning to the sound of the people singing songs of praise to Jesus. The dignity and the faith of the people under such duress is yet another mind boggling aspect of the experience of being here. Yesterday we went to St. Clare’s church to drop off medicines. As I walked to the door of the rectory, there were about 60 women in the courtyard singing and praying the rosary. Our health agents sang a song to open our meeting; they explained they were singing for mercy and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Early this evening we saw the Sacre Coeur Church downtown. It is totally destroyed. However, the pre-standing Crucifix in front of the church remains. It is a powerful symbol of the crucified Haitian people who wait with hope, their resurrection. Despite all of the tragedy, you don’t feel a sense of desperation or see hysterical drama. The Haitian people continue to pray, work hard and take care of each other. May their and all our prayers be heard.

JOHANNA BERRIGAN is a member of the House of Grace Catholic Worker Community and a Physician’s Assistant. She has visited Haiti more than 15 times since 2004. She has helped established Klinik sen Michel, a community health project in Port au Prince. She can be reached at: jberrigancw@yahoo.com

 

 

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