Report from the ground in Leogane


By a Khalsa Aid worker  


CHAN email list, February 22, 2010


This is a report, edited for length, sent by a Canadian working with Khalsa Aid, a U.K. based Sikh aid group, in Leogane, Haiti, and written during the week of February 15th-21st:

Right now my job is to coordinate relief efforts with [two other volunteers at Khalsa Aid] and set up our medical clinic.  I have been able to bring my experience with NGOs here and help encourage inter-organizational cooperation so we're not bumping into each other in several regions we are located.  [We are working with] Medical Team International. Between us, MTI and two other organizations have been able to work wonders providing medical care, food, water, sanitation and resources that weren't being delivered to these regions in Leogane - one of the hardest hit [areas].


Unfortunately, nobody is coming to [the rural] regions of Haiti [like Leogane]. I just spent a day travelling around documenting the destruction and needs of the Haitians around Leogane. Across the board the language has been the same: nobody has come to give us aid. When I mean nobody, I mean nobody. These people were surprised to see me arrive.


It’s raining bad right now. [Myself and other aid workers in Leogane] are standing here silent wondering what millions of Haitians are going through. Imagine sleeping on the streets without shelter, hungry and cold. The orphanages we have been helping are being hit hard by these rains.  The 300,000 plus tents that are supposed to be here in Haiti are not seen anywhere. The [tents are] here, somewhere, we just need to coerce [them] out.


Myself and a colleague spent a good part of today at the Mexican Embassy and have been able to get as many truck loads of aid as we want for our clinic as we can get our own delivery truck.  This is great news, and it also suggests that those of us that want to help Haiti need to be more proactive in forcing governments and the bigger NGO's to cooperate with organizations on the ground.


I would ask of you all to write to the Canadian government forcing them to send more tents and aid, and then appropriate these to the regions of Haiti that are suffering from heavy rainfalls. I've had an interesting week [t]rying to negotiate with the Canadian military to help with our own developmental projects in Leogane and driving around like a mad man to various embassies to get aid to the more remote areas where nobody else has arrived.


Much of the aid is still highly concentrated in Port-au-Prince, [near] the airport, and other areas that are generally wealthier. [Most aid organizations are] in the safety of the 'green zone' where they're reporting 'security' threats that are 'deteriorating' and may require them to withdraw with the hundreds of thousands [of dollars donated] … call the[se charities] everyday to find out what they're doing with your money). 


The poorer, rural areas are still suffering massively. Haitians need long-term developmental support. They need infrastructure, the need a public service to help with the horrendous sanitation problem, they need electrical capacity, and they need economic policies that encourage investment to help propagate the local economy and not creating a captive workforce for foreign industry.


I had arrived in one village where we were told nobody had arrived there until we showed up with aid.  Food hand-outs can be very frantic and even dangerous if not done properly (these are the 'security' threat [various aid] organizations talk about; they're not using proper techniques and have a complete lack of organization on the ground).


The situation is much different than being portrayed by the media or even recent reports by the Government in regards to travel and 'security' in Haiti.  There is a great deal of chaos involved in humanitarian aid distribution. With countless NGO's on the ground and communication between them all being very difficult, it can become very difficult. 


These are some of many problems facing Haiti. It's been unfortunate to see many organizations propagate a message suggesting that Haiti was suffering from 'security' issues.  There are absolutely NO security issues here. I spent a good part of a day with the Indian UN and they have relayed the same message to me.


I'm in the some of worst areas of Haiti and have been in the 'ghettos' where the only threat I received was a lack of toilet for my upset stomach. Haitians are incredibly hospitable and just want to be heard. I haven't received a Haitian that has had some violent or aggressive disposition yet.


Haitians are beautiful and have a great resilience and capacity to overcome some of the most devastating forces against them. The many orphanages I visited had teams of children singing and dancing only a mere month after losing everything.  There is no looting happening, nor are there systemic incidents of violence either. There is an eerie calm, almost as if Haitians have become so used to such things.