Rich Pickett is SDSU’s CIO and a licensed pilot for 32 years. He is volunteering his time to fly relief flights to earthquake ravaged Haiti and will be sharing his experiences here as often as he is able …
Gray was heading down to Puerto Rico for a wedding, however he still insisted in helping this morning. In the warehouse we found some items for a clinic that had been stored for sometime waiting delivery. It ended up being for the Caye Jacmel Hospital, the same hospital that we were going to visit, so we loaded the plane with supplies for that group and others in Jacmel. One of the nurses, Kathy Baptiste, from our trip yesterday, couldn’t get on the jet to Philly, so she joined us on the flight back to Jacmel to help with the next transfer. We learned that the jet was diverted due to nor’easter the east coast was experiencing, so they hope to get there today (update: they finally made in on Thursday).
The flight down was beautiful as ever and Jane, Kathy, and I landed at Jacmel to unload. Jacmel was feeling more like my home airport. I had promised the Haitian staff at the airport I would bring them additional food for their families. In addition, we had filled available space with unallocated items from the warehouse to distribute. With the help of everyone, we unloaded the supplies and distributed over 250 lbs of rice and other food to the airport employees.
Pierre met us and we gave him rice, other food, and toys for him to distribute in the tent city. In just a few minutes we had off loaded over a 1,000 lbs of supplies. There was no question that the supplies were distributed immediately and would be used effectively.
I needed to reposition the plane, since we were staying over night. I invited Pierre to be my co-pilot for the taxi, a short ride, however he had been so helpful I thought he would enjoy it. He was a natural!
Pierre wanted us to revisit the tent city and see how they were distributing some of the food and supplies we provided. Steve Heicklen, a volunteer EMT from New Jersey. was with us and he offered to give us a ride.
While waiting for transportation, the Canadian military told us that they were bringing in large amounts of food and were anticipating heavy equipment in a few days to help in the rebuilding process. This was awesome news. We also learned from one of the groups that 300 students had perished in the collapse of the technical school in Jacmel during the earthquake, a site we had visited just a few days ago.
We drove with Steve and followed Pierre on his friend’s motorcycle to the campground, a re-used soccer field. Steve visits the camp nearly every day to provide medical help to the people. During the last few days, the Venezuelans had erected large tents donated by the U.S. over a portion of the camp, which was a great improvement. This was our third visit to the camp and each time, I felt more a part of their community. I could never presuppose that I understood their situation or even their experience, however in a small way we hoped we could help at least in the short term. Jane is a natural helping others and it was great she was able to be with me.
Pierre had brought the rice and other items we gave him. He was trying to open the bags of rice in his tent. I reached into my pocket and retrieved the same knife that a generous WalMart employee had given me just a few nights earlier. How appropriate to use it to open the bag. I helped Pierre and his friends distribute the rice to a number of people, dividing it up into small bags or directly into their cups. We quickly distributed the rice, to people of all ages, and ensured that those older and less fortunate received a share. At times the group surged around me, and I could understand their desperation to obtain food for themselves and family. Some stronger individuals tried to push ahead, but accepted when we insisted others had priority. We verified that during recent food distributions in other areas there had been significant disturbances, requiring military or police support.
People would hold our hands and thank us, even though I thought we weren’t helping them enough. Even with the organized food distributions by the Canadians in the town, it is difficult to ensure that everyone receives food. As we walked in the campground we would see people diligently trying to clean dishes, etc. in the narrow aisles with limited success. This problem will only grow as time progresses, especially with the late spring rains.
In talking with people living in Haiti, in some areas there is more food than prior to the earthquake, which was minimal in some cases. We did see a number of small food vendors, even in the tent camps, however very few people had the funds to purchase the food.
We continued our visit in the community and came across young people with a jump rope. It was too much to resist! Heather, one of the nurses, and Steve jumped in tandem for the crowd. It was great to see everyone laugh. A man approached me and signaled he wanted to jump with me. We made it a few rounds until I tripped! I have to practice more before our next visit. As serious as things are in the camps, it is also important to laugh, hug, and smile. This was obvious as we encountered people who wanted us to show us their kids, families, and humble housing.
Some people questioned why I would consider distributing some of the supplies directly to individuals, rather than through their organizations. The organizations are providing a great service, however in meeting a number of people I knew it was also important for individuals to feel in control of their lives. Some recipients may have profited from the goods we gave them, rather than use it themselves, however it was worth the risk. Even if items enter the general marketplace, then perhaps several people in the supply chain will benefit.
I asked Pierre about the tent that we had secured for him. He told me he had given it to Callie, a woman we had met a few days earlier with a large family and many of them had perished and the remaining members needed shelter. Pierre had shown me a notebook with nearly 200 names handwritten in the pages, individuals who he was trying to monitor and help. Callie, was one of them.
As we started to leave, Steve noticed a little girl in a full lower body cast, who was one of his patients. Post-operative care for patients is always challenging, in conditions we visited in Jacmel it is even more daunting. The sheer determination of the medical volunteers and the parents was always amazing to view.
We stayed overnight at a small hotel on the beach in Cayes Jacmel in anticipation of an early departure. We learned that another Pilatus would be assisting us in the evacuation on Thursday, which was great news. Jane and I swam at dusk in the ocean, bodysurfing in the waves. The trip had been stressful and the few minutes in the water helped us recharge.
We were usually flying at night, so an opportunity for dinner was rare. We ate with the medical team of Cayes Jacmel Hospital. They represented a number of medical facilities in the Northeast. As with virtually all of our conversations, the needs of Haiti was the focus. Before they arrived to assist the local medical clinic, most patients would wait days or weeks for minimal help, often sleeping on the ground next to the clinic. Fania, one of the girls we took to the U.S. earlier, had spent a week on the ground outside the clinic, one of the reasons her leg had to be amputated. The clinics were simply not staffed, or supplied, to meet the medical needs even before the earthquake.
One positive outcome from such a horrific event is that the foreign medical volunteers have provided valuable training, and equipment to the local staff that hopefully will allow them to be more self-sufficient. The clinics are now responding to fewer injuries and sicknesses related to the earthquake, however they are now able to provide general medical and dental care, something difficult to provide before the earthquake.
In my conversations with a number of teams that arrived after the earthquake, many are committed to provide continued support. Without this continued support, Haiti will take much longer to recover.