Wednesday, January 5, 2011
We started out early today to head to Leogane – the same drive I made 10 months ago on my first visit after the earthquake. With a beautiful morning dawning we started out and I have to say, I was hopeful as we passed into the epicenter area, the hardest hit by the quake.
There were significant signs that progress was being made. All along the coast of the southern finger of land out from Port-au-Prince, rubble removal was evident and most importantly, the regular "busyness" of Haiti had returned. Little stalls selling clothes, mangoes, shoes, and all manner of car accessories – sometimes all from the same little wooden shop – had re-established root on the sidewalk or the edge of the road. Motorbikes and cars clogged the busy road and people were on the way to jobs, and kids to the first "official" day back to school, spiffed up in clean uniforms and shoes.
The camps and tents along the way were larger though, with more people and looked more established than I remembered. Clearly there were still many people who had not moved back to their homes or towns.
As we drove into Leogane city, I was again struck by the number of people out on the streets and the contrast with those much quieter times after the earthquake. People then were still living in fear of the aftershocks and many were in full mourning for the ones they had lost – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and so many others.
We reached the Save the Children office in the middle of town and hundreds of people were there – volunteers and staff all with particular assignments to go work in the camps, on water and sanitation projects, or with local schools. We quickly said hello to Samuel, the head of Leogane office and headed out to the programs. As we drove down the road, several large trucks full of rubble rumbled by – it seemed here in Leogane the clearing process was still needed but a lot of progress had been made. We saw backhoes and frontloaders – both non-existent in the country after the quake – moving tons of rubble. They say only about 10 percent of the rubble has been cleared in Port-au-Prince still but Leogane clearly had made much more progress.
We first visited the recently completed school constructed by Save the Children just down the road from the center of town. While today was the first day of school officially, many of the kids typically don't show up till later in the week. Still, there were about 60 children there, dressed in crisp white shirts and blue skirts or shorts, the girls' hair with white ribbons, beads and bows. Many of these children were living in tents or simple plywood houses after the earthquake and we marveled over how much effort must have gone in to preparing them for school.
The school itself was very uniquely constructed to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes, with open vents along the top and sides and wood construction meant to "give" with flaps of plastic sheeting that could be rolled up and down depending on the temperature and winds. The headmistress of the school spoke with us and seemed very happy with the way the school and her pupils were starting the new year.
In a class of what looked like 4th graders, the lesson was on fractions, with a little girl next to me afraid to raise her hand. I urged her on, but she confided she had not remembered to study fractions over the holiday break with a shy smile – kids are the same everywhere. I thought about my own 3rd grade daughter who also didn't do much studying over break!.
We headed next to the Save the Children health clinic and baby tent. The clinic is made up of two open air shelters and 3 small medical services structures. In one, a midwife examined pregnant moms, gave advice on family planning, and examined toddlers.
In another, a full pharmacy was operating with medicines available free to the local residents. In the third building, several nurses weighed and measured babies, helped mothers breastfeed and gave out supplemental food to malnourished children. The malnutrition rate in Haiti was over 60 percent before the earthquake and it continues to be a major problem. Mothers could take home supplies of Plumpy'nut, a peanut-based meal in a pouch which significantly reduces malnutrition in young children, from the health clinic.
The clinic was impressive, with over 50 patients being served when we arrived. Our worry was about on-going funding though, as much of the earthquake funding would soon be used. In fact the ability to keep many of the programs going without increased funding is a constant worry for our staff in Haiti. Though we raised over $88M for the response, clearly there were many programs that were going to have to continue. Our original 5 year plan called for a budget of $175M and we are far short of that goal now.
But as we headed off from the health clinic, I knew we had to continue these programs somehow and hoped that the anniversary of the earthquake might remind people of the needs in Haiti again.