Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Today driving -to the camp at Lilavois was a journey about one and a half hours away bumping along the most ripped apart road I have ever traveled. They must have the most expensive tires made on the Helpage car to have gotton through without a flat. Fabius is a skilled and wild driver - nothing fazes him. Steve and I sit in the back and Steve just closes his eyes I think trying not to hurl while Gordy sits up front and expounds on needs assessment methodology. I am fascinated at everything along the road- hundreds of people selling all kinds of strange looking stuff that Fabius assures me that people buy. When we get to the camp, we meet the Camp President Mr. Edser. He is Haitian but had been living in the U.S. for 12 years in NY and Miami until the earthquake hit and he wanted to come back immediately to help his people. His family owned some land so he started a camp here where 3000 people live, about 30 perecent of them older people. He literally went out on the streets and collected people to come there, gathering together support from ngo's for tents, food and medical care. The camp residents love him and he is such a loving caring guy- blew me away.
I should take a minute to talk about Helpage. It is a London-based ngo that has been around for 25 years offering humanitarian assistance to older people in poverty in 74 developing countries around the globe. They do quite a bit of disaster preparedness and disaster relief, and were here in Haiti doing that for the last several years. My good friend Marilyn Grist was consulting to them as they were wanting to start Helpage in the U.S. a few years ago. Helpage and Marilyn fell in love with each other in the process and Marilyn became their first US exec director about a year ago. When the Haiti earthquake hit, I called Marilyn and said "I want to go!" After what seemed like a long process of developing a proposal to assist with psychosocial needs for older people in Haiti, I am here! The way Helpage is structured in the camps in Haiti is that there is a lead "focal person" who the older people get registered with for services and who supervises several "friends" whom each have a dozen or so older people that they are in contact with every day. The friends are usually wonderful who are in the camps themselves struggling with their own suffering, but are also helping .a group of older people in a very caring way. There are always tons of logistical nightmares trying to get food, functional tents, medical care and comfort measures to the people, but by and large the older people see Helpage as really in there for them.
We are finding that each camp has its own personality and culture. Lilevois was full of suffering and triumph. We listened first to the friends talk about how painful it is for them not to be able to give the older people the things they need- they cry when they see them hungry or so hot they cannot bear the midday heat. Then we had our group with the older people- it started with about 30 under shady trees and grew to about 100. I asked them to tell us about what it had been like for them since the earthquake being in the camps, and what we got were about 25 people getting up one at a time emphatically telling us their earthquake story. Each story was full of horror of what it was like for them as they felt their house shaking, many grabbing children , falling and getting up as they were running out of the house, having hurt parts of their body, some watching their children crushed, their husband die, and still thanking God for sparing their lives, giving them Mr. Etzy and the camp. In my Somatic Experiencing training we are taught to make sure people feel their resources as they tell their stories in order not to re-traumatize themselves. These people did so easily, always going back to Jesus or Dieu being there to help them get out, get a baby out, to give them life then, and now. After each story, all 100 sitting under the trees( and of course us too) would clap loudly. It was just incredible. The other side of the triumph was feeling pain all over their bodies, still trembling and shaking, hearts beating fast. We all did a little grounding exercise feeling the calm in their chests now feeling safe and alive. So much trauma is locked in the body- blindness after the quake with no head injury, weakness in the legs, dizziness, confusion. There is so much work to be done!
The emotional stuff is there, but many people in the camps are still going to be hungry and many older people talked about needing money to start a small business so they could support themselves to get food. Small business usually means selling things on the street- its what they did before and know how to do.
The second camp today was much different- much more depression, discouragement about getting help, and anger. The camps are like a family- if there is a good strong parent, the camp is strong and the culture hopeful . This camp was filled with garbage even though there were receptacles for it. Lots more lethargy here and many legitimate complaints about hunger and again many medical problems. Paul Farmer's ngo Partners in Health is here in Mobile Health units 5 days a week, yet many don,t feel attended to. Lots of
despair about having no way to take care of themselves. The small business development has to be a huge priority. Anyone out there know who is trying to tackle this?
Heavy rain a blessing late this afternoon to cool things off!


  1. Stephy, this is incredible work you are doing. I loved hearing your story of the first camp you met with, people standing up and telling their story, easily stopping to thank god for what was spared. Anchoring that deeper in the body with grounding- and then the celebration for each one in clapping. It was a profound and deeply felt social matrix in the workings. You can see how much we need one another. Congratulations.

    p.s. And I also hear the despair of the 2nd group which is in a different phase.

    My love to you, Patti

  2. Both HelpAge and the people we serve are so fortunate to have you there and yet I suspect that you have learned much from them as well. The resiliency of the human spirit in situations like these is so remarkable. I know I always feel humbled and suspect you do too.

    Keep up the great work and blogs and let's plan to spend a day together when you get back.

    Love and big hugs, Marilyn