On the front lines: Haitians rebuilding Haiti

Sometimes it is hard to visualize how humanitarian aid works. We want to see empirical data that represents value for dollars. As Deputy Director of Disaster Response, I am often asked the question, “What is World Concern doing to help Haiti?”

Haiti staff member
A World Concern Haiti staff member helps distribute emergency supplies after the earthquake.

I can respond with facts and figures from the first year post earthquake: 7,091 Haitians have been given temporary employment, 1,284 houses have been repaired, 530 transitional shelters have been constructed, 989 grants have enabled Haitian business owners to get back to work, 32 churches were repaired or rebuilt; but those figures don’t tell the entire story.

World Concern has served in Haiti for more than 30 years, and some of our staff have worked for us more than 20 of those years. When the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, every one of our more than 90 staff was directly affected.

The past year has indeed been a difficult one for Haiti, with political struggles, natural disasters and the outbreak of a disease not seen for decades. Again, the World Concern Haitian staff has endured these trials and not given up their work.

Some of our staff live in transitional housing, in camps, or in houses that need structural repair, yet they continue to meet the needs of more vulnerable people in their community. In the past year, these employees have learned many new skills, as we implement programs to get Haitians back on their feet. Some have learned to coordinate and run community gatherings, or participate in meetings with international agencies. Some have developed peacemaking skills, as they talk with disgruntled and frustrated people.

The World Concern staff is recognized in several communities for their knowledge of cholera treatment and promotion of good hygiene. They have gained respect among their neighbors, and set an example on our work sites. Many have improved their English skills, and are much more confident speaking in their third language.

Engineer Michel  Miliri says, “[World Concern] has allowed me to help communities where I have lived.” And community liaison Belony  Dorilien said, “The emergency program has allowed me to help people through activities I believe in.”

This is really how humanitarian aid works. Up to 90% of the work is done by disaster victims. Many staff told me World Concern programs solve problems that communities would not be able to address on their own, but this is not entirely true. Our World Concern Haiti team is solving problems in their own communities. They have been battle-tested, and have come through the past year better equipped to bring life, opportunity and hope to the poorest of the poor in their country.

To learn more about how World Concern is helping in Haiti, visit www.HaitiOneYear.org.

Chris Sheach is World Concern’s Deputy Director of Disaster Response.

Spreading the truth about cholera

Sugar, salt and water make oral rehydration solution
Participants in a cholera prevention outreach learn to make oral rehydration solution from sugar, salt and purified water.

I’m sitting in a packed church in Port-au-Prince, with 500 people filling every row, the concrete stairs, and the balcony. The sermon today is not delivered by a pastor. Instead on this hot Thursday, health workers are delivering the vital message about cholera: how to prevent it, how to treat it, how to survive an illness that can kill within hours.

World Concern’s work here at Eglise de Dieu Jean 3:16 is likely saving lives. People in the audience are learing a health message that they have not heard before. The interactive lesson allows questions from the audience, and people do have questions.

Though you may know cholera is spread with contaminated water, feces and unsanitary conditions – many people in Haiti don’t know. Superstition often precedes knowledge. In the past few weeks, dozens of people involved in voodoo have been lynched for the baseless belief they are spreading cholera. Without good information, people come to their own conclusions. We’re making sure they know the truth – and get basic supplies to prevent cholera’s deadly spread.

For more information, please visit www.worldconcern.org/haiti

cholera information on a chalk board
Life-saving cholera information is presented to community members at a church in Port-au-Prince Haiti by World Concern.

Election Violence Halts Haiti Cholera Response

11 months after the devastating earthquake, cholera, homelessness and now violence hinder recovery.

As if Haiti needed more pain.

World Concern and nearly all other humanitarian relief organizations cannot respond to the rapidly expanding cholera epidemic.

For a second day, violent protests about the fraud-riddled election have taken over Port au Prince and have prevented World Concern staff from working to stop cholera’s spread, and rebuild the lives of Haiti’s homeless earthquake victims.

Since Tuesday night, people have been rioting in the streets of the capital city, and in other cities across the country. In many neighborhoods of Port au Prince, burning tires, makeshift barricades – and even toilets – block traffic.

Here are excerpts from an interview with Christon Domond, World Concern Haiti country director:

The chaos sparked by the election

“The office is closed. All businesses are closed. There is so much violence not only in Port au Prince but all over in Haiti. With the demonstrations that we have in all districts, we can expect cholera to spread quickly. In Jacmel, they have received a lot of cases of cholera. We could expect a large spread of cholera.”

“My staff can do nothing, because there is no possibility to go out. Those who try to go out, they cannot go. We need the leaders to talk to the population and get back into their homes.”

“Toilets have been moved out of camps and have been moved into the street as barricades. Thousands will be contaminated by cholera.”

What we can – and need to do (once it’s safe to go out)

“We need to mount an aggressive strategy to reach these people. We need people to go to their homes, to their churches, with this message.”

“We give them soap, water bottles, water treatment. Oral rehydration. Otherwise, we will have a lot of deaths. Our strategy is to reach local leaders, churches, and to mobilize the Christian community. They are going out to share the message. We can talk with them, walk with them.

“We can – we have to – make a difference. There is no other way. I like a challenge. Thank you for your support. Thank you for praying for Haiti and our staff.”

What we’ve accomplished so far

“My staff has done prevention activities with all projects. HIV and AIDS. They were able to come and be trained about cholera prevention. We have reached 5,000 people in Port au Prince.”

“We have equipped pastors and trained them how to reach their communities. In the Southeast office, they have printed t-shirts with a cholera message, and posters. But now there are demonstrations everywhere.”

Here’s how to help.

Education Can Prevent the Spread of Cholera in Haiti

World Concern is responding to the rapid spread of cholera through Haiti with a plan to help protect 250,000 people there by teaching them how to prevent the illness and providing them with the means to do so. We’re also giving them tools and information in case someone in their family becomes sick.

A woman with cholera in Haiti.
A woman with cholera awaits medical attention outside a hospital in Haiti. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens.

But with the death toll at nearly 800, and 1,000 more people becoming sick each day, some may wonder why we’re not focusing our effort on helping the sick and dying.

Aid agencies that specialize in medical care are doing the hands on work of treating sick patients. World Concern has worked in Haiti for more than 30 years, and we’ve learned a lot in that time. Through long-term relationships in the regions where we work, one thing we’ve learned is how to get vital information in the hands of people quickly and efficiently. And this is what those who are still healthy need right now.

An article on AOL News titled Sudden Death by Cholera a Mystery to Haitians reveals the dramatic lack of information people in Haiti have about how disease is spread and prevented. Some people, the article says, believe cholera is caused by evil. Others believe it is a conspiracy by the government. It’s no secret superstition is alive and well in Haiti, and something this fast-moving and deadly can lead people to jump to conclusions.

“I don’t think it’s a virus. I’ve never met a rich person who caught it. We want the government to say something about it, because I don’t think it came like they say. It’s in the air,” one woman was quoted as saying in the article. It’s hard for us, living in the developed world, to imagine not having basic health and hygiene knowledge. But there are many parts of the world, including Haiti, where millions of people simply don’t understand how disease spreads.

The truth is that cholera is spread only by oral ingestion of the bacteria via coming in contact with vomit, feces, or water contaminated with those things. Hand washing, good hygiene, proper sanitation and avoiding contaminated water (and foods prepared with or washed in it), can prevent the spread of the disease. And if someone does get sick, it is treatable; rapid rehydration can save their life.

This is what people in Haiti need to know. And we’re working to get that information to them quickly. The more they know, the better they can protect their families.

In addition to prevention education, we’re also distributing cholera health kits with oral rehydration solution packets, water purification tablets, and soap to people.

The UN warns that more than 200,000 people could get sick with cholera in Haiti before the epidemic is over. We’re working to reduce that number as much as we possibly can.

Read how cholera is prevented and treated.

Donate to help Haiti.

Getting ahead of the cholera outbreak in Haiti

Haiti staff are trained in proper handwashing.
Haiti field agents were trained this week in cholera prevention techniques, such as hand washing. They are sharing this information with people in their communities.

With several cases of cholera being reported in the city of Port-au-Prince, World Concern is stepping up our response to the disease spreading by collecting supplies for hygiene kits and preparing to distribute these to more than 30,000 people. The kits will be assembled and distributed within the next few days to people we serve through our HIV and AIDS programs in rural areas, and to the earthquake victims we’re working with in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

World Concern President Dave Eller is concerned that if cholera becomes an epidemic in Port-au-Prince, it will be a problem for a very long time. He feels strongly that we need to help those we’re currently serving.

“It’s the responsible thing to do, to protect the people who God has given us to walk alongside,” he said. “This is one more tragedy they may have to endure. I wish that we were in a place to have a response beyond these people, but for now, they’ve been given into our care. They trust us.”

The hygiene kits will include:

  • Water purification tablets
  • Soap
  • Oral rehydration packets

We’re estimating we’ll need to spend a minimum of $45,000 to get these kits and information in the hands of Haitian families, but it could cost up to $80,000.

We know that cholera spreads easily in crowded conditions with poor sanitation, and that pretty much describes the situation in Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors are living in tent communities.

Supplies are being gathered to assemble hygiene kits that will be distributed to people we're working with in Haiti.
Supplies are being gathered to assemble hygiene kits that will be distributed to people we're working with in Haiti.

World Concern has responded with carefully planned prevention strategies: training our field staff about the disease, its symptoms, how it spreads, and ways to improve hygiene to stay healthy. They, in turn, are passing that information along to people we work with. Now, that information will come with supplies to help keep families healthy.

If you’d like to donate to the Haiti cholera response, please click here.

Deadly Cholera Arrives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

World Concern’s director of international health expects more people with cholera to arrive in Port-au-Prince in the coming days, bringing the infection to the crowded capital from rural communities.

A Haitian resident suffering from cholera waits for medical treatment at a local hospital in the Marchand Dessaline zone, about 36 km (22 miles) from the town of Saint Marc, October 22, 2010. REUTERS/St-Felix Evens

The World Health Organization says five people with Cholera have been located in Port-au-Prince so far; all have been isolated and are receiving treatment.

“It is coming,” says Dr. Paul Robinson. “People get on a bus to go to the capital and try to get better”.

Cholera Fact Sheet

While most of the 200 deaths in this new epidemic have occurred about 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince, new cases are closer, about 30 miles from the capital, according to AP reports. The UN says nearly 2,400 people are sick.

Robinson has briefed World Concern Haiti staff about prevention and is now planning next steps.

Our initial plan:

  1. In advance of any potential spread in Port-au-Prince, educate earthquake victims about prevention and self-treatment.
  2. Construct “Cholera Cots” for patients. Isolating those with cholera is important. These cots are equipped with pans to collect diarrhoeal waste.
  3. Readying medical supplies for the potential large number of patients, mainly to rehydrate those with severe symptoms.

People with cholera suffer from severe dehydration because of diarrhea. Left untreated, a patient may emit up to 10 liters of fluid a day.

Cholera is spread primarily through contaminated drinking water or food.

“Because Haiti hasn’t seen a Cholera epidemic in a long while, people don’t know how this works,” Robinson said.

World Concern Haiti Country Director Christon Domond has activated the humanitarian organization’s health committee to respond.

“This is real,” Domond said. “Pray for Haiti, the situation is really complex.”

The WHO stresses that Port-au-Prince is not a new location for infection. A representative says this is a worrying, but not unexpected development.

About 1,000,000 people remain homeless in Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed 230,000.

Since that time, World Concern has served more than 100,000 through emergency disaster support or long-term rebuilding of homes and incomes.

Donate to help families in Haiti now

Learn more about our Haiti response

Cholera Prevention and Treatment – includes details on “Cholera Cots”: PDF or Word document