Witness to Haiti One Year Later

Haitians remember the one year anniversary of the earthquake with their community and World Concern.

Haiti held it together. Although the one year anniversary of the earthquake was met with anguish and questions about the country’s future, Port-au-Prince did not resort to riots and widespread violence.

Being there first hand, I did see anger, as I witnessed people shouting at each other, arguing about housing. I heard what sounded like gunfire and saw people drinking heavily. But as I traveled through the city on Jan. 12, 2011, most people were not like that. They were simply remembering all they’ve lost, all that changed in 35 seconds of terror one year ago.

In parades and services great and small, many people dressed in white, the color of mourning. Many cried, prayed, and sang songs. I heard a report about thousands of people marching on the street, frustrated that there isn’t more progress in rebuilding. I saw many churches in session, with special one-year anniversary services.

At the site of what once was the Hotel Montana, a service was held, recounting the pain of that day, and praying for continued healing. Nearly all that remains of the destroyed main hotel is a vacant lot, with some rubble still visible on a hillside.

World Concern works through community groups as we equip neighborhoods to rebuild. We teamed up with a neighborhood group called Sove Moun and held our own service, with prayer, songs and stories. We felt that just remembering, and acknowledging Jan. 12, was important.

You hear a lot about the resiliency of Haitians. I agree with this. In the past week, I’ve seen many smiles and heard hopeful stories after the disaster. And the fact is, there has been much progress. It’s a story that has been grossly underreported, which is easy to do, as reporters look at the vastness of what remains to be done, rather that what has been accomplished.

Although about 700,000 have found homes or shelter since their earthquake, about 810,000 Haitians still want a place to live. No question, this healing takes time, especially in one of the most challenging political and logistical environments imaginable.

So, in spite of Haitians being resilient, and rolling with whatever disaster they’re faced with, I know that it still hurts. Like any humans, they want stability in their lives. They want a chance for their children to go to school. If given the choice, they would prefer not to endure disaster, followed by disaster.

One year after the quake, if you see smiles, know that they may be smiling through a lifetime of pain that you and I may never experience. Please continue to keep Haiti in your prayers.

A time to remember.
A service at the site of the Hotel Montana drew several hundred people, including representatives from the UN and rescuers.

Why the world cannot "fix" Haiti in a year

Widzer was homeless after the earthquake, but worked and took full advantage of assistance provided. He sees a future beyond the quake.
Widzer was homeless after the earthquake, but worked and took full advantage of assistance provided. He sees a future beyond the quake.

I am glad that the eyes of the world media are scrutinizing what is happening in Haiti one year after the earthquake. Organizations have been stepping up their game in the last couple of months. Everyone wants to look like they’ve done a lot at the one year mark. After all, more than a billion dollars has been committed. And at one year, people want results.

So one year later – what did the world’s investment in Haiti yield?

If you look across Port-au-Prince right now, you may come to the conclusion that not much constructive has happened. I can see how someone would think that – especially if they are visiting for the first time. The UN says 810,000 people remain homeless. Cholera has killed thousands. Haiti’s displaced live in fraying remains of tent cities, intended to last months, but instead lasting a year … and counting.

In the last year, aid organizations have had mixed success. Some of the newer ones have faced a steep learning curve. More established organizations like World Concern have faced logistical frustrations, with some shipments being delayed in ports for weeks, even months, for example. And every international and domestic aid group must work in the context of Haiti’s supremely challenged government and fragile transportation network.

The fact is, Haiti’s government itself is in flux – with a violently disputed presidential election still unresolved. I expect that the backlash of the election recount will likely send the country into violent protest once again in the coming weeks.

So why am I optimistic about Haiti? Why do I think Haiti has a future – and remains a worthy investment?

I am optimistic because I see positive changes. I am optimistic because I see lives being touched, and even saved.

The good news for you if you have compassion for those who are hurting: you can make a real difference. If you invest in someone’s life in a meaningful way, it changes them.

Most of all, we should continue to invest in Haiti because of this: every human life has meaning. I am a Christian and have read the clear command from God to serve those who are poor and suffering. For believers, it is a spiritual calling.

Let me tell you about a man named Widzer. He lost his daughter in the earthquake, as well as his home and his job. When World Concern met Widzer, he was homeless. We paid him to clear debris in his own community through our Cash for Work program, which uses Haitians to help their own country. Then, we helped Widzer build a temporary shelter for his family of eight.

What Widzer did next was impressive.  He saved some money through Cash for Work and invested in his home – and his wife’s business. She now once again is selling in the market, and Widzer has made his small shelter a home, finishing it with a covered porch, toilet, kitchen and more.

He told me, “When you receive something, you are supposed to build upon it. We added a kitchen, we added a toilet. We added things that would allow us to live together safely and comfortably.”

This story is not perfect, as Widzer remains underemployed. But because we offered him opportunities that provided long-term hope, he began to see life was worth living again. He sees a reason to try – a reason to plan for the future – and that’s often the biggest obstacle.

Something also worth noting is that Widzer remains in his community, instead of in a remote camp. I realize that every situation is different, but World Concern believes that whenever possible, we should keep people close to where they lived before – if not on the same property. We have seen that by doing this, they’ll have a better chance of restarting a job or educating their children.

The good news is that the humanitarian community has touched thousands of people like Widzer, although I do wish there were more like him, one year in.

As for numbers, we have measurable results. Let me be clear: I can only speak for World Concern. Here are a few ways we’ve helped thousands of people in Haiti restart their lives since the earthquake:

  • 100,000 people received disaster assistance
  • 7,091 Haitians employed through Cash for Work program
  • 1,284 houses have been repaired for Haitian families
  • 530 transitional shelters have been constructed
  • 989 livelihood grants were given out, getting Haitian business owners back to work

To achieve these figures, it took an incredible amount of work. And even when you consider World Concern with all of the other assistance, there is likely much more left to do – than what has been done already. And that’s where it is helpful to look at a fuller picture.

Consider this:

1. This was a catastrophic disaster, one of the largest of our time. It killed 230,000 people, and directly affected 3 million people – that’s one out of three people in the country. Even if all of the non-profits and government agencies were working perfectly in the last year, there would still be years of work to do. We anticipate 5-10 years is a conservative estimate to “rebuild” Haiti. And know progress HAS been made. The UN says nearly half of the 1.5 million who were homeless now are off the streets.

2. The goal should not be to “fix” Haiti in a year, or spend all donations in a year. The goal should be to make meaningful progress toward a Haiti that is equipped to take care of itself. The best life-changing assistance is long-term community development, not dropping food rations off of the back of a truck (though there is a time and place for that). In order to positively affect someone’s life in a meaningful way, to empower them to be educated, to have a safe place to live, to have some reason to go on – it often takes years of relationship. This is not instant gratification, and it is not for the faint of heart.

3. Don’t paint a broad brush stroke as to the effectiveness of humanitarian agencies. Check them out. Do your research.

The reality is, one year out, Haiti remains of the edge. About a million people. They are real people like Widzer. I hope the media continues its scrutiny. At minimum, it means Haiti will not be forgotten. While we cannot “fix” Haiti in a year, we can make progress. World Concern is one part of this – and you are too. Together we can be committed to helping people long term – one life, one family – at a time.

For more information about what World Concern has done in the first year since the earthquake, check out: http://www.haitioneyear.org

Derek Sciba is writing this from Haiti. For media inquiries, call 206-713-5564 or email dereks@worldconcern.org.

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.

Thank you for making 2010 amazing!

Children in Haiti received "Kids' Healing Kits," one part of a large response that has helped more than 100,000 people after the earthquake.

This past year was a mixture of tragedy and triumph in the world of humanitarian aid. It began with one of the worst disasters of our time. As eyes were glued to the news coverage of the massive earthquake in Haiti, hearts were moved to help. Donations came pouring in. The response was overwhelming, and it renewed our faith in the amazing generosity of people.

World Concern, being on the front lines in Haiti, went to work. There was food and water to be distributed, tarps to be hung, and medical supplies to be delivered. Then, there were, and still are, lives to be rebuilt.

The response in Haiti was a huge part of 2010, both in terms of donations and accomplishments. But it wasn’t everything World Concern did with your help. There were projects completed in numerous impoverished countries, and new ones started. There were children educated and protected, wells dug, fields planted, houses built and jobs created. In all, we’ve reached nearly 6 million people with assistance.

We praise God for all that has been accomplished. As we reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011, we also want to thank you. Without our donors, none of this would be possible. You are truly partners in this work.

Here’s a look back at just a few of the amazing, creative ways people gave in 2010:

  • A kindergartner raised $3,641 for Haiti earthquake relief.
  • A group of inner-city children sold lemonade and cookies to build a house in Haiti.
  • A teenager gave up his birthday to help others in need.
  • Families decided to forego more “stuff” for Christmas and gave meaningful, life-changing gifts.
  • Bloggers dedicated space to making a difference in the world.
  • A young donor sends a beautiful letter with her donation, entrusting us to help others with it.

In all of this, please take joy in what you’ve done with us. You played an essential role in 2010, and we pray you join us in our quest to ease suffering in the coming year.

Thank you and happy New Year!

– The World Concern Team

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.

Inner City Kids Donate to Build House in Haiti

World Concern recently received a check for $1,313 to build a house for a family in Haiti left homeless after the earthquake. Receiving donations of this size is always a joy, but what makes this donation extraordinary is that the kids who sent it come from poverty themselves. The check came from a group of about 40 children, ranging from preschool through fifth grade, who attended East End Fellowship’s Vacation Bible School in an inner city neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia.

East End Fellowship meets in an old theater in Church Hill, a neighborhood where 82 percent of families are single parent households, and 37 percent live below the federal poverty line ($17,600 for a family of four). Half of the population is unemployed, and 50 percent of high school freshmen will not graduate.

Despite the impoverished state of the community, church members and parents decided the children would benefit from a mission project—something to allow them the chance to help others who are less fortunate than them. They decided to donate enough money to World Concern to help build a house in Haiti. Their goal was $1,200.

VBS kids baking cookies.
All of the children from the VBS class helped bake cookies.

“We knew the kids couldn’t bring the money in themselves,” said Ashley Hall, a church member and mother of three who participated in Vacation Bible School.

They decided to sell cookies and lemonade—each child having a hand in baking the cookies and manning the lemonade stand.  They set up two stands—one on a busy corridor and another near an abandoned building. And the community came out in droves to support them.

Each afternoon, they brought in their collection boxes and tallied up donations. The kids were amazed to learn that by Friday, they had exceeded their goal.

“It was really, truly amazing,” said Ashley. “It was great for the kids to see that they can make a difference. The whole goal was to have them look outside themselves.”

VBS kids sell lemonade.
Kids from East End Fellowship's VBS class sold lemonade and cookies at two stands, raising enough money for a house in Haiti.

East End Fellowship partnered in this endeavor with another community group called CHAT, which stands for Church Hill Activities and Tutoring, and was started by Angie and Percy Strickland, who moved to the neighborhood in 2002 with a mission to connect with the community’s youth. CHAT and other ministries in the area are influenced by the principles of the Christian Community Development Association, which promotes a development model that encourages people like themselves to become a part of a community to help it heal, rather than lofting in resources and people from the outside.

This model matches that of World Concern, which strives to lift the world’s poorest communities in places like Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia out of poverty with holistic, long term development. World Concern engages community members in their own growth through education programs, vocational and agricultural training, water and sanitation projects, healthcare programs and employment opportunities. In Haiti, for example, the house East End Fellowship’s children paid for will be built by Haitian workers hired through World Concern’s Cash for Work program. The program not only teaches marketable skills, such as construction, but helps boost Haiti’s economy by employing local workers.

To learn more about World Concern’s model for community development, visit www.worldconcern.org/whatwedo.

To learn more about East End Fellowship, visit www.eastendfellowship.org.

Preparing for Tomas to hit Haiti

The resounding question in everyone’s mind today is, how much more can Haiti take? With more than one million people still homeless after January’s quake, and a recent outbreak of deadly cholera that has now claimed the lives of more than 400 people, a tropical storm that could dump 10-15 inches of rain is the last thing Haiti needs.

tents in haiti
More than a million people are still living in tent camps in Haiti, many of which are at risk for severe flooding.

World Concern Haiti staff are preparing for the worst. During the storm, which is expected to move through the area early Friday, staff members have been instructed to take shelter, making sure their cell phones are charged, and to have a fresh supply of water, food and batteries on hand. In the hours leading up to the storm, they’ve been assembling emergency kits and tallying shelter materials for families in the areas we serve. Tarps and tents won’t provide much protection during the storm, but they will be needed immediately afterwards to replace damaged shelters. Tarps are among the items included in the emergency kits.

Getting emergency supplies to people will no doubt be a challenge, and coordinating this is a major effort. The practice of cutting trees in Haiti for firewood and charcoal has left the land vulnerable to mudslides. Heavy rain could wash out roads and make reaching people in need difficult.

Many of the areas where people are currently living in camps are low-lying and previously uninhabitable because of the flood risk. Flooding could also worsen the spread of water-borne disease, including cholera.

Some people take comfort in the fact the storm currently appears to be slowing and not strengthening much. However, forecasters note the danger of increased amounts of rainfall with a slower storm that lingers over Haiti.

We’ll keep you posted on our response in Haiti as we’re able to communicate with our staff there. Until then, we appreciate your prayers.

Click here to donate to help Haiti.

For more information, visit www.worldconcern.org

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