Dispatches from the Brown Community
Sanctuary Earthquake survivors receive care at an emergency clinic set up in a church next to a hospital in Cange, Haiti, by Partners in Health. Credit: Robert Sheridan/Partners in Health

About Haiti ...

Announcements, messages, and commentary from the week of January 24, 2010:

By TAB Staff  |  January 26, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Esther Hernández-Medina: Ordinary people building a way out of hatred

Esther Hernández-Medina is a Ph.D. candidate in Brown’s sociology department and a native of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

“God bless your people!” said my new friend Frantzy, his eyes tearing up. We met at the airport in Puerto Rico while waiting for our flights back to the United States. He said his family was lucky (“Only one cousin died”), but his mother and siblings are now homeless.

Frantzy is Haitian. I’m Dominican.

Frantzy kept saying how grateful he felt to Dominicans after the January 12 earthquake. I kept telling him how impressed I was with Haitians’ bravery. This sort of connection would have been unlikely less than a month ago. Even though neither of us lives on the island (he works in Florida; I study in Providence), we both inherit the history of problems between our nations.

The quake hit while Frantzy was in Port-au-Prince on vacation. I was in Santo Domingo, but I didn’t feel the earthquake because I was inside a moving car. And even for those who felt it, the intensity was much lower in the Dominican Republic.

Volunteers sort supplies at Centro Bono, a Jesuit organization in Santo Domingo.: Volunteers sort supplies at Centro Bono, a Jesuit organization in Santo Domingo. Frantzy told me he drove to the Dominican Republic to buy food and water and was astonished to be caught in traffic at the border … at 3 in the morning. He couldn’t believe the traffic jam was due to so many trucks carrying supplies to Haiti. “I had heard that Dominicans hated Haitians,” Frantzy said. “But Dominicans are beautiful people.” I said, “Look. I’m really proud of what my people are doing. But that doesn’t mean that there was no discrimination before.”

Unfortunately, many Dominicans believe the anti-Haitian rhetoric of those who see a conspiracy to “reunite the island” at every turn. Some see people like me as traitors for defending the rights of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. And yet ordinary people on both sides have proved that we can build a way out of hatred.

At first, Dominicans felt relieved for not having had a major earthquake or a tsunami. The following morning, we learned the horrible truth about the Haitian catastrophe: so many people killed, so many still trapped under the rubble. Most of us were speechless. Some reacted by collecting food, water, and medicines.

It snowballed into a beautiful human chain of Dominicans reaching out to help our Haitian neighbors. The Defensa Civil (the orange-hat people you might have seen on TV) helped rescue people; the Comedores Económicos were distributing food; supermarkets and phone companies matched people’s donations; lactating mothers donated milk for injured newborns.

There is much more to be done. Meanwhile, Haitians and Dominicans need to keep looking at each other differently.

Amos Charles: Patients sheltering under tree branches and bed sheets

Amos Charles is clinical associate professor of medicine and works at the Providence VA Medical Center. On Saturday, January 23, he returned from a seven-day visit to Port-au-Prince, where he worked at the general hospital with a group of medical professionals from New York.

When Amos Charles arrived in Haiti, he observed thousands of patients within the hospital barricades, lying on stretchers in the yard and using a variety of things, from tree branches to bed sheets, to protect themselves from the sun.

“The patients and their families were desperate for help and would grab any passerby who appeared to be a nurse, a doctor, or someone with medical knowledge,” Charles recalls. “Outside the hospital there were clinics everywhere organized by religious and relief organizations, all overburdened with patients and with limited space and medical supplies. There was no shortage of doctors of all specialties, nurses, EMS, or fire personnel.

While Charles found the medical relief effort to be chaotic at the time of his visit, he has since received word from a physician in Haiti that things are improving. “All the patients are now organized into units under tents,” he relates. “Each tent has a staff of doctors and nurses. I am also told that anyone who goes to the general hospital must first report to the International Medical Corps (IMC), a central location where an ID badge is issued. It is housed in a building inside the hospital compound called La Maison des Etudiants.”

Charles is realistic but hopeful about Haiti’s future. “The health hazards in the country and the grim nature of the situation
have not dampened people’s enthusiasm to help,” he says. “It is going to take some time before things settle down. There will be plenty of opportunity for people to help.”

Cate Oswald: Drawing on a technique that helped Rwandan genocide survivors

Cate Oswald, a 2004 Brown graduate, is Partners in Health’s program manager for psychosocial support and mental health services in Haiti.

In the midst of all of the distress the earthquake brought in its initial days, the immediate response of many in the countryside was to rush to Port-au-Prince to look for family and friends — a very natural response given the circumstances. With cell phone communication down, this was the only way to verify they were OK or in need of help.

For our patients receiving treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) at one of two treatment centers in the Central Plateau, this was not an option. Their illness requires a two-year treatment regimen, the first of which is administered as an inpatient. For them, leaving in search of their families was out of the question. Without communication capabilities and only listening to radio reports explaining the extent of the destruction, one can only imagine how distressing these first few days were for them.

In the days since, as cell phone service improved and patients were able to reach their families, many learned of the sudden and untimely death of their family and friends. One of our patients, Benjamin, who has been battling tuberculosis off and on for 18 years, learned that he lost 10 family members. Others lost siblings, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, cousins, friends. In their grief, they immediately started asking themselves why were they saved from this tragedy and not others? How would they continue to live? Why did some people have to die in an instant while they have been able to receive life-saving treatment for their deadly illness? Should they abandon treatment and give up on life?

The Zanmi Lasante staff at the Monseigneur Decoste Infectious Disease Pavilion at the St. Therese Hospital in Hinche immediately recognized their patients’ anguish and called on the support of Zanmi Lasante’s head psychologist and director of Psychosocial Support Services, Father Eddy Eustache, to help work with their patients. Drawing on a technique he has used at Partners in Health’s Rwanda project working with genocide survivors, Father Eddy led us in a memorial service remembering the lives of all those we had lost in this unthinkable disaster. Patients and staff alike sang songs, read scripture, shared stories of their memories of their loved ones, and in arguably the most moving part of the service, lit candles for each of the people we had lost while reading their names out loud. To conclude, staff provided words of encouragement and advice for patients on continuing to adhere to treatment and find support in each other.

Efforts such as these are part of a more comprehensive psychosocial support plan for Zanmi Lasante staff, patients, and their families as we work together to address the psychological impact that the earthquake has had on everyone in Haiti.

Patrick Moynihan: “It’s great to see the military out and about, looking for ways to help.”

Patrick Moynihan, a 1987 Brown graduate, is director of the Haitian Project’s Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince.

Nothing but net: Students and staff of the Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince take on the 82nd Airborne in a little R&R. Nothing but net Students and staff of the Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince take on the 82nd Airborne in a little R&R. January 25: The U.S. 82nd Airborne patrol accepted our invitation to stop by for a bit of rest and relaxation today. They are 600-plus strong and housed about two miles from the school at Damien, Haiti’s state agricultural university. They asked when was a good time to come by and play basketball. We said, “After you have had time to practice.” Actually, we said, “Any day between 4 and 7 p.m.” It’s great to see the military out and about, looking for ways to help.

There was a 25-percent increase in students at the school from last night to today. Students, members of our local debris-removal startup, and others from the neighborhood worked with us to remove earthquake debris from our neighborhood, Santo 5. Dangerous walls were carefully toppled. The handprint of the earthquake was removed from our entrance street. It felt good to see it go.

What we will not forget are those who have passed. So far six of our alumni are confirmed dead. When our information is complete, the school will dedicate its Mary Garden to their memories.