When I woke up on the morning of Saturday, July 23, 2011 I did what millions of Americans do each morning. Before washing my face or even brushing my teeth, I looked over at my Blackberry to see if I had missed any messages, emails or phone calls. I noticed that the customary red light was flashing. I had missed a phone call from my older brother, Ray. This was odd because he never called this early. Immediately I dialed him back, without a greeting or a good morning, he said “Ashley, the cholera is back, six people have died already!”
It didn’t sink in right away, so I let him continue talking. What was I supposed to say or do? He continued to explain the grim events that had taken place over the past few days. Earlier that week, Wednesday evening, three people had reportedly been on their way to Immaculee, the largest medical center in Port de Paix. All three had died, two at the hospital and one in the ambulance. That was just the beginning. Over the next couple of days, it was said that nearly a dozen people had died from the cholera exposure.
I began to brainstorm about what I could do to help. Sitting around and feeling hopeless wasn’t going to solve anything, so I told Ray that I would call him back. First I went online and searched the internet for any new stories or releases talking about the most recent cholera outbreak in Northwest Haiti; The Miami Herald, New York Times, CNN, Google, nothing . No one was reporting anything.
My next step was to call my father down in Miami. He is an immigration consultant who primarily helps Haitians who are seeking to become American citizens. He’s been serving the Haitian community in Miami for over 20 years, if anybody knew about what was going on in Port de Paix, it would be my father. I called him and what he told me was even more graphic and detailed than what my brother had described.
One of his clients had just left his office in tears. The man had just come back from Port de Paix and said that dozens of people were sick and that the situation was dire. He said that they were running out of beds in the hospital, even worse, as people began dying, they would simply bury their corpses in a lot adjacent to the hospital. The potential ramifications of these actions were unimaginable.
If all this had happened within the course of three days, imagine what possible tragedies loomed ahead. As I began to brainstorm, I started to think about all the people I could call upon that would have ideas, resources or experience with this sort of situation and the name “Marie,” popped into my head. Within seconds I was on the phone calling Marie Eusebe, founder of C2C, a New York based organization that has been doing incredible work in Haiti. We spoke briefly. She was in a meeting and she said that should would have to call me back. Hours later, the phone rang. It was her and we began an ongoing dialogue and plan of action on what we were going to do, to help the people of Port de Paix…
Two weeks had gone by and thankfully the situation improved. Aqua tabs and medicine were distributed by local NGO’s and Sister City International. I continue to receive updates from Ray about what’s happening on the ground.
Sadly, the local government of Port de Paix have been very slow to act and respond to the needs of the people. It has been rumored that the mayor had been in South Florida in the midst of the outbreak and essentially did nothing to improve the situation. As a result of his apparent apathy, many citizens of Port de Paix have lost faith in their local government, therefore taking matters into their own hands. When the people needed leadership the most, is when their local officials abandoned them.
As the rainy season persists the Northwest becomes more vulnerable to another cholera outbreak. The mud along with the trash and litter that piles and accumulates after each storm creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. The people of Port de Paix need the local government to get more actively involved, they need community leadership and some good fortune.
What makes the situation sad, yet hopeful is that it’s just as simple as giving people a tablet that can save their lives. I hope that the people can make it through the next hurricane season without unnecessary loss. The resilient spirit of the people is a miracle in itself, but it doesn’t have to be that way.