Friday, January 15, 2010

Missionaries Bring Water to Port-au-Prince



Yesterday the Watchman shared with you a first person account of a missionary friend who was in Port-au-Prince on the day of the earthquake and who went back to help with search and rescue the next day.  Tonight we share a post from his wife Leslie Rollings.  She reports that large numbers of people are fleeing from Port-au-Prince, no doubt in search of water, food, and shelter.  Today she and some co-workers took what aid supplies they could into Port-au-Prince.  This is their story.

Everyone was happy they had gone to help out yesterday. They knew they had made a difference. We know that things are not in a place where we can continue installing [water] filters, but our workers wanted to do something to be helping out. It was decided that we would go to St. Marc to buy as much bagged water as we could put in our biggest truck, and some bread to hand out to the people that had been displaced. I decided I would go with a couple others because I wanted to understand. I’ve been watching things online and hearing Chris recount, but that is only part of it.
I went into St. Marc with Jean, our project manager, and his cousin Jackson. Jackson volunteered to go because he wanted to help people and Jean thought it was important that he experience that to understand so he could tell others in our area how things are. I think many people out our way are removed enough that it’s hard for them to truly understand. They don’t have television access, and the phones were down. Until this morning our workers hadn’t even seen a picture of the National Palace in it’s crumbled state. When we told them it was “kraze net” – totally broken, they didn’t believe us. I pulled up a picture online and they were left open mouthed. Pretty much the same reaction we had on Tuesday night.
We had to go to three places to buy enough water to fill the truck. The little sachets are sold in bigger sacks. Each sack holds 60 sachets. We bought 200 sacks – 12,000 sachets of water. And 300 pieces of bread. We tarped everything and headed into Port.
I like being the passenger in the truck because I get to see things that are hard to notice when you’re trying to drive and not get broadsided by a bus. One thing that we noticed very quickly is that every vehicle that passed us was loaded to more than maximum capacity with people. People were leaving Port au Prince en mas, taking whatever means possible. Every tap tap was full. Every bus was full. People were packed in worse than cattle. Men were sitting along the top rails of the sides on big transport trucks front to back, packed in like Pringles. Even dump trucks were full. Any vehicle heading north was full. Vehicles heading south into the city were either about half full or carrying supplies. Those that did have people had people that were most likely going in to get family members to bring back to the provinces.
I had been trying to prepare myself for what I would see in Port, but also knew that 24 hours later can change things. We came into Bon Repos, and then had to do some detouring through Santos because we forgot the bridge in Bon Repos was closed. Traffic was tight. People coming out and things not moving fast going in. There were massive line ups at every gas station, both vehicles and lines of people trying to fill gallon jugs. Even in our area gas and diesel are already in limited supply.
Everywhere we went there were people walking with whatever personal possessions they could carry, and that was it. In one particular area we got stopped for a while and watched several police and aid vehicles go by. Their contents were grim but the dead were respectfully covered by whatever means available. Caskets went by on tap taps and I saw people on the side of the road making simple wooden coffins. In parts of town a sickly sweet smell filled my nose and I realized that’s what death must smell like.
I didn’t go into the area that Chris was in with our staff yesterday and I know that what I saw was the least of the worst, so to speak, but there were walls down and parts of buildings collapsed around us. We decided to take the water to where people were camping out, generally in whatever open areas they could find, under covers made from nothing but sticks and whatever large pieces of fabric or tarps could be found.
I was trying to prepare myself for what we would encounter when we started handing out water. In situations like this there are two types of people. There are those that are grateful for what they can find or are given and are often humble. There are others who in that state of need feel that they have to take more than they need because they might not ever have again. We encountered both today and it was difficult and frustrating. After handing out bread from the truck in a giant, open former sports arena now turned refuge camp the only thing Jean could say as we drove away was, “It’s so hard to help.” His point was that sometimes the very people you are trying to help make it difficult for themselves and others. Jackson and I looked at our hands that were scratched and bleeding from being mauled and it made me sad. I was sad because I saw the desperation in the eyes of some of the kids that so badly just wanted one piece of bread, but had to fight those that felt they needed to take everything they could. I tried my best to try and connect one piece of bread with one hand at a time to make sure it got spread around, but it was hard. So very hard.
As we headed home we stopped at the bus station and loaded up the truck with people headed out of the city. When Jean got in to start driving he said that people kept trying to give him money for gas and when he refused they were so surprised. As we stopped in various places along the road home to drop people off the gratitude that they shared made the whole day worth it. Some you could see the burden lifted off their shoulders.
When we got home Jean and I talked for a minute and both agreed that we were happy we could help people, but it would have been more effective if done through a point person, which was hard to set up on short notice. We know that with aid teams and supplies arriving we are best used when we can do what we do well, which is building filters. We will keep our focus there and continue working with other communities, and when it’s possible for us to go back into Port au Prince we will. We have been here for years and we know that the relief efforts will stop at some point and that’s when we come in and work with people long term to build a life for themselves, or in this case, rebuild.
I admire the Rollings willingness to help out folks in need.  I only hope that they will stay safe.  With the water shortage so acute in Port-au-Prince, aid convoys will need armed guards.

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