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Excellent Analysis of Situation in Hinche

April 25, 2010

Dear friends,

Below you’ll find a phenomenal report from Mark Coughlin – leader of St. Monica’s Haiti committee (the Atlanta Georgia Parish). Mark, an American who speaks Kreyol fluently and is very involved with Haiti, has been down there 3 times since the quake. He just returned today and sent this report. His explanation of the situation in Hinche is particularly interesting – as it describes the potential long-term impact that the quake will have on the Central Plateau and our mission in working with the Diocese of Hinche. Please read and share this report with all you know who are involved with Hinche.

I strongly feel that this report underscores the essential need for our university student project to suceed. In ten or twenty years from now, our six students will likely be leaders in Hinche and throughout the Plateau Central. With your help we can provide them with an education and the tools needed to deal with Haiti’s current and future problems. As always, keep donating, praying, and sharing our project with your friends. Thanks again, and check back soon.

As we fly back to Miami and then on to Atlanta, I thought I would share some of my personal observations on the mission and the state of things in Haiti.

Little by little, rubble from the countless collapsed buildings is being cleared away and as that happens, some of the thousands of still-buried bodies are being recovered. Much of the work is being done by teams of PaP residents donning yellow T-shirts who are part of a “Money for Work” program funded by USAID. They can be seen toiling all over town. It seems likely that there will be more tragedies as more damaged buildings tumble onto nearby people or collapse on others who unwisely chose to enter them. Tents cities are still found in every sizable open space both inside and outside of the city. A relocation effort has just begun with the priority being to get people out of areas that will soon experience flash floods as the rainy season approaches its peak. Early in the week, Jim, Barb, Sandra and I witnessed this relocation effort in progress at the Petionville Club Golf Course (Sean Penn’s hangout) where trucks carrying possessions and buses carrying refugees were heading out the gate, destined for hopefully somewhat better and safer digs on the plateau in from of Mont Cabrite. PaP residents, despite their difficult housing situation, are busily carrying on with the business of life – no one I talked to there seemed to be wasting any time on self pity. They are focused on survival – especially where their children are concerned. These are incredibly strong and faith-filled people. I am frequently amazed by the way that people there who have lost everything they owned and many of those they loved manage to be something that we affluent people struggle to be in the best of times: cheerful.

Mark Coughlin - author of this post, and a true expert on Haiti

Many thousands of newly homeless earthquake survivors made their way to Hinche after the disaster, most of them having family connections there. The massive increase in population is not immediately apparent as you walk down the street, but if you ask anyone, they will tell you the impact has been huge. There are several refugee camps scattered outside of town, but the majority of the relocated people have just moved into the already crowded homes of relatives in Hinche. Dr. Dagerus, our Whitney Clinic physician was living with just a few other people before the quake in his house, but now has 10 additional family members sleeping on his floor. This is the case for many many families there and has caused a housing shortage and a significant increase in the cost of food and other essentials. There are reports of a large increase in infectious diseases like TB along with scabies and other skin ailments likely due to the overcrowded sleeping arrangements. I think our medical team can confirm that this is the case as they saw an unusually high number of very sick folks and Heidi really had her hands full with skin problems. One case stood out to me as symbolic of the difficulties of life after the quake. A gaunt woman in her mid-50s showed up, suffering from pneumonia. She tested positive for HIV. After talking to her, it was learned that her daughter and son-in-law were killed in the quake in PaP and so her four grandchildren came to live with her, putting a huge strain on her scant resources and fragile health. Upon learning of her HIV diagnosis, her first concern was for the kids: What would become of them if she dies? Her second was for discretion on our part – If the people she lived with found out she had HIV/AIDS, she and the kids would be immediately put out on the street. Fortunately, Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) operates a free HIV treatment center at St. Therese Hospital in Hinche and we helped her get set up for treatment there. Hopefully it is not too late for her.

While I was in Port-au-Prince I had several interesting conversations with Raul Jean-Louis, Sandra’s colorful, affable uncle. From him I learned that Hinche has become a topic of great interest for those in-the-know in PaP. People of means are suddenly buying up available land in the area, driving up prices. One reason for this is that Hinche is midway between – and outside of – Haiti’s two known earthquake zones, PaP and Cap Haitian. It also has more open, relatively level land than probably any other part of the country. Add to this that there will soon be asphalt on National Route 3 all the way from PaP to Hinche, making it easily passable by any vehicle in just a few hours, and you get the makings of a boom. I’m not sure what this will mean for the local poor, but hopefully, it will bring more jobs and money to the area.

CANGE – AN OASIS (And how I became a patient there)
Sandra and I left Hinche Friday morning in order to work one day at the Zanmi Lasante Hospital in Cange. I love that place because of the way they care for their patients. It stems from their philosophy that everyone, by virtue of their humanity, has a right to healthcare. I happen to agree. Every day, people arrive there from all over Central Haiti and beyond. After the earthquake several hundred badly injured people showed up and many are still recovering there. Sandra is a very skilled Echocardiogram technician and her boss is kind enough to let her bring a very expensive state-of-the-art sonogram machine with her to Haiti. Our good friend, Dr. Joanel Joasil, the medical director there, gets very excited about Sandra coming because it allows them to accurately diagnose cardiac and other problems in cases where it would be difficult or impossible otherwise. One unfortunate patient there was a little 12 year old girl with advanced TB whose heart turned out to be literally swimming in a massive pocket of fluid surrounding it. It is very sad for us to see young kids who are that sick. Sandra’s presence there probably prevented that child’s and at least one other person’s life from ending that day. Early in the day, as I was carrying Sandra’s magic machine across the compound, I stepped into a hole in some concrete and badly sprained my ankle. We happened to be right in front of the X-ray salon and Dr. Joasil insisted that I get it checked out immediately – no fracture thankfully. A visiting American occupational therapist happened upon me and soon I was all wrapped up and given instructions for my recovery. Apparently, even a rich (by comparison) American has a right to healthcare in Cange.

We’ll be landing in Atlanta soon and we’re all looking forward to seeing our families. For me, and probably for many of the team members, leaving Haiti is a bit like stepping off of a rollercoaster. The highs are wonderful, the lows can be crushing and it’s non-stop Coming home always generates a mixture of emotions. At the same moment, I am happy and relieved to be coming home to Suzanne and the girls, but sad to leave our struggling Haitian friends, whom we care so much about, behind.

Mark Coughlin

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