Impressions from Port-au-Prince


by Steve Hollingworth, CARE USA COO and EVP, Global Operations

Sunday, January 17, 2010

11:30 a.m.

I am traveling to Port-au-Prince with my colleagues. One expert will assess overall staff well-being and how we provide support for folks in Haiti and those coming to help. The other is a technology expert, who will be in charge of improving communications; he will install a VSAT system for our use. Cell phone and satellite phones are working better, and e-mails are getting through.

Impressions from Port-au-Prince image 1
Steve Hollingworth

Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, Global Operations

I am going to provide a moral boost to staff who have experienced tremendous loss. We have 133 staff in Haiti and 80 percent have been affected. Four staff members remain unaccounted for. Staff have lost of family, property, their belongings.

But, amazingly, they are at work distributing water purification tablets and high protein biscuits.

I also am here to look at how we can scale up our relief effort. I lead CARE's work in India during the tsunami response, and there are many similarities. The main thing in common is that with will require a short-term relief plan as well and a 3-5 year effort to restore assets and livelihoods.

Trauma is widespread. We will work with community leaders, local groups and women to make sure our response to the crisis and the mental health needs of the people affected are appropriate and helps to empower people at a time they feel most vulnerable and violated.

Impressions from Port-au-Prince image 2

Photo: 2010 Evelyn Hockstein/CARE

3:10 p.m.

The images you see on TV images are real. As we enter the disaster zone from the north of Port-au-Prince, we see rubble, newly-homeless people camping in schoolyards, public squares and parks and on the lawn of the prime minister's office – any open space they can find.

Impressions from Port-au-Prince image 3

Photo: 2010 Evelyn Hockstein/CARE

Most of the buildings are collapsed due to poor standards of construction. But there are a few better-built buildings standing among the ruins.

We heard that officers at one police station were lined up for roll call during a shift change when the earthquake struck, wiping out the entire night shift. Bulldozers are now working to level that station as we roll by.

In the northern parts of town, some market activity is returning. Many people on streets look well and are trying to resume normal life. The lines for gas and kerosene are long. Both are in short supply and the pump is broken down.

Everyone is traumatized and still reeling from the quake. CARE's staff in Haiti tell us stories of being trapped, escape, loss of their friends and family

The night of the quake was hell for many people separated from loved ones and children. One staff member was separated from her 12 year old son. She went to the streets for news, walking all night. Her son turned up at CARE's office the following morning in nothing more than his underpants. After a night of chaos and turmoil, they joyously reunited.

A teenage daughter of another CARE staff member heard her school had collapsed and many of her friends have been killed. Most schools and universities are destroyed creating uncertainty in the future. What are the children to do?

Another staff member still awaits news on her missing brother.

Of course all who survived wonder why them: why did I survive and the others are gone?

The regular news of death hard to comprehend.

All of the stories bring profound sadness and worries of what is next ...

4:30 p.m.

Mattresses arrive! A large planeload of cargo with non-food relief items arrives Tuesday. This will extend the goods purchased locally. Blankets, medical supplies, sleeping pads, tarps, water, bottles, tents and even wheelchairs will arrive. We have worked with the Church of the Latter Day Saints for the goods and UPS for the transport. Wonderful news and great partners!

In addition, 12 former CARE staff with extensive emergency experience have volunteered to help, and arrived from Gonaïves today. They have all moved on in their careers, but volunteered to return for the effort. They bring hope and encouragement to the staff here.