2 minute readDisaster, International

Still Open for Business

This post written by American Red Cross volunteer in Haiti Winnie Romeril

After a tiring day of travel from Santo Domingo, I arrived at the American Red Cross office. The structure is visibly unstable but the open air office is abuzz with activity. All salvageable furniture is on the lawn, the front gates are open, and the street is orderly. It’s friendly, full of humanity. Red Cross flags hang on the walls.

In one area, two young girls wearing bright white Haitian Red Cross smocks are gently and persistently cleaning a wound beneath an old woman’s white hair. A gash on her arm is ugly and yellow, badly infected from an open fracture. They attend to her with warm smiles and easy banter, as if this situation is the most natural thing in the world. The Red Cross will take her by car to a hospital for further treatment.

Other volunteers are restocking large first aid kits with supplies that just arrived. The kits are for the first aid posts which the Red Cross has set up in the camps. Each is staffed with a doctor, a nurse and two first aiders.

On the other side of the yard, our American Red Cross head of office Matt Marek holds a team meeting. The sunset is spectacular, with the mountains in shadow and the sea glowing below. In the shadows, lie neighborhoods of rubble.

The Red Cross team reviews supplies, logistics and personnel for tomorrow. They call over four youth and announce they are now the new leadership who will head up teams tomorrow. Their groups of volunteers will comb the worst hit neighborhoods, street by street, preaching safe hygiene practices and encouraging people to come to the Red Cross first aid posts for triage, treatment and transfer if necessary.

The young leaders take over the meeting. Matt signals to me and we walk away, down the hill. About 20 feet away, the office compound wall no longer stands. We climb over the rubble into an area smaller than a baseball field where one hundred and forty-six families (over 700 people) now live. Tarps of every color are strung together over the entire space, save a small walkway around the perimeter. Red Cross flags hang high on the remaining wall to show people where to come for help.

We walk past a laughing group of children bathing with water from buckets. Matt takes me to the edge of the hill to where the land drops off precipitously. In all directions, a cascade of rubble runs like a river of rocks through every neighborhood on the sides of these mountains. We turn back toward the camp, greeting everyone with bon soir, ca va?

Matt lifts the edge of the curtain of rope and tarps and strolls in. We bend low and make our way down one of the rows under the communal plastic “roof.” We smile and acknowledge each family. Matt pauses and chats in Creole with one woman who is watching over two teenage girls in wheelchairs. One is fully bandaged toes to hips while the other has dressings around her head.

We head to the end of the row and buy some coconut cookies from a woman operating a kiosk out of her tent. Matt bargains fiercely for the cookies, barely suppressing a smile. Then once they agree on a price he pretends not to pay her and everyone nearby laughs.

The signs of resilience are encouraging. Tomorrow relief distributions will begin in this camp. But it is only the beginning of a long recovery process that will certainly take years.

join the conversation.

We encourage you to comment on this blog. All viewpoints are welcome, but please be constructive. We reserve the right to make editorial decisions regarding submitted comments, including but not limited to removal of comments. The comments are moderated, so you may have to be a tiny bit patient in waiting to see them. We will review and post them as promptly as possible during regular business hours (Monday through Friday, 9:00 – 5:00). Please read our full comment policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. It nearly brings tears to my eyes reading this blog and learning of the horrible ordeal that these people must be experiencing. At this point in time I have not made any donations to the people of Haiti but I do plan on doing so. However they are certainly in my thoughts and prayers. Each night I pray that these people are aware of the one source that will help them and providde them of relief better than anyone/thing else and this source is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please encourage them to pray and keep faith because he will help them through this terrible ordeal. I wish them the best of luck in the recovery process.

  2. I have alot of childrens/baby clothes. How can I get them to Haiti to the familys from here in texas?

  3. Is there any way I can volunteer in Haitii. I can take a month off from work, and really inspired and willing to help by being there.

    Please let me know. You can email me at [personal information redacted].

  4. The folks in charge of distribution are still dazed and overwhelmed by the vastness of their job. I pray that the Lord will give them guidence so that they will snap out of it and do the right thing quickly. Once this happens, Haiti will get the help that they need. Out of the rubble will rise the Phoenix. Things will be better than before the earthquake. So please hang in there and encourage the people to have patience with the Lord as He has with them.

  5. Winnie,
    Please know we’re sending our thoughts and prayers to you and the rest of the Red Cross team in Haiti. I am confident that the people of Haiti will be well served by such competent and dedicated volunteers such as yourself. Keep up the great work and don’t be afraid to lean on your former team if needed at any time- we’re here for all of you in any way we can be!
    Christie Getman
    American Red Cross Tsunami Recovery Program
    Thailand

  6. Winnie, your colleagues at Mercy Flight Central all wish you and your team all the best. Your safe return to Western New York is eagerly awaited.

  7. Winnie,

    I am sharing the photos, article and everthing else to family, friends, coworkers. They all send their love, hugs and best wishes. So good to see you and read your words….hugs and love

    Dave

  8. Winnie Romeril,

    Managing Director Ian Rawson at Hopital Albert Schweitzer Haiti at Deschapelles (40 miles north of Port-au-Prince) is pleading for nurses, doctors, antibiotics and pain medicine. They have a secure landing strip (the soccer field) that can take a helicopter at least. This hospital is getting serious trauma cases transferred to them from Port-au-Prince. Please Please see to it that this hospital gets some desperate medical aid. Their personnel have been working 24/7 since last Tues.
    The website for this hospital is HAShaiti.org

    Thank you,

  9. Hey Winnie,

    You are doing us proud down there. Great work (Matt too), great images. Keep it coming. I plan to post on our website. Stay on your feet and out of harms way (6.1 must give you pause). You Go Girl!

  10. Winnie,
    We’re thinking of you. We love you and are praying for your strength at this time. Your skills and knowledge of the world are such a blessing to us here at home; we can not even imagine the wonderful effect you are having in Haiti.
    Please let the Hatians know that we are trying to help!
    Bless you our friend!
    Catie, Paul, Logan, Pat, and Chris

  11. Winnie,

    We all are so proud to have you out their reaching out a hand of hope to the Haitian people. Keep up the great work.
    Thanks for info on the blog and your tweets…great pics!You are in our thoughts and prayers.

    Shelley, Colleen, and Linda 🙂

  12. I commend all of you that are in a hurry to help Haiti. You are so shocked and concerned that anyone could be expected to live like this after a disaster. Congradulations.

    Now about anwsering me a question…..

    Where are your concerns for the children and homeless taht have to live in those same conditions HERE in the US everyday?!

    Where is your hurry to help THEM!?

    Everyone is so worried about helping everywhere else EXCEPT in America. Where is your concern for OUR country and OUR children and OUR homeless??

    People like you sicken me and make me want to leave this country.