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Utahns work to keep Haiti on America's mind

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 2:26 a.m. MDT

Daniel Cameau of Provo sits at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 29, with an orphan awaiting clearance to evacuate. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Daniel Cameau of Provo sits at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 29, with an orphan awaiting clearance to evacuate. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Editor's note: First in a four-part series looking back at post-quake efforts in Haiti as Utahns and the LDS Church rushed to help provide humanitarian aid.

This is Haiti 100 days after the earthquake: The bodies that could be reached have been buried, but rubble is everywhere. The water trucks and rice distributions now routinely reach many, staving off starvation, if not all hunger.

But the interest of donors, notorious for short attention spans, is waning. At least one hospital that ran out of resources gently placed patients out on the street before closing its doors recently — including a child in a body cast.

"I don't blame the hospital. Everyone was working hard trying their level best, but they couldn't go on and had to shut down," said Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti, who saw it. "Move them out, shut the gates, say good luck. It was horrible."

USAID has set up a rough field office in Haiti. The situation in the nation is desperate — and the rains are starting. (Jeff Randle) USAID has set up a rough field office in Haiti. The situation in the nation is desperate — and the rains are starting. (Jeff Randle)

You can tell part of Haiti's story with numbers. Haiti has — or had — 9 million people, the vast majority impoverished. The average annual income was $1,300. The life expectancy before the 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 was 61 years. As many as 300,000 died, and about 3 million need aid in its aftermath, including 84,000 elderly. The injured are near impossible to count accurately, but estimates start at a quarter million. The United Nations said 245,000 "ruined or hopelessly damaged" buildings have created 30 million to 78 million cubic yards of rubble.

It's not easy to return to normal in such a landscape, and attempts don't gain much traction, says Daniel Cameau of Provo, who left his Haiti homeland 20 years ago. His cousin's daughter died and her mom was seriously injured. Nine cousins are now homeless.

Steve Eror (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) Steve Eror (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

The other day, he asked one, "How is life?"

"It's not much changed since the earthquake," he was told. "There is still rubble. The government is still not organized." They are trying to function "in a dysfunctional situation and that makes life more miserable."

A distant loss

Utahns frantic to reach friends and family in Haiti right after the earthquake have now counted the dead from a distance. Hernandez and Alba Honore each lost beloved cousins. Alba's uncle died and her aunt's arm and leg were amputated. Their friend Farnell Pierre-Louis' mother and siblings are doing comparatively well. His brother-in-law returned to work quickly and they gathered enough money to send some of the family to Miami for a few weeks. Now the tent school is opening for the children and Pierre-Louis, of Salt Lake, is in Haiti helping them return. Most will live in a parking lot a while longer.

Dr. Jeff Randle (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Dr. Jeff Randle (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

And yet another wave of sorrow is right on the horizon. Haiti's rainy season, just starting to sputter, will go on for weeks, pouring buckets of water on the broken-hearted and battered island. Then the hurricane season will begin.

Millions live in makeshift tent cities and the government is just beginning to move some to higher ground. "There's no permanent housing. The lucky ones are in a tent, otherwise they have a sheet draped over a string. And when the rains come in May and June …" Randle's voice trails off, then he says the rain will wash through areas that have been used as makeshift latrines, carrying sewage throughout the camps. It will stink as it brings cholera and infectious diseases, as it severely compromises conditions for people healing from injuries and surgeries or just trying to survive, homeless. When the rains reach bodies still under rubble in some locations, it will likely spread even more disease.

A Haitian man who's recovering from a spinal surgery is helped by a physical therapist and a nurse in March. (Jeff Randle) A Haitian man who's recovering from a spinal surgery is helped by a physical therapist and a nurse in March. (Jeff Randle)

In his blog, Randle writes, Haiti "is not just broken but is crushed." He took a team of volunteers to Port-au-Prince in March. "Half had been to Haiti before and were shocked at the devastation, half were new to Haiti and were shocked at Haiti."

He loves Haiti, where he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 27 years ago. But after nine days, he says, he was pining "to go where they're not suffering, not mourning a loss. Everyone has lost someone dear to them."

No giving up

Still, there's hope. It comes in an architect's draft of a 130-bed hospital a Utah team hopes to build, funded in part by small donations from moms nationwide. Hope rides in on a team of rehab experts operating a makeshift clinic under a blue tarp. It crosses religious and school-loyalty and international borders.

At BYU, 150 students and professors are planning to go down for several months, in rotating teams, to teach square foot gardening and other skills. University of Utah students have joined Our Haitian Heroes' relief efforts, said Steve Eror, one of that Utah-based group's organizers.

Utahns are also helping Haitians Gina and Lucien Duncan with their orphanage and projects well beyond it. Gina Lucien is working with the Haitian government on a group home and school where she plans to take in 100 women who had amputations, along with their children, to learn about using microcredit. They will live there a year and Utah-based Healing Hands will make them prosthetics, said Jan Groves, an Intermountain Healthcare employee who will make her own 12th humanitarian trip for Healing Hands in June, leading nurses, physical and occupational therapists, prosthetists, translators and others from eight states and Canada.

Their plans include clinic work, providing rehab services in a tent-based hospital, and visiting little hospitals in outlying areas where spinal-cord patients need care. She also hopes to revisit orphanages in the capital where for 10 years the group has cared for disabled children.

Starting over again

Healing Hands, said Randle, just signed a contract to start demolition of the many pancaked buildings in its compound. They will rebuild but are considering options, perhaps working with other international organizations. MediShare wants Healing Hands to provide rehab services to patients. Randle would like that, but he also wants an outpatient clinic and a vocational component to train those with disabilities to earn a living. He hopes to build a little snack shop there and teach disabled people to make handicrafts that can be sold, so they can gain some money and get families back to work, he said. It all hinges on who's staying to help and who's leaving.

Since the earthquake, Healing Hands has helped where needed. They recently found 19 patients who'd been injured in the earthquake who'd had surgeries and been discharged by an international team. A Briton who'd been there a few years and built a clinic to treat children and keep pregnant women healthy took them in and his team has done its best.

But spinal cord injuries are hard, said Randle, who found severe, perhaps lethal pressure wounds. It was not the Briton's team's fault; at least it was willing to help. Randle spent two days training it as best he could. Healing Hands is now assembling six spinal cord injury teams that will each rotate into Haiti for a week.

The Utah Hospital Task Force, which took 130 volunteers including medics, construction experts and Creole speakers for two weeks right after the quake, plans to build a 130-bed hospital, said an organizer, Stephen Studdert. Wednesday they welcomed a group of women volunteers who will be part of a "million mothers for Haiti" to help build the American Hospital of Haiti. They envision a million women each donating $12.

Eror, a returned missionary who served in Haiti, has been bowled over by the response his group, Our Haitian Heroes, has had to its efforts. The group includes doctors, construction workers, teachers and others. They have secured a piece of land and plan to build a center in Petit-Goave, 42 miles southwest of Haiti's ravaged capital.

Haitians, he said, typically memorize to learn. The group wants to build a center where critical thinking skills and various trades are taught. They hope to eventually pair Haitians with outside mentors in their chosen fields. The country's economy needs help.

They also hope to keep Haiti on America's minds, he said, because the situation is still dire.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com

Twitter: Loisco

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