Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Weeks In Haiti

On my last day in Haiti, a colorful sign at the airport for the Peace of Mind Hotel in Jacmel caught my eye. My friend Flo McGarrell died at that hotel on February 12th when the building collapsed. I felt Flo's presence. His love for Haiti filled my heart and I shed some of the few tears I allowed myself during my time in Haiti. I had no time for tears; there were too many stories that needed to be told. That night I boarded a military plane used to evacuate people and transport soldiers to Miami, still putting my camera to use, still meeting people and listening to their accounts of how their lives had been forever changed by the earthquake. Ronny Gachelin was evacuating his daughters and planned to return to Haiti the next day. “Do people in America realize there are still bodies buried in the rubble all over Port-au-Prince?” he asked.

On my first day back I had the task of preparing a summary of my trip for the morning show on Fox8 in New Orleans (click here to see it). I started off talking about the military operation, pointing out the successes: the opening of the port and the completion of a major food distribution in which there was no major disturbance or violence. I clarified that the military has not been tasked to directly help the Haitians. They are there to support the Haitian government (a government the Haitians I spoke to think is utterly useless), the UN forces (there was preexisting tension between the Brazilian UN forces and the Haitians) and the NGO's (first and foremost the World Food Program). As the military installs air-conditioners in the tents of officers, Haitians in tent cities are getting soaked by rain, the rain a reminder of the clock ticking down toward the rainy season that starts in March. The soldiers are not building temporary housing for the Haitians or directly distributing food. That is not their role. But the need for basic essentials in Haiti is extreme. If basic needs are met, security issues will diminish.

Few Haitians in the tent cities I spoke to received more than enough rice for a couple of days, if that. Even affluent Haitians don’t know where to locate tents. No one knows where to turn for help.I spoke to Col. Robin B. Akin after the food distribution surge was over. She is committed to her job, arriving in Haiti days after the earthquake with the first team. They set up the base camp, advised on the workings of the food distribution program and the reopenning of the port. Her logistics skills proved good enough to set up a way for the soldiers to watch the Super Bowl. (See a clip of the 377th TSC watching the interception the clinched the game for the Saints here) She sees the food distribution surge as a major success. (Listen to her here) The military goals were met. I wonder if, had she been a Haitian, she would have been able to to navigate a non-existing governmental system and an uncoordinated effort set up by the NGOs to secure a ticket to get a 25 pound bag of rice to feed her family.

Many small NGOs, individuals and missionaries who directly touch the lives of countless Haitians are also providing aid. I spent a day with Michael Brewer of ReachHaiti Ministries. Michael and his wife Andrea set up an orphanage six months before the earthquake. The building that housed them is ruined. They relocated the children and are now looking to buy land and erect a new building for the orphanage but are equally committed to providing aid to as many of those in need as they can. Sixteen volunteers from Tennessee have joined Michael in Haiti and are rebuilding a pastor's home and setting up health care clinics on the streets in remote parts of Cite Soliel. They go out without security and provide medical services to anyone who needs them. (Watch clip of nurse Benny Parker in action here. and here )In the course of the day Benny treated over two hundred people. That day three people left the clinic with a fighting chance to save infected limbs that would have otherwise been lost, one woman having a miscarriage was rushed to a hospital and hundreds of others got a basic check up. Many of those who wait on line for medical care are not ill, but Benny treats them all with equal respect by listening to their chests and taking their temperature just in case. Most everyone lost a family member and is suffering from mental stress and anyone staying in the areas effected by the earthquake is experiencing eye irritation and congestion due to the dust. “People need to feel special, if only for a moment, so they wait on line to receive attention," Benny explained. Those that don’t need medical attention leave with an aspirin and a hug.

Rev. Jean Frank Antoine" is in charge of eight tent cities and an orphanage. (Here is a link to a story I shot for the Guardian at one of the tent cities he set up.) He introduced me to members of the board of Riedle, a NGO he is affiliated with. They took me to a tent city on the top of a hill in Carre Fourre that has up to 8000 residents for whom they are trying to secure tents and food . People there told me the only aid they've seen was a small amount of rice early on and that they need more. The distribution surge missed them. Bernadette Desir is nine months pregnant. Her shelter doesn’t protect her from the rain. “Only God knows when things will get better,” she tells me.

Ben Constant, who opened up the National Stadium for use as a tent city for 1000 families, also runs two orphanages in Port-au-Prince with his sister Mary Jo Poux. Both structures are in need of repair. He has taken in newly orphaned kids at both places since the earthquake but has had to turn away others, as the facilities are full to capacity. To take more children in, he and his sister, based in New Orleans, need to raise more funds. She runs the Hope for Haitian Children Foundation , and will return to Port-au-Prince in mid-March with a container of supplies for the kids and others living in tent cities. Ben was in charge of the National Stadium before the earthquake, and is still in charge though no one in the government has said yay or nay to what he has done there. Professional soccer games being played again are a long way off so Ben’s commandeering of the stadium can be seen as a heroic action, though the stadium is no longer up to international standards. He has provided security for the people and clean water. There are only four toilets for 6000 people. None of those living there is not satisfied, but they are some of the lucky ones in Port-au-Prince. Everyone wondered why they are not recieving more aid. Many of them point the finger at Ben, wanting more from him since he is the only one who has helped them. When asked why he took the burden onhimself, he shrugs off the question as if what he did was what any man in his position would do. Many nights he sleeps there in his SUV, but had to leave one night as people screamed out in fear when a downpour occured. It was too much for him to bear.

Carnival, which would have begun on Feb. 14, was canceled and replaced by three days of national prayer. I joined Ben and his friend Evylen on the third day. (Watch Evylen remove a few objects from her destroyed apartment here.) Ben manned a giant truck souped up with all his sound equipment and circled the Presidential Palace, blaring songs and prayers. Though Carnival was officially canceled, the euphoria of the crowd felt like Carnival to me. (What a clip of parade here) I made my way through the packed crowd and climbed atop Ben's float where I was able to be in the center of the pulsing sprit of Haiti. I was blown away by the spirit of the Haitian people. Though they have few prospects for a bright tomorrow, they retain their faith and hope for the future.

The empty pits near Titanyen, a small city 40 minutes north of Port-au-Prince by car, tell the story of countless unidentified victims. A worker there told me there are over 200,000 are buried there already. The turn-off for the site is marked with a small sign: For the victims of January 12th 2010. Haiti is no longer a top news story, but it is still my top story. Check back in the next few days as I write up and post more stories and pictures shot over the course of three weeks in Haiti.

How you can help:
1.Donate to ReachHaiti Ministries. Listen to Michael speak about his work here -To learn more about them and give financial support go to

2.Funds are needed for the orphanage Rev. Jean Frank Antoine runs which is now uninhabitable. The children are living outside, sleeping beneath blue tarps. Make out checks to the Riedle Foundation, with a notation For the Orphanages. You can can find out more about the Ridel Foundation at

3. Hope for Haitian Children Foundation, run by Mary Jo Poux, supports two orphanages in Port-au-Prince. They are in the process of filling and shipping a container of donated goods to Haiti for the orphanages. You can help then by donating needed funds for shipping.. Their website is . Contact, Shon "Sable" Gipson at 504 460-4193 or email for more information

4.In Flo McGarrell's memory, I plan to continue shining a spotlight on Haiti through my work. If you want to enable me to go on with my work in Haiti, please consider buying a print or funding me directly. You can contact me via email at or from my web site

images top to bottom: Cathedral, Prt-au-Prince/ Ruined homes in Carre Foure/Crowd in front of palace on last day of National Prayer/ Parade around the palace on Feb 14th, Carnival/Bernadette Desir in tent city/ Sign indicating mass grave site outside of Port-au-Prince/Open pit for victims of the earthquake/Benny Parker at examining a child at a roadside clinic in Cite Soliel/ Sacre Coeur in Carre Foure/ Generator for AC unit on temporary military base at airport/ Street in Carre Foure where many bodies remain under the buildings/ Berlin Exantus under blue tarp next to the orphanage that is no longer safe to live in/ Col Robin B. Akin (soon to be a general) in action

To see more video go to my Youtube page
For more images here is a link to a set of images in Flickr
and for more of my work in general

Friday, February 12, 2010

Update From Haiti

The military buildup at the APOD (Arial Point of Debarkation)) and the LSA (Logistical Support Area) is taking place at a rapid speed now. Nothing stays the same long. The sink stall where I wash up and brush my teeth is in a new spot. Some of the port-a-potties have been shifted around. Few of the people I am looking for are where I found them the time before. The unit I came with, the 377 TSC has returned to re-group for some training they are required to do and will be back in Haiti by the end of the month. A few of them remain, so I staid on as well.

Many of the soldiers I’m meeting were home five months since returning from their last deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq before coming to Haiti. The 82nd Airborne, some of the first on the ground thought they would be here only a month. They are faced with not only the mission but also lots of loose ends back home. There are also soldiers who volunteered for this mission. Some who have Haitian roots and speak the language like John Antoine. Some of his family lives in Haiti and though he has visited them, he has had little time to help them directly which pains him, but he has a job to do. He is responsible for testing contaminant levels in the environment in the places soldiers are bedding down keeping them protected from potential environmental threats. His uncle, Rev. Jean Frank Antoine, a minister is responsible for eight tent cities and an orphanage. His parishioners started showing up at his doorstep the night of the earthquake. He has gotten little aid, and almost no food for his flock. The tent cities he manages are housing over a thousand displaced people. The Haitians and the Americans are both mobilizing to create new lodgings anyway they can.

Before the 377th left I had a chance to get visit Carre Foure with Major Richards who was tasked to take photographs to be used in slide/information shows down the line. The devastation there was extreem. We got out of the car and wondered around. A local, Desire Pierre guided us up a mountain of rubble and pointed out how many people were lost in each totaled home. The smell of death permeated the air and we made sure not to step on human bones and us scattered around. We made out way around a corner to find a crowd at the site of theUniversity International of St. that collapsed. The only heavy lifting equipment in the area was there and in use. Many students gathered around waiting for their head master Louis Lacace Fils LaRosillieng’s body to be pulled out. Four hundred bodies are trapped in the rubble. Richard and I wondered around the side of the building where we found bodies decomposing in place. Louis Lacace Fils LaRosillieng, body was recovered and placed in a coffin. A sermon was given by pastor Pierre Eddy LaGuerre from Brooklyn who was born in Haiti. One Haitian body recovered, in front of me, how many more to go?

Next we drove to the National Stadium. The director, Ben Constant, of the stadium has turned it into a tent city. 1000 displaced families live there, over 6000 people. It is clean and organized and there are medical services on site. Different volunteer groups come and work in a make shift clinch there daily. Ben Constant has received a little rice for the people in the stadium, but that was days ago. He hopes the NGOs who are distributing food will send some his way. The stadium is full of life, kids playing on the Astroturf, and people getting on with their daily life.

While driving around the city, despite the devastation, my eyes are dazzled by the beautiful hand painted signs on the buildings and buses that are works of art. The buses are covered with decorative painting, either with a religous theme or one of celebrities. Juxtaposing Haitian street art are newly posted signs pleaded for help in French and English. The signs are simple pleas for the basics.” S.O.S” a sing reads, “We need water food and medicine”.

The Haitians I have spoken too have no faith in their government. They hope for change but spend their energy now on daily substance. Some are looking at the earthquake as a new beginning. Junior, the driver I went out with today told me if the government gets the aid money being donated to them, we the Haitian people will never get help. He hopes the Americans can instead proved services. He doesn’t believe that will happen but he thinks this time the people of Haiti will revolt if the movement keeps all the money. He believes there will be a revolution.

to see more images go to my Haiti flickr set
To see the soldiers of the 377 TSC watching the superbowl in a tent on the APOD click here
to see minister at the site of the university click here
Images- Top: Sign in Port-au-Prince, Marie Yolene Augustin (38) who lost six kids and her house now lives at the National Stadium. Natacha and Ceforah Parsonna at their tent in the National Stadium
Bottom: (top to bottom) Major Richards of the 377 TSC at the site of the university in Carre Foure, Child at National Stadium, Carre Foure landscape,
Recovery of headmaster of the university, Sing requesting help in Carre Foure, Rev. Jean Frank Antoine who runs eight tent cities in Port-au-Prince,
THe National Stadium now a tent city, Port-o-Pottys being moved on APOD, The APOD (base on the airport I'm staying at) at sunset.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Hospital on the Grounds of the Airport in Port-au-Prince

A quarter mile from the APOD, the home of the 377th TSC and the 3 ESC, is a makeshift hospital set up on the grounds of the Port-au-Prince airport by the University of Miami in partnership with the United Nations Global Institute/Project Medishare. I joined up with a couple of soldiers who make nightly visits to visit the kids there. The facility is in big open tents. The operating rooms are separated from the recovery area by sheets. The laughter of the children mixes with intermittent screaming and praying. The doctors say what they need most is more nurses. Those who are here seem exhausted. The staff rotates in and out from the United States. Despite their grave injuries, the patients are dignified and proud. They tell me their stories through translators. There is Herby Mural, who was found two days after the quake under a five story building; triplets Caroline, Carlens and Carly Criot-des -Bouqets, who are dehydrated, and Pierre Pablo Picasso, who was rescued by an Israeli search and rescue team the day after the quake. He jokes with the soldiers and tries to get a chance to hold one of their guns. Twelve hours before the earthquake, Marilyn (last name unknown) was left at an orphanage by a parent who could no longer take care of her. At three years old, she weighs 14 pounds and suffers from malnutrition, fever and diarrhea. Michael and Andrea Brewer, founders of Reach Haiti Ministries, whose Haitian home and orphanage were badly damaged, got Jessica medical care here and then a flight out of Haiti, donated by Vanderbuilt Hospital. At first their request to get Jessica out of Haiti was denied though they had the plane lined up. They were told by doctors others were in much worse condition, a measure of just how bad things are here.

If you want more info on Haiti Ministries the website is and Medishare University of Miami hospitals site is Both have earthquake relief funds.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Food Distribution Surge in Haiti

Jan. 30 I joined CL. Robin B Akin of the 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and General Luis R, Visot, Commanding
General of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command Army Reserves at an ROC (rehearsal of concept) meeting where plans
are gone over. Without desks or high tech equipment, the visual presentation consisted of papers on the ground held down
with rocks.The meeting was a rehearsal the day before the start of a food distribution surge. All the key figures from the
millitary side were there. It will be the largest food distribution to date in Haiti since the earthquake and will go on for 14
straight days at six different drop points in Port-au-Prince with a goal of giving out one million rations. The 82nd Airborne and
U.N. security forces will do crowd control. A large contingent of NGOs led by the WFP (World Food Program) will man the
distribution points.
On Saturday night I was driven to one of the basesthe 82nd Airborne has set up. It is on the grounds of a school that is
closed now. It took an hour to find the place, though it should have been a 15 minute drive. We only had coordinates to find
the place, and a couple of street names. A guard at the gate led me to the TAC tactical operation center) where I met CPT
Roberto Fonseca.
The grounds gave me the feeling l was on a set out of "Apocalypse Now." It is terrain with tropical plants and tall mango
trees. The sounds of nocturnal animals fill the air. I unfurled a sleeping bag on a concrete walkway outside of one of the
classrooms to use as a mattress ( far too hot to get in it), arranged a mosquito net tent on top of it (mesh you can see
through supported by a wire frame), unzipped the tent and climbed in. I got three and half hours of sleep before waking to the
sound of hymns sung by displaced people living on the perimeter of the school. I lay in my self-contained see-through tent
listening for a few moments before getting out of it and heading to the rally point in the makeshift motor pool complete with
The group I rolled with, D/1-325th AIR, headed for Cite Soliel, the poorest area in Port-au-Prince. Earthquake damage there wasn't as bad as
in the downtown; however the poor are even poorer here and growing more desperate. This distribution site was set up for
Samaritan's Purse International. We arrived at 4:30 AM. A crowd formed immediately. The soldiers acted fast and rolled out
concertina wire, making a barrier to separate the crowd without tickets from the ticket holders who lined up against a stone
wall. Across from the line is a tent city that sprung up after the distribution site was established, making the situation more
volatile. By 6 am there were approximately 4,000 people at the site. As the morning went on, the line grew and the heat
reached over 100 degrees.
THe NGOs and the millitary made quick decisions to keep the line flowing when they sae that half the tickets were different
from the ones they gave out, and that men as well as women were on line (only women and children were supposed to
receive the rations and then share them with their families.) All tickets were honored and families were give a 25 kilo bag of
rice that most of them took away on their heads. Toward the end of the line, there was pushing and shoving and line cutters
the UN security forces dealt with forcefully. Thousands were still on line when the food ran out The distribution took place
without any major incident though the Haitian police took a few people away and many were taken out of the line with fake
I will be going to another distribution insideCite Soliel, where I was told things were a little hairier. As people trust more food is
coming they become less desperate and the threat of incident dwindles. Aid has been a long coming for some people.
Moving supplies around is still a logistical nightmare. The Haitians I talked to were grateful, but were hoping for more than just rice.

To see new images of my work in Haiti book mark my flickr page- Here is a link to a set on images from Haiti
you can watch a food give away video clip here 1
you can watch CL. Robin B Akin talk about the mission here in video clip