Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Homage to Patti Lynn Gregory

I spoke with my friend Patti before I left for Haiti. She and I usually communicate by email and catch up in person when I'm in New York, but I decided to touch base with her before returning to Haiti so I called her from the airport before I left. We had a wonderful conversation. She told me about her upcoming trip to London and we made plans to meet in New York. She was worried about me returning to Haiti, when it turns out I should have been worried about her. Patti had a terrible accident and passed away on March 18. The Daily News falsely reported her death a suicide. Sure, Patti had dark thoughts from time to time. I do too, but the irresponsibility of saying she killed herself when the police ruled her death an accident is journalism at its worst.

Eight years ago, Patti lost the use of her legs, but she got around more than most people. I never thought of her as handicapped. She seemed to take all hardship in stride. She relished life. We met after she read an article about my work. She came to buy a piece for Danny. She became one of my favorite critics, often seeing things in my work I hadn't thought of.

My work in Haiti resonated with Patti. She and her husband Danny sent funds to support my work here before I sought them. When I told her how I gave a Haitian driver for the military $20 so he could get a charger for his cell phone (his was lost under his collapsed home) and then e-mailed his family in the States to explain why they hadn't heard from him, how I heard back from them within minutes with thanks for word of him, she asked me to give him an additional $20. Patti understood the value of the kindness of strangers.

Patti would take me for extravagant lunches when we met over the years. Although I usually don't drink during the day, I could never turn her down when she asked me with sparkling eyes if I wanted another one. Our lunches were always a special occasion. We would talk about topics from A to Z . Returning to New York City without connecting with Patti again will be a great loss in my life..

In the next days, I'm off to Jacmel, where I will try to locate the friends of my friend Flo. Here is an email Patti wrote to me after reading my Homage to Flo McGarrell who died on Jan. 12, a victim of the Haitian earthquake:

Hi Julie,

It's a very sad story. I salute him for living the way he wanted to, and that was surely very attractive to a lot of people. It's all just such a loss of life and the after lives even for the survivors is sure to be very difficult. The amount of struggle and competition for such basic human essentials is completely ungodly and cruel. I dislike knowing about such things only through the media. It just doesn't seem real and therefore it is difficult to feel what I feel to be real reactions to exactly what it may be like.

I feel like a little chicken hiding over here all safe and comfortable. Not that I would ever want to actually experience such atrocities even in any lesser form, but I think it is part of my love and respect for you, that you have been and do go so close. I think in another life I would definitely like to at least try to make that effort to know some things better, first hand. I cannot imagine what it could be like for Flo's mom, having his body returned and going through such a process has got to be completely emotionally devastating. All I keep thinking is that he must have been a very powerful life force and surely not extinguished quite so easily as his body could be. He must be reconfiguring into some form and still burning brightly. He doesn't seem to have been the type to be easily contained for long. I'd love to see you do a book about him.
Let me know when you are here or on the way. All the best to You, your mom, your dad,
Images from the National Cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Monday, March 22, 2010

Port-au-Prince 10 weeks after the earthquake

images top to bottom: Rodney Patrick in Miami field hospital in critical condition from gun shot wounds/Dr. Yvens Laborde treating three- month old Dedumes Christiano at a mobile clinic/Dr. Yvens Laborde treating Anita Buenieville (95 year old) for hypertension/Volunteers with The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi  Foundation distributing blankets at the National Stadium

Port-au-Prince, Haiti 10 weeks after the earthquake, though the search and rescue work is long over, one can easily find people that need rescuing. No one is alive under the rubble any more, but many people are in mortal danger. Their needs are little different than they were the day after the earthquake.

My first day back in Port-au-Prince I was met by Dr. Yvens Laborde who works for Oshner Hospital in New Orleans. He is a one man envoy on the ground for the hospital helping as many people as he can. Our first stop was the Miami University Hospital on the airbase. It has grown in size and was fuller than ever. Laborde checked on Rodney Patrick, who was shot three times in the back by thieves. His odds of survival are slim, unless Labode can get him evacuated to a hospital in America, a feat he doesn’t think he will be able to pull off. Later we went to Champ de Mars, the tent city across from the presidential palace, to check up on Anita Buenieville, a 95-year-old woman who has hypertension, common after the quake. After the house call he helped as many as he could at an on-the- spot clinic he set up with the help of two assistants. He wasn’t sure he could save three-month old Dedumes Christiano. She developed a rash most likely caused by an infectious disease. (See the doctor in action with the baby here.)

The lack of aid reaching the Haitian people as a crime against humanity, according to Laborde. He is watching people die who he could easily have cured. The situation is deplorable. The need on the ground versus the millions of dollars in aid money being donated is hard to reconcile. In the tent cities, need is the first thing on the mind's of everyone I meet. People ask for shelter, food, and medicine, in that order. Elianna Deaguste led me into her tent and showed me her sick daughter. The rain drenched both of them the night before.

The next days we spent trying to get a shipment released from Customs. The airway bill made it clear the shipment was medical supplies, humanitarian aid, yet the cargo area we were sent to after UPS gave the doctor the paper work wouldn’t release it. The doctor was sent on a wild goose chase that lasted two days, and still the medicine was not released. The Haitian bureaucracy is maddening. It takes over 30 minutes to get a "No" and be told to go elsewhere, over and over again. At the Minister of Interior's office where we went to get the first of three signatures, a worker pointed out to me that the man in the office across from us had been trying every day for three weeks to have his packages released. Four days later and Laborde, a man good at working his way through the system here;Haitian born, launage and culture are second nature to him and still has not gotten the medicine released. He wonders if it is this hard for him, what's it like for those less accustomed to red tape?

Things at the National Stadium have changed. Ben Constant, who allowed for the establishment of the tent city there, added another 800 families to the 1,000 he originally opened the stadium to, bringing the population to over 10,000 people. The Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, based in San Dimas, CA, chose to focus their humanitarian work at the National Stadium after meeting Ben. They are giving aid to those living in the Stadium and the surrounding area. They come daily and will do so until early April. Their distribution technique is much different than the World Food Program food surge that was run with help of the US military and the UN forces. They treat the Haitians with respect and love, bowing when giving aid to each recipient. Curtis Hsin, the Emergency Disaster Coordinator, reported that Brazilian UN security guards told him that the way to keep order was to fight. "Why do you think you need to fight?" Hsin asked. "We will show the Haitian people love and all will be peaceful." The UN guards saw for themselves how respectful and peaceful the distribution process can be. Click here to see video cip of Curits.

While the National Stadium is one of the most secure tent cities , the makeshift shelters offer little protection from the elements. Early Friday morning bought hours of rain. People frantically try to protect themselves and their belongings. Tents are on the way proviced by the Buddists, Ben has been told.

There are noticeably few bright spots to be found in Port-au-Prince these days. Bush and Clinton are set to arrive and meet with the ineffective leadership of the country. The whereabouts of the millions of dollars donated to their fund remains a mystery to me and all those I have met, many of whom have still have received no help at all.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Update from Haiti on Three Orphanages

Today I checked in with three of the organizations I photographed in Haiti to get an update. Two of the three had some good news, but all three have stressed the overall landscape of Port-au-Prince remains the same. I will be back on Tuesday and check things out for myself. Here is a link to images shot at the orphanages http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliedermansky/sets/72157623478226039/

Michael Brewer of Reach Haiti Ministries told me he still hasn't been able to secure land to build a new orphanage and is still hunting for new possibilities. He has been able to get help from the World Food Organization and has been helping other orphanages get food as well. He has noticed many aid organizations leaving and stresses the need for continued assistance in Haiti. He updated me on Marylyn, a sick child I photogrraphed during my first visit. It turns out not only was she malnourished, she has TB as well. She will be in a hospital for an additional six months.

Ben Constant, who runs two orphanages along with the tent city in the National Stadium, told me he hasn't received any aid for the orphanages; however his sister Mary Jo Poux will be in Haiti to help the orphanages next week. She will be meeting a container of goods she had shipped over from New Orleans filled with items for the orphanages and the tent city that have been donated for the most part by people in New Orleans. Food aid has started to arrive at the Stadium and tents have been promised to the people by March 28th.

Rev. Jean Frank Antoine told me he has received no aid for his orphanage. His colleague Yves Alain Belotte from the Ridel Foundation told me discontent is growing among the people living in Ti Casou, a tent city of over 5,000 in Carre Foure. They believe the foundation must be keeping everything for themselves since they receive no aid. Yves Alain Belotte assured me this isn't the case and hopes that I can accelerate the process of getting aid to the people he is looking after. I explained the best I can do is make sure his story gets out there.

Ronnie Hepperly, who has worked in many places in crisis, told me that what he found in Haiti was even worse than the problems in southern Sudan. He says it is the largest humanitarian disaster the western hemisphere has faced in hundreds of years (see Utube video here http://www.youtube.com/user/jsdart?feature=mhw4#p/a/u/1/lBpJ6V8tyF4 )
It is certainly the largest one I have seen. I am returning on my own, with the conviction that the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake is a story the must be told.

If you like getting truly independent news updates from me and want to support me in telling the story of what is going on in Haiti now, please send a check to Julie Dermansky at 300 Katherine Street, Englewood NJ, 07631 or contribute via Paypal to my acount juliedermansky@yahoo.com. Funds will go to cover my expenses for travel, health care and gear. Your donations to me will also indirectly help organizations I support by donating images for fundraising purposes whose beinficaries include Doctors Without Borders, Concearn World wide and World Haiti Relif Fund. To see more articles (including and update on all thing milliary) and images click here http://web.mac.com/jsdart/Site/Haiti.html

Visit the sites of these small hands on non-profits and see how you can help-
Michael and Andrea Brewer www.ReachHaiti.com
Ben Constatn and Mary Jo Poux www.hopeforhaitianchildrenfoundation.org
Rev. Jean Frank Antoine and Yves Alain Belotte www.ridelhaiti.org.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Update on the US Military's Role in Haiti

Approximately 4,500 US troops remain in Haiti, most of them dealing with logistics.

Spc. A. M. LaVey wrote on a the Southern Millitary Commands site, "At the high point of Operation Unified Response, American forces numbered 20,000 and they were responding to about 2,000 incidents a day; today there are about half the number of troops here, and they are responding to under 100 incidents per day .

Army Col. (Dr.) Jennifer Menetrez said via a live blog, “The last patient was discharged from the Comfort on Feb. 27.” Their stay is coming to an end and the 377 TSC Army Reserves out of Belle Chase, LA, with whom they originally travelled to Haiti, have officially taken over command of ) logistics from the 3rd ESC . Many of the NGOs and Haitians worry security will deteriorate with the removal of the troops. Time will tell if the Haitian government is ready to take charge.

Word from the APOD ( Arial Point of Debarkation- base for some of the troops): Even though their tents are much better than the average earthquake victims temporary shelter, they too have been effected by the heavy pours.

Here is a photo set on Flickr of the US Military in action in Haiti, from body recovery at the Hotel Montana to the setting up of the base on the grounds of the Port-au-Prince airport. http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliedermansky/sets/72157623580080258/

images: top- USNS Comfort Ship Off Haiti bottom : Porto-potties on the APOD

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Temporary Shelters offer little Protection from the Rain in Haiti

Last weekends headlines concerned two million left homeless in Chile.
Will Haiti be forgotten now that a bigger quake has hit elsewhere? It seems Haiti still holds the trump card for suffering and more is on the way with the coming rains.

Torrential rains have begun in Haiti before the official start of the rainy season. Approximately 600,000 are living in makeshift tents in Port-au-Prince. They have gotten a taste of what is to come. While people in Hawaii and Japan dodged a bullet with a tsunami warning, people in Haiti contended with a heavy downpour.
There is little people can do to protect themselves. Getting wet from above is one thing, but being swept away from surges of water another. I visited several tent cities that have been established around Port-au-Prince and saw only a handful of sturdy tents. Most people had shelters made with sheets, wood cardboard and scraps of blue plastic tarp.
Attached are images of some of the temporary shelters people built for themselves in Port-au-Prince. USAID had received reams of plastic to distribute while I was in Haiti. Hopefully that plastic has replaced some of the cardboard and sheets that I photographed.Click here to see a set of images on temporary housing in Port-au-Prince's tent cities.