By Sarah Marsh
Flooded houses in Hinche
In crises like the recent storms, it is the reaction that defines individuals and organizations. Two staff members from Zanmi Lasante (ZL) were among the many who sprang into action when the floodwaters reached the upper central plateau of Haiti.
ZL driver Jean Benoit Isaac ("Ti Ben") and Fritz Germain, an HIV and STI prevention educator, both work with ZL in Hinche, an area shockingly devastated by the floods—neighborhoods and houses entirely under water—with the peaks of roofs and tops of corn stalks all that could be seen. In recent living memory, Hinche had never experienced flooding, so no one was prepared, or even could have imagined, the level of destruction it would bring.
At 4:00 on Wednesday morning, Ti Ben and Fritz learned about flooding in Hinche. Needing little direction, they commandeered a ZL car and started out towards the low-lying areas. They found and shuttled the exhausted, wet and shell-shocked flood victims to places of safety. They identified the need for food, clean water and organization, and placed orders in various restaurants around town, leaving IOUs in their wake: 500 sandwiches, spaghetti for 200, rice and beans, 800 bottles of juice, hundreds of sachets and bottles of purified water.
By Wednesday afternoon, they were gathering food orders, throwing boxes of bottled liquids on the roof rack of the truck, and then unloading the supplies. They made countless trips. They worked like machines. Neither had stopped all day. Neither had eaten.
Ti Ben is not from Hinche, but from Port-au-Prince, where his wife and young son live. The day before the Hinche flooding, his own home in the flats of Port-au-Prince had been entirely flooded. His family was safe but like many Hinche residents, he too had lost everything. When asked about his family and home and his plans to return to Port-au-Prince, he looked incredulous. “What’s done is done there and I know they are safe – that’s what matters. The
Above: Fritz Germain,
roads are blocked but even so they need me here. I can’t leave. These people need to eat. Mothers and babies need clothes. This is my work now.”
At the first shelter, an empty school building, volunteers wearing helmets from a local relief organization were attempting to keep order and direct the throngs of hungry people streaming in. A crowed massed around the ZL truck, a cacophony of voices asking for help, food, water, answers. Ti Ben jumped out of the car, and quickly began injecting order into the chaos. He explained to people why they had come, what they had to offer, and how it needed to proceed. Order quickly came and distribution began. Small sandwiches to young children; biggest to nursing mothers. Bottles of water to young children; sachets to everyone else.
Fritz bringing order to
That was the first of many stops followed by more food pick-ups and more deliveries. The sun set, twilight passed and true night fell. But they kept going. Over 500 people had been fed in a few hours because of them. At dawn, they would wake up and to do it all again.
[posted October 2008]