By Ermaze Louis Pierre, Head Social Worker, Zanmi Lasante Hinche
Ermaze Louis Pierre
It was 4 in the morning on September 3 when one of the assistant social workers called me to tell me that the city of Hinche was flooded. The first thing that ran through my mind was to get up and go search for our HIV patients, because the majority of our patients do not have the ability to live in a sturdy, nice house.
Instead, they are obliged to live in the crowded zones that we call “cite yo” (slums), because this is where they can find a room or a house that they can afford, as the only funds they have are the rental assistance we provide through our social support program.
When we arrived at the part of the city where the water was, all we could see were the roofs of homes under all of the water. With water levels reaching our chests, we began searching for all of our HIV patients and their families. Thankfully, all had had time to leave their homes, but they did not have time to save any of their belongings. The water took with it everything that they owned, including many houses. We quickly located everyone and placed them in a shelter that we organized through Zanmi Lasante (ZL, PIH’s partner organization in Haiti) to assure all patients would be able to continue taking their medicines. In the shelter, we also provided patients and their families with mattresses, warm cooked meals, clean water, soap, and clothes.
Zanmi Lasante social worker in search of patients
Shelters served hot meals
ZL staff preparing resettlement packages for patients
Assembly of resettlement packages for patients
What really made me sad and upset was to see that these people were already facing a lot of difficulty (socioeconomic as well as medical) before becoming victims of the floods.
Since the flooding, our social work team has been accompanying our patients, even after the closing of the shelters, to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to help them get back on their feet. We have many who completely lost their homes, and even more who cannot return to their rental homes as they are not healthy to stay in. Many of our patients have asked for us to put a small support group together for them to help them cope with post-traumatic stress that they are facing.
With the money we have received from our generous supporters, we have prepared resettlement kits (mattresses, clothes, food, kitchen utensils, pots and pans, a stove, buckets and water purification solution) for the families of 91 patients and the 12 ZL staff who lost their homes. Our next step is to move those who have completely lost their homes or are in rental homes in bad locations to new homes, and to begin to repair those homes that can be fixed.
The only hope that most of these patients have is the ZL team who are always there with them for their medical as well as social needs. In Hinche, there are approximately 1200 families who have lost their homes, animals, or farms. This emergency situation has made us double our efforts, working morning, noon, and night to help our patients, and anyone else affected by the floods. But this does not discourage us at all because our mission is to help those in the most need and in the hardest situations.
Right now I feel happy knowing that we have helped patients start to return to their normal lives, little by little. I would like to say thank you to everyone who, in one way or another, has helped us to quickly respond to this devastating time we are now facing in Haiti. I hope that you will not become discouraged and keep us in your thoughts and prayers.
Kenbe fem! (Stay strong!)
[posted October 2008]