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Frustration and elation in Port-au-Prince

Haiti, January 22, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Jenny Vaughan/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Jenny Vaughan/Mercy Corps

Today we distributed food to 300 patients and their family members at the General Hospital. The distribution was a day late: after waiting at the hospital most of yesterday for the World Food Program truck to arrive with the food, the delivery was cancelled due to lack of available transportation and security personnel to accompany the truck. The UN wasn’t able to tell us what time the truck would arrive today, so I went to the hospital early in the morning to receive it when it arrived. I waited five hours, knotted up with frustration, furious at the traffic that can stretch a 15 minute drive into a two hour trip, at the lack of trucks to transport food and water to hungry and thirsty survivors, at the crippled cell phone service that makes it so hard to get information. We’re here to help, but the logistical constraints make it so difficult to do so as rapidly as we need to.

I was elated when the truck finally arrived and we were at last able to execute the plan we had put together over the past two days to securely distribute the food. The kitchen staff rapidly unloaded the boxes of high energy biscuits into the kitchen, and then were organized into teams of five to carry the boxes to each ward, where they gave every patient 15 biscuits – one day’s ration for the patient and the two family members caring for them. In some locations, food distributions have turned into near riots, with desperately hungry people brandishing weapons in order to get a hold of some food. But the hospital is full of American military, and I think their presence – even though they were not involved in handing out any food – helped prevent the distribution from turning into a free for all.

It felt great to be able to give something to the patients. Although some hospital buildings are empty due to damage caused by the earthquake, others are full of patients, and the hospital courtyard is crowded with beds and shaded with a patchwork of tarps. Although most of the patients staying outside are out of immediate danger, they are still horrifically injured – truncated limbs end in bandages, skin is scraped off, pins holding broken bone together jut out of legs, arms and faces are swollen. Many patients have no place to go. In spite of their injuries, most patients greeted us with a smile and carefully wrapped up the food we gave them to save for later. There are still so many people to help, but at least today I can be happy that we were able to help a few.