Mercy Corps staff member returns to Portland from earthquake-ravaged Haiti


February 2, 2010

First responder, Cassandra Nelson returns to Portland after two weeks working on Mercy Corps’ emergency response in Haiti. Agency begins next phase of recovery; jobs creation and child trauma support.

Portland, OR – Mercy Corps’ Cassandra Nelson, a native of Beaverton, returns to Portland today from working on the ground in Haiti following the 7.0 earthquake that leveled the capital city of Port-au-Prince, killing more than 150,000 people.

Nelson, an experienced first responder was deployed to Haiti within days to help the growing team establish initial relief programs addressing food, water and sanitation.

Over the past eight years with Mercy Corps, Nelson has traveled all over the world and worked in some of the toughest disaster and conflict environments including post-tsunami Indonesia, Lebanon, Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and more. Despite her experience, Nelson was shocked by what he saw on the ground.

“I have experienced the destruction the Indian Ocean tsunami had on Aceh Indonesia but the devastation I saw in Haiti was far worse than anything I have experienced,” explains Nelson. “People are living on the streets because there is nowhere safe to go and they are dazed and completely lost. It was a gut wrenching, emotional experience beyond anything I have witnessed.”

The earthquake left as many as 800,000 Haitians homeless and Mercy Corps has identified the growing issue of survivors migrating to towns outside the capital that are unable to support the massive influx of needy families. Before leaving Port-au-Prince, Nelson had the opportunity to travel to the rural areas outside the city to conduct an assessment of the level of need in towns such as Hinche and others.

Mercy Corps has found that upwards of 250,000 people have fled Port-au-Prince into these smaller communities and that no aid is being delivered outside the capital city. Mercy Corps is in discussions with the Haitian government and other aid organizations to begin to reach these communities with much needed aid supplies.

While Nelson was on the ground, Mercy Corps’ staff of 24 professionals restocked the empty pantry of the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince with two weeks worth of non-perishable items including rice, pinto beans, vegetable oil and more and financed the hospital’s purchase of fresh produce. This intervention allowed the staff to cook the first hot meals since the quake hit for 1,000 patients and families. Days earlier Mercy Corps distributed a two day ration of high-energy food biscuits to 900 people at the hospital.

This week Mercy Corps plans to begin Cash-for-Work, a program used in Indonesia after the Indian Ocean tsunami to get survivors back to work rebuilding their communities. The agency anticipates providing short-term jobs to more than 7,000 people to clear debris and agricultural land as well as clean wells to improve the water supply. This approach enables entire communities to rebuild, work together and have the dignity of earning money while rehabilitating their surroundings. Markets in Port-au-Prince are now open and operating but most survivors do not have a daily wage to be able to start buying items. Cash-for-Work will get money into people’s pockets and back into the economy while simultaneously rebuilding the community’s infrastructure.

Mercy Corps will also begin Comfort for Kids, a program to provide post-trauma support for children; an approach created immediately after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, and subsequently used in post-Katrina New Orleans and China after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Approximately 5,000 “comfort kits” are being shipped out this week for distribution to Haitian children. Offering children these kits, which include items such as a plush blanket and a stuffed animal, is the first step in Mercy Corps’ efforts to help Haitian children overcome the emotional trauma of the earthquake.


Mercy Corps
Haiti Earthquake Fund
Dept NR
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208