Poverty is so crushing in Haiti that a simple cut or broken bone can become so infected in slums plagued with filth and raw sewage that the only remedy is amputation.
Adding to the misery in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation are hurricanes — Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike this year left 790 people dead and hundreds more injured, and now facing life-threatening infections.
But amputation can be a death sentence in Haiti, which depends on manual labor for survival, said Salt Lake City physician Jeff Randle, who has treated Haitians for a decade. It’s not uncommon for impoverished families, sometimes believing the injured are under a voodoo curse, to abandon disabled adults and children in the streets.
Randle, who first witnessed such despair while on an LDS Church mission, founded Healing Hands for Haiti in 1998. The nonprofit charity, based in Salt Lake City, has become the only agency in Haiti to provide wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs and braces for people who have lost limbs or were born with a disability.
The group needs donations, medical supplies and health-care professionals willing to volunteer a week or two to help staff its clinic in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The first year, 14 volunteers headed by doctors and social workers from LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City paid their own way to Haiti, where they provided rehabilitative therapy for more than 300 patients in 10 days. Despite political unrest and corruption in the country, almost all signed up to go the second year.
In the ensuing years, Randle has been joined by medical teams from 16 states. Most, including Randle, pay their own way while donations help with travel costs for the younger professionals. Last year, 21 medical workers from Canada raised $39,000 to finance their trip and fund treatment and training projects. The volunteers filled 42 large hockey bags with equipment and supplies and used 112 donated teddy bears as padding.
Healing Hands for Haiti has grown to a paid staff of 40 at its 7-acre compound in the foothills of Port-au-Prince. The group supports a clinic, school and shop where Haitians are trained to make prosthetic limbs and provide therapy for disabled adults and children. The group also conducts classes for workers from orphanages in taking care of their disabled charges, and lobbies schools to accept disabled children.
The annual budget is $180,000, “and each year I have no idea where the money is going to come from,” said Randle, who chairs the foundation. “But somehow, it comes.”
Said the group’s executive director, Jim Stein of Minneapolis: “Our most immediate need is money to support our staff in Haiti and to buy equipment and supplies.”
Last year alone, 399 wheelchairs were distributed throughout the island. And recently, an anonymous donor gave $250,000 to help jump-start the construction of what will be Haiti’s first rehabilitation hospital.
Recently, Healing Hands gave seminars after the November collapse of a ramshackle school on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, where more than 90 people, many of them children, were killed and more than 160 were injured. Haitians were taught about evacuation planning, survival skills and managing emotions in a country where little attention has been paid to building codes.
The need is desperate.
In October, a top United Nation’s official warned that the devastation from this year’s hurricane season has dealt a severe blow in efforts to combat poverty, according to the U.N. News Service.
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said that the four successive hurricanes have left an estimated 1 million people needing humanitarian relief and major recovery assistance.
Even before the storms, 80 percent of the island’s population lived under the poverty line and more than half in abject poverty, according to a report from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on small-scale subsistence farming and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters made worse by the country’s widespread deforestation in lands cleared for food and fuel. The report said that inadequate supplies of potable water and soil erosion remain major environmental problems.
They need a lot more help then they are getting.
Don’t turn your back on girls – Sexual violence in Haiti
27 November 2008
Sexual violence against girls in Haiti is widespread and pervasive and, although already at shocking levels, is said to be on the increase. While information on the true levels remains scarce, there is much evidence of sexual violence both in the family and within the wider community, particularly by armed gangs.
Public security and the legacy of sexual violence
Against a backdrop of kidnappings, criminal violence and gang warfare, violence against women and girls in the community has soared. One trend is the prevalence of rapes involving groups of armed men.
For the three years that followed the military coup in 1991 when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted, rape was used as a political weapon to instil fear and punish those who were believed to have supported the democratic government. During this time, there were widespread reports of armed men raping women.
Since the fall of the military regime, this has become a common practice among criminal gangs. In run up to Haiti’s annual carnival in February last year, 50 cases of rape were reported in just three days in the capital against women and girls in the capital Port-au-Prince.
Violence in the family is also prevalent and often hidden. Children often lack the resources and support they need to report violence in which family members participate or collude. The result of the failure to acknowledge and address this problem is a social climate in which violence in the family is seen as normal and inevitable.
Poverty in Haiti is extreme and plays a major role in putting girls at greater risk of sexual violence. Girls are bribed to remain silent by perpetrators, who are able to give them money to pay their schools or accommodation fees. Others who go in search of a public place with lighting by which to do their homework because their home has no electricity are attacked by groups of men.
Girls who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence find themselves at risk due to the lack of adequate healthcare. Only one in every four births in Haiti is assisted by qualified health personnel and large numbers of women and girls are dying as a result of pregnancy related complications.
The consequences of sexual violence on girls are profound and lasting. In addition to immediate physical injuries, survivors may have to face unwanted pregnancy; sexually transmitted diseases; and mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
These consequences can have particularly series long term effects on girls, who are at higher risk of dying during childbirth or pregnancy and may also find their education disrupted, or find themselves excluded from school due to pregnancy.
One girl who raped when she was eight years old said: “I was going to school, but I left after I came here [to a shelter] because my father raped me. I was in the first year. I loved copying the lessons, writing. When I grow up I would like to be a doctor.”
Barriers to justice
Girls are often unwilling to report cases of rape, largely due to shame, fear, and social attitudes that tolerate male violence. Another major disincentive to reporting is the lack of confidence that girls will experience a positive and supportive response from law enforcement officials.
In some rural areas, the sole representative of the justice system is the justice of the peace. It is not uncommon for the justice of the peace to encourage girls who have faced violence accept an “amicable settlement” with the family of the perpetrator.
The justice system in Haiti is weak and ineffectual. The Police unit in charge of protecting minors is woefully under-staffed. In March 2008, the unit had 12 officers to cover the entire country and not a single vehicle. It is not surprising that so many of those who attack girls are never brought to justice, and so many girls feel there is no purpose in reporting crimes of sexual violence.
The authorities in Haiti have taken steps in recent years to address the problem of violence against women and girls. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was established in 1994 and has been involved in important initiatives to address the problem.
In 1995, a National Plan of Action to Combat Violence Against Women was adopted. If implemented, this could bring about significant improvements in prevention and punishment.
The Haitian authorities face major challenges posed by the ongoing public security crisis, a succession of humanitarian disasters, and high levels of poverty and marginalization. These important concerns cannot be allowed to drown out the needs of Haitian girls.
Amnesty International is calling on the Haitian authorities to take immediate action to safeguard the rights of girls:
- Collect comprehensive data on the nature and extent of violence against women and girls. The lack of data currently stands in the way of devising effective solutions;
- Investigate and prosecute all complaints of sexual violence;
- Ensure that police provide a safe environment for girls to report sexual violence, and ensure that all complaints are promptly and effectively investigated.
Sanctions have played a role in the poverty. Recovery could take decades or longer unless outside help is increased.
By HOWARD W. FRENCH, November 9, 1993
By Don Bohning, March 1, 1999
Seems to me Sanctions are a form of extermination, of innocent people.