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On the Ground in Haiti

On the Ground in Haiti

This post first appeared at RJ.org.

Haiti2.jpgIn the
middle of the night, I awoke to the sound of rain on my window, which is
typical this time of year in Port-au-Prince. From the comfort of my warm bed,
the sound of the rain on the window was pleasant and soothing. That is, until I
woke up and remembered where I was and that all around me there lay thousands
of families sleeping in tents that are ill-equipped to provide adequate shelter
from rain, winds and floods sure to sweep through the region during the
hurricane season.

These tent
cities have emerged all across Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area. They
have sprung up in every inch of space available - empty lots, front lawns,
sidewalks, parks and even in the streets blocking traffic. In some cases, these
tent cities are well-funded. When driving through the city, you may notice an
organized grid of strong, durable tents and sanitation systems, organized by
NGOs (including UNICEF, UN Foundation or Feed the Children) through funds
received by individual donors or organizations like ours. However, more often
what you see when driving through the city is a series of make-shift tents,
cobbled together with rope and sticks, tarps and bed sheets.

Upon a
closer glance, you will see "regular" street life continuing as best it can in
these horrific conditions. Groups of women sit together in the hot sun, cooking
rice and beans and washing clothing. Children pour soapy water over their heads
as they stand in buckets, bathing. A group of men huddle together to watch a
soccer match on a small tv set that has been setup on the sidewalk. Or, an
improvised "storefront," selling three mangoes, a pair of flip-flops or a
couple bottles of Coke - whatever items the owner may have in excess.

Haiti1.jpgIn Port-au-Prince, we walked through one of these tent cities. Criss-crossing
our way among family tents, we played with the children and heard stories from
survivors. One man, trained as a carpenter, can't find work to support his
family. Another was turned away from rescue efforts immediately following the earthquake,
despite his disaster relief training (he even showed us a certificate to prove
his training). A mother told us that for safety reasons, she won't allow her
children to leave the immediate area surrounding their tent. And many spoke of
family members lost or misplaced in the chaos that is today's Port-au-Prince.

One woman
spoke of the rain we had the night before. She pointed to her family's tent and
explained that during the night, the roof tarp leaked and the ground became so
damp and muddy that the children wouldn't lie down. Instead, her family stood all night.

These are
only some of the tragic stories I heard and the horrific conditions I
witnessed. I went to Haiti on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism to conduct
a needs-assessment and identify how we can best provide aide. But when there
are so many needs, so many lives lost and such grave poverty, where do we even
begin?

To date,
the Union for Reform Judaism has raised more than $1.17 million. These funds are
being allocated to short-term emergency recovery and long-term rebuilding
efforts to construct safe and secure family homes, reopen schools, create
employment opportunities and provide much-needed social and medical services. I
am honored to be part of a community that is taking serious action and truly
making a difference. Learn more about the Union's efforts and how you can help
by visiting our website.

Published: 3/15/2010

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