Haitian Women's Heritage
Six Days in Haiti: After the Mega Earthquake
Danica Anderson reports on her six days in Haiti Janury 25th through the 31st, 2010. Compelling insights and facing "the question that needs to be asked is actually about the insight, that women, unpaid, in the throes of being the most vulnerable are given the food rations to feed UN World Food Program’s goal of two million people. The US Wall Street scandal pales in comparison."
Categorized in these topics: Baba Yaga Engendered Practices Female Social Justice Feminine Matrix and Female Culture Hunger Internally Displaced People Kolo Trauma Format Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Social Memory Violence Weather Women's Trauma Issues
Posted Friday, February 12, 2010, 10:59 AM
The city of Port au Prince stretches as far as the eye could see as a vast valley at the foot of mountains. The earthquake “S” movement leveled so much of the city which has the roads shower dust constantly in the searing sun. What breaks the monotony of devastation are the people, milling about or sitting listlessly under makeshift tents waiting for food or water. A child nearby, about four years old, licks water from the pavement as his mother rushes towards him.
I noticed immediately the mismatched low volume of so many people in Port au Prince. Instead of having high decibels of sound, it is as if someone remotely turned down the volume on a television set. The muted volume was not just in Port au Prince; Jacmel on the other side of the island reported the same hushed sanctuary. The hospital in Jacmel’s town center houses tents of the injured, amputees and those with severe infection. The silence in the hospital tents is eerie.
The young child around seven with her leg amputated barely sits up on her hospital bed. The child does not display any curiosity. Her eyes speak the loudest not needing her voice.
Paulette Schank, CRNA, a nurse at the Jacmel hospital took time off from her job to come to Haiti. January 26th, 2010 a 5.0 aftershock shook the broken Haitian landscape, “the screams and cries from the hospital tents and displaced people told me the fear they live in constantly.”
The Global Volunteer Network (GVN) team of international experts that I was a part of was flown from Kingston, Jamaica to Port au Prince on Digicel’s plane. Digicel is the largest employer of Haitians and discovered that I do acute trauma response for corporations. Digicel Human Resources saw the value and were searching for immediate response for their staff. Their ability to attend to needs allowed the international team I was on to secure seven seats.
Landing at the Port au Prince airport is a genocidal contrast of extremes. The airport is loaded with military personnel from the US, Canada and Jamaica. The planes scream constantly at the airport that has located next to it, the UN compound loaded with not just a café and cafeteria.
The rich environment of the busy airport does not prepare travelers when seeing the massive makeshift tent city just outside the compound’s walls. I cannot imagine any impassable roads with the sheer number of vehicles, earth moving equipment and other modes of transportation at the compound and airport. The mountains of warehoused medical and food supplies stun the stomach and shut down the mind with its supposed “infinite” volume.
The Driver informs us as our vehicle exits the airport that the tent city was there before the earthquake. I sensed this information was provided in hopes of making the shock go away or making a wrong situation rightly justified.
Nadine McNeil, the leader of the New Zealand based Global Volunteers Network, related, “My flight out of Haiti was on a Jamaica Defence Force flight at 4:00 am. I was instructed to be at the JDF facility at 3:00am. I left the AMURT compound at 2:30am. What I saw on the streets of Port au Prince at that hour was incomprehensible. Bodies lined both sides of the street, shrouded as mummies to protect them from the incessant dirt and dust in the air. Barricades, which were partially erected by day, were stretched across the roads at night, to keep any traffic stopping continually. We had to tear down four different barricades on the way to the airport.”
Working with the Digicel Haitian staff for five days, most were sleeping on the streets and coming into work every day. Some were terrified of entering the twelve story high structure that survived the earthquake and aftershocks with little damage-although a few were killed in the initial earthquake. Incredible efforts by the Haitian staff managed to get the communications network up to 74% of its capacity within days of the natural disaster.
The vast time difference-the ability to respond immediately- in securing food and water is a study in contrast between Digicel and the UN. Within the acute trauma response protocol, the practices acknowledge how trauma is psychobiological. A proscribed treatment for trauma recommends nutritious meals served for lunch. Digicel already had the perfect accompaniment of water coolers dotting entire floors of their workplace. Keeping in mind how UN failed to provide water or food distribution for seventeen days after the earthquake offered another picture of contrast with Digicel management responding in the space of a day.
This is no small feat or cost absorbed by Digicel Corporation in providing substantial lunches. Also, remember, the UN’s total budget exceeds Digicel corporation by leaps and bounds.
Food and water in Haiti is rationed and the food stuff must have been flown in on Digicel flights for their employees. Examining how the UN humanitarian efforts are to help Haitians, engages the needs to include the employed Haitians as well, who have suffered just as grievously as all Haitians have. Natural disasters do not discriminate between classes, castes or racial and ethnic divides. However, to be expected to rebuild and house its entire Haitian staff exceeds any corporation’s limits-except perhaps, oil conglomerates’ and UN budgets.
I discovered that the memnonia is invested with meaning because of the direct mortuary association. The flatten buildings and homes are sacred sites of the dead. Every day I was driven to Digicel corporate offices and back to AMURT compound. I would ask the driver how many dead we passed on this road. Since, it was a different road each day for large parts of the daily journeys; the total estimated amount was never under two thousand.
After working my Kolo Acute Trauma Response with Haitians, I encountered not just global learning but the excavation of disjunctive memories. This was all the more traumatic with the “unburied” but buried dead on the way to work.
One young Haitian woman volunteered how the massive deaths and the destruction of what was once a familiar city prompted her to not have regrets. She said as she smoothed her white blouse and artfully coifed hair that she will work on reforesting Haiti. As if to liberate understanding of the true nature of inquiry, she stared at me and said that is why I am still standing today and the rest are gone. I believed her, since she did survive the earthquake, starting a reforestation project will be easy. She gained a resolve and evolved forward into life itself. Suddenly, she was thriving not surviving in front of my eyes.
Time and time again, in the Congo, Sudan and Uganda, Bosnia and Sri Lanka, I would encounter women who made decisions to take immediate action, reform power and create community, manifest culture and in doing so transformed their realities.
The rich black skin of the young man, a father of four shined with sweat as he struggled to not make a sound or noise. The sounds of military planes and helicopters provided an abrupt stucco volume of noise that often prompted startle reflexes from the Haitians. Leaning forward in his chair and head down, I barely managed to hear him ask me how he could possibly manage to know the difference from the living and the dead. He, immediately, answered that himself, “at least the dead have a final resting place. “
What Haitians taught me in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and two hundred years of violence is that despite the wrathful perinatal hell, the collective severity of their pain is a more about a measure of what we are becoming and evolving. At times, this is often unmanageable for the person and the whole of the collective. The intensified learning I received at their hands and hearts allowed me to witness their sincere and steadfast liberation by tearing away the obstacles that block their realizations.
I learned to hear the volume turned down of a million Haitians in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Humanitarian Service and Efforts
The AMURT compound’s first floor had large cracks in the outer walls presenting a severe and possibly fatal outcome if one entered within. Housing most of AMURT’s grassroots efforts, the building remains stalwart through the series of aftershocks. A part of the needs for AMURT was for grant writing for UN agencies which seeks engendered formats and programs. Sarita Wolf noted how the Kolo: WCCC’s Acute Trauma Response included feminist growth and female empowerment exactly what was needed for her grant writing.
The opportunity to provide empowerment for the girl child and mothers into the AMURT school curriculum was obvious. Wolf did not know of many of the potential organizations that might be able to help like the Haitian Guardians of History, Enfo Fanm, Ecumenical Center for Human Rights or the Feminist Camp.
Most Haitian women were not aware of the Center for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), the Feminist International Radio Endeavor and the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Journalists.
The earthquake on January 12th, 2010 took the life of feminist Myriam Merlet who founded the Enfo Fanm organization despite the many political obstacles. She was killed that day in the earthquake while in her office on the outskirts of Port au Prince. Magali Marcelin, the Feminist Camp director had just finished a meeting on the day of the earthquake and took a break walking out of the door only to be killed.
The memory of these women and their work appears to be written completely out of any curriculum and program. Perhaps, one of the survivors of the ministry, Maire Laurence Lasseque, who is the current minister of culture, will continue the work and their memories.
“I didn’t have time to cry in the immediate weeks following the earthquake,” Sarita Wolf, AMURT staff, describes how the sound of crying is muffled, muted or delayed for as long as possible.
The Philadelphia school teacher bore witness to the heaven and hell, the intense suffering that continues seemingly without end. The mild stench in the air, the always filtering dust in the air, the massive makeshift tent tucked into impossible places in the city, does not disrupt or distract from her service.
During my six days in Haiti, ten Americans are criminally charged for transporting Haitian children across the border into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The hell that children face has mothers begging anyone to ferry their child to a better life. The hell of thinking that a better life for children is to remove them from their mothers’ arms is the other side of the same coin.
Maybe, hell is developmental for learning from mistakes, a creative social intelligence that is both sacred and profound. How can this both sides of the coin dilemma be expressed from the child or the mother?
Disposable Cameras Project
Eugene Ahn is a journalist, mythologist and computer guru. He developed the idea to utilize disposable cameras for story telling that fosters symbolic or iconic first person story telling especially with the mother and child. He went to all the film centers in Los Angeles a few years back and collected their disposable cameras.
When I asked him what did he intend to do with them, we birthed the Kolo project to express first person story. Knowing that I could incorporate his disposable camera project for first person story, I accumulated photos from Congolese and Ugandan children that I worked with or met doing the Kolo trauma work in violence zones.
Going to Haiti meant that I would pack the disposable cameras in my bag. I gave the disposable cameras to Sarita Wolf with a brief explanation of the project so that the child and the mother can be empowered to tell their own story as opposed to media or traveling journalists skimming the surface.
By the end of the next day, one of the AMURT teacher’s eight year old son completed the project, the immediate engagement of the Haitian child surely told us that there is no surviving the aftermath of the earthquake.
The child’s disposable camera may contain pictures that most will dread but what he illustrates to us is an indigenous knowing that only in hell can we learn to understand. He is freed from the traumatic past and does not feel banishment from life itself. There is no surviving it, only how to relearn thriving skills in the middle of Haitian hell fires.
For six days I slept in a tent on a cement floor of the AMURT compound that was previously used by the UN World Food Program. The Haitians staying behind my tent utilized the Digicel free minutes after midnight to talk on the cell phones tearing into whatever little sleep could be had.
The building is damaged from the earthquake allowing only cold water for any possible showers we dared to do. We were able to flush toilets with the buckets of water taken from the shower stall awkwardly lined with broken tiles. No one could answer me when I asked where the toilet water flowed to. I did not pursue the answer.
At night, I heard singing, in the morning I heard singing - on Sunday, I heard a sermon by a visiting American pastor blaming the UN and other agencies to incite violence not love in his church message.
While in a team meeting on the roof top - I spoke of the security risks and building structure integrity issues of the GVN accommodations at AMURT, one of my male counterparts replied that no more aftershocks will occur. I corrected him saying aftershocks could last a year. He rolled his eyes as he dismissed my information. Within minutes a 5.0 aftershock rocked the building.
Humanitarian Aid- AMURT, Haiti
Ananda Marga Universal Relief Teams, (AMURT) has been in Haiti for twenty years. AMURT refused to be a part of the UN World Food Program selection sites, one of sixteen sectors for food distribution. For the past twenty years, the NGO has shown their ability to feed the poor and provide medical services without oppressive institutionalized violence bottlenecking red tape.
When we think about this, we see a complex struggle to build self-reliance and re-humanize our worlds, where humanitarian aid is not saturated in the defining characteristics of modern Western economic and technology-centered institutions or a post-mortem hellish function to have victimhood contagious for control and dominance.
Dada Gopalursnananda (Dharma), heading AMURT in a peaceful voice reported how, “AMURT has been in Haiti for the long term not the short term. We are here to do service and we approach this at a grassroots level.”
AMURT's approach is that of a group or the circle (kolo in Serbo-Croatian) attended to the immediate and long term needs found in the afflicted population. Just by being a part of the AMURT group and their twenty years history in Haiti, we can trace the heritage that is derived from the rich and diverse challenges that humanitarian work represents. Some of the challenges impact the Western economic and technology-centered institutions’ patterns for domination and wealth.
Academia is asked to not teach but to have learning environments which will engage struggles for social justice but with compassionate values. The AMURT staff challenge the status quo and illogical logic and rationale in supra philosophical creeds -patterns of entrenched patriarchy and race domination.
What is revealed under a true humanitarian service orientation is how the detachment and objectivity of institutionalized helping aid agencies are in place to provide distance from their crimes and divorced realities creating victims repeatedly.
Compassionate Humanitarian Service through the Gift Economy
Genevieve Vaughan, researcher and author, who has done much to reveal the Gift Economy where the value of female work and major care giving is an embedded economy that heals and provides seamlessly.
“My information came only from watching Al Jazeera, BBC and Democracynow.org (which usually tells the truth) Amy Goodman went there herself as a journalist to report on the conditions for several days at the end of January. From those sources I gathered that the Haitian people were non violent. Certainly when people are starving they rebel. If more distribution of food and water had come earlier there might have been less violence. “
To think about who is to blame for the distribution of food and water as being the victims, themselves, is the trick of media corporate owned patriarchal philosophy.
The UN posits its policy of deferring food distribution as blaming the Haitian violence. I do not agree nor did I see any indication that the Haitians themselves are to blame when I viewed the resources at hand of the military might and UN compound. If we probe deeper and move through the hell we are faced with hell’s mercy; greater understanding.
Genevieve Vaughan’s most powerful assessment is to set up the symposium to commence a widespread global discussion about helping aid to be veined with compassion which are the tenants of her researched Gift Economy body of work. “Maybe the best way to help the people of Haiti or at least people in future disasters would be to start a widespread global discussion about helping, compassion and aid (which I see as part of gift giving). It is certainly going to be needed more and more as the climate continues to change.”
Vaughan’s understanding is broader, and offers a healing and peaceful alternative to the patriarchal capitalism and commercialization often paired with institutionalized military might.
The feminist economy is based on the invaluable ‘gift-giving,” which can be seen simply by the major care-giving mothers and women do. However, Vaughan warns us to note the different reality of the governments, international bodies such as the World Banka and IMF ‘s gift –giving, which is pure colonialism and patriarchal capitalism.
The researcher and author points to past examples where emergency aid for Katrina and now the earthquake in Haiti are prime examples of the colonilization of the most vulnerable.
The Haitian natural disaster has provided an opening into exploring another way of life economically that enriches, empowers and manifests peaceful and healing societies. And this movement and insight will take place over the next several decades, even the next hundred years.
Many will feel as if the traumatic events overtake their lives and overwhelms. The transition and the collective consciousness will exhaust the fear and through women, who have been the most impacted and our most vulnerable along with our children will be emerging with compassionate values.
The UN food and supply distribution
A quote from the US Army, Fort Bragg staff stationed at the opulent Port au Prince airport and UN compound portrays the harsh and paranoid mentality of Patriarchal Capitalism, “Why can’t Digicel hire their own physicians- They have money.”
Sitting on a wealth of resources to include medical needs and vaccinations that most corporations cannot stock, the US military in Haiti begin the assault of control and domination by hoarding. I witnessed supplies being flown back to Kingston due to having more than enough or no more room tohouse the precious supplies.
Despite the startling information that over 15,000 Haitians are Digicel employees, any vaccination to stem diseases in the aftermath of a natural disaster or to help house Haitians remains dismissed and unattended to. Digicel does have a physician and nurses on its staff but can only provide a few vaccinations based on limited supply.
As to Haitian violence with food distribution, we need to fully define the features of hunger and famine. Hunger defined is a physiological feeling giving rise to a behavior such as seeking food. It is a lack of calorie intake not about food quality. Famine on the other hand is the disappearance of food on a very large scale in a specific geographical area. Famine is the absence of food or the possibility of retrieving food.
The brain on famine as a result of starvation becomes deprived of nutrients and the emotional and mental stresses of famine on the individual carry the feature of: Apathy, Depression, and Mental restlessness, Obsession with attainment of food, self-centered action, and an indifference towards others.
Prior to the earthquake, the local NGO “Food for the Poor,” fed an estimated two thousand people a day. What this means is that most Haitians were malnourished, especially children and women, before the earthquake.
United Nations determined that 250 million children are victims of malnutrition and the mortality rate for children under five is 74%. More than three-quarters of deaths is from malnutrition by light to moderate malnutrition and not to acute form. This is very telling for the Haitian hungry in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The seventeen days of delay to distribute food by the UN World Food Program in Haiti certainly falls into the light to moderate malnutrition category for deaths incurred in children less than five years of age.
Prior to the earthquake, the local NGO “Food for the Poor,” fed an estimated two thousand people a day. What this means is that most Haitians were malnourished, especially children and women, before the earthquake.
"They are the ones who are the economic as well as the psychological mainstay of children and other dependents, the aged and the sick," said Roberta Clarke, regional program director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women, or UNIFEM.
"You can imagine that in the context of pre-existing vulnerabilities--poverty, exposure to gender-based violence and lack of health care services--that this earthquake has dealt a heavy blow to women already stretched to the limits of their capacities to support their families," Clarke said in a conference call last week with reporters.
What fails to be impressed upon Roberta Clarke and other UN staff is how an estimated twenty thousand ex-pats, UN staff lived in Haiti years before the earthquake. What did they do and why was not something done about pre-existing poverty? It only substantiates the insight that the UN capacity to respond and provide aid has been non-existent.
The only violence from Haitians, if we must call it this, is the snatching of food from children or a father eating the rice from his son’s bowl. Most likely reduced to poverty and feminization of poverty, hunger and famine was already in place before the natural catastrophe.
More commonly, the apathy and listlessness from a body eating itself could not sustain whole scale violence the UN and military concerns rationalizes that has the media sensationalizing pockets of violence. The Haitians cannot carry the blame for UN’s late distribution of food.
People starving lack energy to perform whole scale violence or anger. And we need to ask what is the purpose of the UN Blue Helmets and other military forces onsite in Haiti if not to quell the violence but to help food distribution. We only have to look at Biafra to Darfurs in Africa to understand that famine makes no sound and has no voice.
The crushing denial most have is blindness to the fact that famine and hunger attacks women and children in an overwhelming majority of famine events globally.
On January 29th, 2010, seventeen days after the mega-earthquake, the UN World Food Program started food distribution. At this point and time, starvation and hunger drowns out any expression or sound from the Haitian survivors. The UN Blue Helmets and US Military accompany the food trucks at sixteen locations around Port au Prince.
UNIFEM’s policy of having food distributed only to women sounds appealing and as if at least one UN agency advocates for women and children but how does a hungry female carry a sixty pound bag of food?
UN World Food Program acknowledges that when food rations are given to women, the whole community is fed. Recent developments have food coupons for ‘females only’ to meet the UN World Food Program goal of feeding two million people.
The question that needs to be asked is actually about the insight, that women, unpaid, in the throes of being the most vulnerable are given the food rations to feed UN World Food Program’s goal of two million people. The US Wall Street scandal pales in comparison.
The sheer number of the hungry nearly two million, when statistically reviewed, portrays that violence from the few males is not a significant issue. Rather what it does present is the question of why can’t the battalions of Jamaica Defense Force, Canadian and US military not stem the few sporadic violent incidents.
More importantly, why is there so much focus on the violence? Is it to ignore the deaths by institutionalized violence? We would discover the UN bottlenecks with red tape plaguing not just Haiti, but the Darfurs, much of Africa stretching across the globe.
No UN research or assessment was done to ascertain how many died in the seventeen days when no food distribution was processed.
Would we face how policies are written to sanction the institutionalized violence such as the UN? How much of the policy making rationalizes war crimes or what one can call gynocide since most of the food aid policies affects women globally?
War crimes charges for institutionalized violence such as bottlenecks in the system are non-existent. Another interesting fact is that over 20,000 ex-pats lived in Haiti before the earthquake and it does not appear that much was done to elevate poverty and hunger. The huge UN conglomerate holds the resources and the funds that appear to legitimize a control and command over the afflicted and grassroots NGOs who continue to do something with nothing.
The UN cluster meetings at the UN compound are in tents sitting in the hot sun. In the Primary Health Care meeting I attended with the AMURT doctors Craig Goldberg and Steven Landau, more than a hundred crowded in. I was told (twice) by UN staff in the administrative tent next to the Health tent that another UN staffer's name which was inaccurate which I double checked the facts of who was leading the meeting. This could not be verified or identified but does show the possible administrative errors that exist within the UN. Whoever represented the meeting instructed all to scoot in and sit down in front so others could see.
That was the only action she or the UN ever did in her capacity as a UN representative or at best a David Letterman role. The bored looks of the cameramen in the meeting foretold another meeting of massaging information the NGOs and doctors could do on their own. One doctor got up announced he was abandoning his clinic and asked if anyone could fill in. The AMURT doctors took the offer without hesitation.
I met another doctor lost in the UN compound looking for the Primary Health UN Cluster meeting tent. From the Association of American Refugees, he stated he has all the supplies ready and a clinic ready but no doctors.I coordinated the meeting between the AMURT doctors and the Association of American Refugees at the dusty Primary Health tent with huge cargo planes screaming nearby in the skies. The very next day, the AMURT doctors were on location.
The UN Cluster meetings Primary Health Care did touch upon the need for psycho-social mental health needs which in reality for UN concerns is at best months if not years away from a reality. Not one UN agency or NGOs had an immediate acute trauma response for psycho-social mental health except for the AMURT team who utilized my Kolo trauma work.
The disgust from the emerging doctors from the Primary Health Care meeting was barely contained. I could see most would rather be doing their work than walking around the UN compound or sitting in hot humid air under canvas tents that did not breathe.
I wondered why come. I observed the various NGOs’ holding their own meetings and networking with greater results and knew why they came. However, as most were leaving the meeting, one man held up his cross around his neck and commented it was to keep the UN vampires away as he spirited away to yet, another UN cluster meeting.
Whatever we have done before, whatever we had in place before, has never worked nor will it work in the future. I ask, do we have the courage to change and advocate for compassionate values in face of violence, wars and natural catastrophes?
Instead, of reaching for the remote for remote viewing of the carnage from a significant narrow media field and dialing 1-800-help so that $10 can be donated, act, advocate and know where your donations go. Sincerely, look at your heart and what your life lived meaningfully will create.
Notes & References
Just the US government , alone, in March 2009 worked the “omnibus bill that contains a total of $1.53 billion to pay U.S. assessed membership dues to 47 international organizations, including the United Nations, UN specialized agencies, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and NATO, among others. In an explanatory statement accompanying the bill, Congress instructs the State Department to make procurement reform “a top priority at the UN” and to ensure that sufficient resources are available “for vigorous procurement oversight and investigation capabilities.”
GUARDIANS OF HISTORY By María Suárez Toro, and RIF-Fire Communications Center
Feminist International Camp, Translation by Amandla Gigler, Executive Director at CALALA Fondo de Mujeres / Women's Fund
Genevieve Vaughan is an independent researcher. She was the founder of the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, which was in operation from 1987-2005.Her first book, "For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange" was published in 1997. It and her other books and many articles are available for free on her Web site, www.gift-economy.com.
U.N. Delivers Relief Directly to Haitian Women, by Joe Lauria
WeNews correspondent Sunday, January 31, 2010