MONTHS AFTER HAITI EARTHQUAKE, THOUSANDS STILL RECEIVE CARE AT HAITIAN TENT CITY
(NJ.com) - By Bob Braun - Star-Ledger columnist
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Kelly Gideon Joseph, eyes still wet from a brief bout of crying, sticks out his jaw in pain and in defiance. He just got a "picky-picky," a shot, a vaccination, and he didn’t like it.
"But he is healthy," says his mother, Julianne, in Creole. She is herself barely a child, 20. "He looks big and he looks healthy" — more a question than a declaration.
Still, yes, the 2-year-old does look like he’s thriving, although this seems contradictory. He and his mother and a cousin have spent the past six months in a sweltering, 8-foot-by-8-foot tent, with a mud floor. They are tortured by mosquitoes and other insects and they awake drenched in their own sweat every morning because plastic blocks the air as well as the rain.
With the other 40,000 displaced persons of this tent city on the Petionville Golf Club greens.
"He gets very upset," says Julianne. "Cries every night from the bugs."
Kelly Gideon Joseph is a living example of the Haitian paradox. His home was destroyed in the Jan. 12 earthquake. He is living in intolerable conditions without proper shelter, sanitation, water or food.
Yet he is getting better health care now than he has all his life.
"We are here every day," says Linda Rimpel, the primary health director for Port-au-Prince for an American charitable organization named the International Medical Corps, based in Los Angeles. "We can see these children every day."
Rimpel says fewer than half of Haitian children has ever seen a doctor.
Kelly Gideon Joseph got his shot at an IMC clinic on the golf course, one of 14 the group, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, operates in Haiti. Not just one shot — but a complement of all the vaccinations a child should have.
"When you talk about what happened to Haitians since the earthquake, you have to put it in perspective," says Dan Osnato from Bayonne, program director for the IMC in Haiti. "What kind of health care were they getting before the earthquake?"
The answer, for the poor at least — and that’s most Haitians — is little to none. Medical care here is expensive; it is not free, says Osnato. Medical insurance, where it exists at all, is beyond the means of most.
Kelly Gideon Joseph is not alone. All major private and public agencies involved in relief report that, despite the quake, despite the hundreds of thousands of bodies buried in the rubble, despite the destruction of what little sanitation facilities existed, there has been no increase in communicable diseases or malnutrition in the last six months.
This doesn’t mean life for many Haitians is not miserable — and just how miserable has been recorded by a New Jersey organization that is trying to find a way to improve services for persons displaced by the catastrophe.
Lamp for Haiti, co-founded by Cedar Grove physician James Morgan and Philadelphia lawyer Tom Griffin, began a detailed survey of people in the displaced persons camps within weeks after the earthquake. The report concluded that "an enormous gap between aid promised and aid received persists on the ground."
It now has a team of lawyers and law students in Port-au-Prince trying to determine whether things have gotten better.
"It’s still early, but I think things have gotten worse," says Regine Theodat, a young lawyer who just moved back to Haiti after living most of her life in Boston. She works for Lamp for Haiti.
"We’re looking for evidence that makes the case that, despite all the attention relief organizations have received here, people still are not getting basic needs," says Theodat.
But there is yet another Haitian paradox — whom do you blame? The Haitian government, which has admitted it couldn’t cope with a natural disaster that claimed 233,000 lives? The international community, which had pledged $11 billion in relief efforts? Charitable organizations that have raised more than $1 billion for Haitian relief?
"That’s a very difficult question," concedes Theodat, "but one that has to be answered before there is accountability."
The young lawyer tours the tent city in front of the destroyed National Palace. The place has taken on an air of permanence since the earthquake. Structures are more substantial, made of corrugated metal and wood. More a shanty town than a tent city.
Another Haitian paradox occurs to her. When she lived in Boston, a problem with the water system led to a warnings that household water had to be boiled before drunk.
"Only for three days, but it caused a big political stir," says Theodat. "Yet there seems to be acceptance here of the worse possible conditions.
"Why don’t these people get angry?"