Helen Hawkings: Diary from Haiti, part 2

Helen Hawkings

Blog post by Helen Hawkings

Oxfam International, Oxfam Health Advisor
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Saturday 16th January

Today we were back at the golf course, previously an exclusive area for the rich of Port au Prince, it is now home to an estimated 10 – 15,000 people during the day and 50,000 at night. Our mission for the day is to start distributing water.

People staying in the camps have organised committees to manage the site. There seem to be more committees than are absolutely necessary and they do not always agree on how things should be done. Unfortunately when the water distribution started there was a disagreement regarding which committee was in charge and the situation became rather heated.

Every day many people approach me asking me what can I give, what am I doing here, why am I only working in this camp when there are so many people still staying in the communities near their homes who need help? I am not God, I tell them that today we are starting with providing water here. There is a colossal amount of aid pouring into the country so I tell them that we are starting in areas with the biggest concentrations of people so that we can reach lots of people in a short space of time but that we have not forgotten them and that we are doing as much as we can.

This evening the team of Oxfam staff that we have been working with in Cap Haitien in the north of Haiti arrived at our door. We have been training them and working closely with them in emergency preparedness so that when disaster strikes they are ready to immediately respond. This was a wonderful end to the day.

While I would like to believe that the loud bangs that rang out near our house just before midnight last night were fireworks, I think that would be slightly naïve of me. Reports of pillaging are rife. This afternoon we passed 2 bodies on the road, which were left there uncared for. We were told that locals killed them as they were looting and stealing. An unofficial curfew of 10pm has been proposed.

Sunday 17th January

Something that you can be sure about here is that your day will not go as you expect it to. After all the complications that we were dealing with yesterday, today we had planned a problem free day. It was an important day for us. We wanted to have the two bladders that we installed yesterday and the three that the teams prepared today full of water so that we could distribute 100,000 litres of drinking water to people who really need it.

I arrived at the golf course at midday. The truck containing 5,000 litres of water was filling the water storage container that we had constructed. After a quick final leak fix things were looking good, and we were ready to go. Our first recipient was a young boy looking slightly overwhelmed clutching a small white water container, which he quickly filled. Soon the people who had waited patiently in the queue were receiving fresh drinking water. It feels great when we can see our work is making an impact. I had ordered 10 more lorry loads of water to go to the sites we were working in. Our national WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) team had set up committees to manage each water point. We waited and waited for the trucks to come with the water. No one came.

Drinking water is not the only scarce liquid in high demand. There is also an acute shortage of petrol. The water company was unable to come and distribute the water, of which they had plenty, because their lorries did not have enough petrol. I had to relay this hugely disappointing information to the committees and to the people waiting to receive water who took the news well considering the situation.

The number of people staying with us has risen from just the four of us on Tuesday night, to a respectable 21. Today Oxfam staff arrived from the Dominican Republic, England and Mexico. Together we will be able to achieve great things. In the meantime we have to cope with not having a functioning flushing toilet, no cooking facilities and a limited water supply. This makes entertaining at home a more creative challenge!

Tomorrow is a new day that I hope will be problem free and full of 100, 000 litres of fresh drinking water!

Please donate now to Oxfam's Haiti Earthquake Emergency Appeal

Helen Hawkings diary, part 1

Helen Hawkings diary, part 3