High in the mountains above the Artibonite river, we pass through villages and clusters of houses that do not appear on maps, past destroyed houses that will never make it into official calculations of the damage from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. We are miles from the nearest paved road, many hours from the nearest medical clinic, and nearly a full day's walk to the market where people normally sell their produce to purchase necessities like medicine, oil, and clothing. When I asked the local government official with us, why his region showed zero damage on the latest UN maps, he grew angry, "How would they even know? No one has come up to look. No one has even asked." Working with the local governments, community organizations, and a likeminded NGO, we are bringing the first relief supplies to people whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in this area. Within 72 hours of the rains stopping, all our prepositioned aid (water treatment supplies, blankets, food, and hygiene kits) have been distributed to people in need. This is only the beginning for these families on the long path to rebuilding their lives and their communities.
If you've been watching the news on Haiti, you know of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrought; the rapidly rising death toll, the destroyed homes and livelihoods, the statistics of suffering on a massive scale. But for us, and for our organization MCC, the story both begins and ends with the resilience and perseverance of the people and communities we serve. These are human stories better told through pictures of people, pictures of dignity and strength in the face of loss.
Here are the stories of three families after the storm.
Marinez Fleuriz, a single mother of 8 small children (3 girls, 5 boys) has lived in the small community of Chariye her whole life. After her husband died, making a living from their small steep mountainside gardens became much more difficult. After several years of hard drought, the rains were good this year, and Marinez invested all she had in seeds to fill her gardens with the hope of a good harvest. When the storm came, her mud-walled house shook and trembled, and she told me that she and her children were terrified. In a big gust, one wall fell in, smashing nearly everything she owned -- clothes, pots, pans, a bible. Soon a second wall crumbled, sending rocks raining down on she and her children's heads. They grabbed what they could and ran, through the raging storm, to a neighbors house to seek refuge. As the rain cleared, grateful that everyone was alive, Marinez took stock of the damage -- her fields destroyed, seeds washed away, everything that had been inside the house gone. "We just thank God we are all ok," she says as she and her children start to rebuild their mud walls.
Seven year old Fledana Mezi lives with her father Jole and 9 other brothers and sisters in Biket. Even at 7, she has to stoop to enter her small mud and stone house high on the mountains overlooking the Artibonite river below. The rusted roofing is rolled up on the sides like a tin can, large holes let shafts of light through. Two walls collapsed in the wind and rain, leaving only piles of rocks and mud. In the storm, which hit in the middle of the night, she stayed close to her dad praying that none of the falling rocks would hit her. In the morning she found nearly all their family's livestock dead (6 goats and 1 pig), their gardens washed away. Fledana described the healthy gardens before the storm, full of corn and sorghum, kongo beans and red beans. Now they look trampled, and wandering goats eat away at what little is left, without fencing to protect it. She holds the MCC blanket we have brought for her her tight to her chest as we talk.
Oudle Polais stands up very straight, his expression serious as we talk. "My mother is sick, so she sent me since I am the oldest to come represent the family," he says proudly. I smile and his shoulders begin to relax. He tells me that he had to be very strong during the storm, because his mother was very sick and his little sister and 3 little brothers looked up to him. "I wasn't scared, when our wall above the kitchen fell in," he says. I tell him that I was scared during the storm, and he breaks out in a big beaming smile. "Ok, I guess I was a little scared too," he says.
To read more about Mennonite Central Committee's work in Haiti, visit www.haitimcc.org