Our fifth mission, our biggest load of supplies
Mission 5 Chapter 1
I am actually in a great mood as I leave Montreal at 5:30 am to catch a flight to Toronto, its Feb 10th and we are headed to Haiti for Mission number 5.
There are over 33k kilos of goods leaving today, which is our biggest load to date. There are meds left from Apotex and Novapharm We have tents again. Lots and lots of Diapers, (out of the boxes and into plastic bags) we had these delivered through the generosity of the Irving family a few weeks ago. They are now in hot demand from both PIH and also the Air Canada Clinic. We also have food, rice and lentils and lots of food, which Loune had sheepishly asked for last week. I know medicine and medical equipment was our first priority but now we are really seeing an evolution of the needs.
We are all together for the most part it is the regular crew, the only people not on this flight are James our trusted weight mathematician and Carl our handsome security expert. Judith has joined us again and I’m glad to share the experience with her. We have some new friends, Alain senior director of Jetz- they are the division of Air Canada which flies many of the professional sports teams. Alain in conjunction with Maple Leaf Sports are sending a flight down on the 22nd and have thankfully agreed to help ONEXONE and Partners in Health, in large part because of the great work on the ground by PIH. Alain is here to see the symphony on the ground and Jude and PIH don’t disappoint.
Also along are Yves, Lucy and Maxine, this is their first flight and everyone seems in good spirits. As with every trip, there is a different atmosphere on the plane, this time there is more of a sense of happiness. I don’t want this to be misconstrued, because it is not about being happy to go to a ravaged area, its more about seeing the people on the ground, our friends from PIH and then little Carlos and John at the AC Clinic. We have built relationships and it is becoming harder and harder when we leave.
The flight down goes quickly, we are planning the next two loads. It seems the flights have less and less time between them. The requirements are more varied and obviously this poses more of a challenge, but Alain is committed and Jude is pushy as always, in a nice way of course.
When we land its really quite routine, the Canadian Air Force is there ready to rock and roll with the volunteers and Air Canada crew who are unloading the top and separating the goods going to the AC clinic.
I have gotten a message on my Blackberry that CBC wants to interview me; the Globe and Mail did a story where they quoted my frustration on the amount of goods strewn at the airport and not moving. The Associate Producer, Patricia Rowland calls me and explains that Mark Kelley (Connect with Mark Kelley) would like to interview me via Skype. I explain that we will try our best but couldn’t guarantee that we would be able to easily make the connection. We agree to try later and then make a decision.
Within an hour the top of plane is unloaded. PIH’s stuff is being trucked down to the end of the tarmac in the same place as last Saturday.
Already a few pallets have been unloaded and so PIH sends its trucks in to start loading.
The goods destined for the Air Canada clinic are going into a dump truck, yes a dump truck this is what Alphonse and his team have been able to commandeer. The picture of the goods loaded to the top of the dump truck is quite something and fits with our motto here which is; “any way it can be done”. As we are all milling about, the fuel truck arrives to refuel the plane. I am not watching but all of a sudden there is a bit of commotion; the man in charge of the fuel doesn’t close a valve and there is a fuel leak, all the fuel is all over the tarmac and the fuel truck. This is very serious. The truck cannot move because a spark could set off a fire. The plane has auxiliary power on and that can’t be shut off either. The fire trucks surround our plane and everyone is taken off the plane. I ask why sand can’t be put down to absorb the fuel; one of the pilots explains that the sand on the tarmac might get kicked up into the engines when we depart. The water truck comes and they hose down the tarmac, it is then that I realize a whole lot of fuel spilled.
We all get into our trusted van driven by our friend Burman and we pick up Loune at the end of the tarmac; Loune is coming to meet Carlos. We have asked Loune to see if young Carlos might find a place with PIH or one of their partners, Carlos is the young man that has found his way into the hearts of Duncan and Mary and pretty much all of us. When we arrive at the clinic there seems to be some tension between two different groups and this is upsetting to all of us. Alphonse is trying hard to organize a sustainable medical clinic and it is clearly disheartening to him that while people are suffering and starving these people are fighting over who is in control. This is the main problem in the world of NGO, whether people want to admit it or not, irrespective of their intentions, and people who give their lives to helping others have the best of intentions, however, sometimes the power struggles in the NGO world make many board rooms look like a picnic.
Alphonse quickly makes peace, he brings everyone together and harmony is restored.
John the young paramedic from Boston is still at the clinic and Duncan has asked him to keep an eye on Carlo, the two of them are sharing a tent. Duncan is visibly happy that John has taken a big brother approach to Carlos. John is a special young man, if you all remember he flew down after the Quake to help, he has tremendous integrity and at some point he embarrassingly has to admit he no longer has any money left. Duncan takes some US money and hands it to him. The silence is palpable, John is clearly very touched but he is also proud he is obviously a well brought up young man, who has never ever had to depend on the generosity of other. This life he is living is as far away from his realities as he could possibly imagine. Life turns on a dime, and even though John will one day go home and back to school, this will have changed him forever. The way he looks at things, what he let’s affect him, and when things will be difficult he will have one of life’s reality sticks by which to measure the degree of difficulty. I hazard to guess, hopefully, that somehow it will never reach the level of what he has just experienced.
Judith who has been taking pictures comes to me and asks me to come take a look at a young girl. Judith is almost in tears. I am not sure that I am up to doing this; Judith is asking me to do something to help these girls.
When we go to the tent to see the young girl I am aghast, her back and spine seem deformed and she has what appears to be protruding bones. She is very skinny and unable to walk. She is in need of surgery. At the clinic there are 3 doctors from the USA (Lansing, Michigan) they are nice and I ask them to maybe give us a full diagnoses of the young girl, and maybe Loune can organize something. The child is in horrific pain and for us who are there leaving her like this is not an option, we will try to do whatever we can to help.
When we are leaving we wait for Duncan; he is talking to Carlos, it doesn’t take much to fall in love with a child, and to leave that child every time I know is hard for Duncan. Carlos is in good hands with John and the leadership at the clinic and we depart.
When we get back I am happy to see the tarmac is clear of fuel and we have a long line of evacuees who are finally coming home.
As we are boarding I get a phone call from CBC Mark Kelley, who wants to do the interview over the phone. Although Duncan got the Skype going the reception was spotty and so I go into a bathroom in the back of a plane and talk to Mark.
Mark is asking the questions, everyone wants to understand; 1) why is help not getting through fast enough 2) what is the situation of goods strewn at the airport 3) is Haiti over NGO’d.
I answer as best as I can, yes up until last week there were hundreds and hundreds of pallets, I was not able to go around today but I explain that is important to separate the process at the airport with the process going out of the airport. Both the US and Canadian Military are doing an amazing job landing the aircraft and off-loading the Cargo. Once they get the cargo into the yards; well that’s the issue. There is not always the infrastructure to pick up and distribute hence the stuff is sitting. After the interview I find out that there has been a new decree, anything sitting more than 3 days is being confiscated and moved into distribution by the Haitian Gov’t so this is a positive decision. At the same time I am told that there are mayors of towns who have started to charge for the food, as much as 5 dollars per bag of rice, so here is a problem. To charge now when food is being donated is an abomination. This information is coming from someone at the clinic, whether it is true or not I cannot confirm. The thought does revolt me.
Is Haiti over NGO’d; all I know is that previous to the quake, having been on the ground numerous times, it was apparent to me that there were many NGO’s and much duplication. Right now it seemed even worse. I tell Mark that there are people who hit the ground day 1 after the quake with full camera crews and had never worked in Haiti before. Meanwhile I believe most have great intentions, all we need to do is find the mechanism to work together and illuminate duplication.
I finish by pleading that people not get discouraged, the people of Haiti need us more now than never and mistakes are going to be made. Yet we still need to continue to support and accept that human beings are fallible even when their hearts are 100 percent in the right place. There will be many a story after all of this and some will be true and others will be stories leaked to stir discontent. People will stop their support but they will also think twice about helping another time and this is a serious issue that we cannot let happen. We must keep our eye on the ball and accept that something of this magnitude can never be without some missteps.
We have another full load of evacuees and the flight is uneventful.
Judith is creating another great video and Jude and I serve snacks.
We are on the bus heading to Montreal, we will get home very late and I don’t care, I’m just happy to be home. Jude will send the list forwarded to us by PIH. We built the list on the plane. We haven’t finished one mission and we are already aggressively planning for the next.
It’s dark on the bus to Montreal and Gilles is making us laugh, I wonder how everyone feels. Alain is clearly energized we spoke; it is truly a privilege to be on these flights I will never stop saying it. We have gone first hand and made a difference in the lives of so many, collectively and with the support of our partners and our supporters.
So many moments, so many thoughts, so much potential. The World has a real opportunity to rebuild a country whose history is rich with art, music and culture. Who were the first colony to gain independence in 1804 and who at one point was wealthier than the USA. Haiti has the most resilient people I’ve ever seen and a great majority of its population below the age of 14. With every crisis comes opportunity; I hope we can all work together and not fail the Haitian people again.
“Together we can save the World”