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Locals respond to Haitian earthquake and local fund-raising efforts organized

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UPDATES from January 20 included below

01/21/2010

By Lisa Loomis

Warren resident and relief agency director Joni Zweig left The Valley within 24 hours of the January 12 Haitian earthquake, headed for the Dominican Republic with the Amurtel relief agency.

Once there she and others purchased a truck and loaded it with emergency medical relief supplies before heading to Port au Prince. From the Dominican Republic, Zweig and others drove overland to Port au Prince where they joined other Amurtel members on the ground, including Fayston resident Elizabeth Sipple (see sidebar).

Initially they worked on providing food to local residents and helping with a medical clinic where more than 1,000 people were seen on Thursday and Friday, January 14 and 15. This week, Zweig and her team headed to smaller villages outside of Port au Prince where no aid teams had yet gone.

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It was a very long 24-plus hours for Joan Rae and Paul Sipple of Fayston. Their daughter, Elizabeth, has been living and working in Haiti for four years. Her home was near the epicenter of the quake. She works with Amurtel and also on a project to manufacture "rocket stoves."

In a phone interview Rae said that she and her husband were unable to communicate with Elizabeth until 4:30 p.m. on January 13 when they had a three-minute phone call. They received an email the next day, excerpts of which appear below. For now Sipple is staying put and working with Amurtel.


From: Elizabeth Sipple
Date: January 13, 2010 11:15:03 PM EST
To: Subject: I am safe and ok

I am safe. I have received many many e-mails and have not yet read them all. I am rushing to write this so I hope I did not pass over too many people that should receive this e-mail. I really appreciate how people have reached out to me with their thoughts -- thinking of those who are in troubling places really does help. There was no way to communicate and even now it is not at all easy. I am currently using satellite Internet. The phones and most Internet connections are still non-functional.

I was in Petionville during the earthquake. I was closest to my friends Ben and Alexis' house so I went there, one shocked person amongst a sea of shocked people, to see if they were all right. Ever since then I have been with them and other MCC team members, which has been a blessing. Carlito came back to PAP today on a 3 a.m. bus from Cap Haitian. He is also safe.

It really is awful here. We were out in the streets all last night helping as we could. The need is overwhelming. We don't yet see any widespread emergency relief efforts actually happening on the ground. They must still be getting organized. I went to an EU office today to use their satellite phone and they said that as they understand planes with emergency supplies (tents, medical supplies, food, tools, blankets...) were supposed to fly in this evening. I really hope so. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Tomorrow we are planning to go to the logistics base of MINUSTAH to see if we can help with the relief effort in some small way. The community behind where I have been staying, called Narette, is really in need of aid. I would like to advocate on their behalf and see what can do for them -- the homeless and the dead. I hope that we are able to access the supplies that will allow us to integrate into the relief effort in a meaningful way. 

You have probably heard that many people have evacuated but please know that I feel safe and am with a very good group of people. I registered at the Embassy today so I can evacuate if need be. I am not sure when I will be able to be in touch again but I will seek out opportunities. I hope the communication situation changes.

Thank you for sending your strength, thoughts, and compassion to all the people who are struggling in Haiti tonight.

Elizabeth

Elizabeth Sipple   
Rue Daniel Brun #54A
Bwa Moket
Petionville, Haiti
011 (509)  662 6628

Zweig has been able to communicate via email with her husband, Tom Barefoot, who provided updates to The Valley Reporter.

"Photos are difficult of large crowds -- that is not safe for us. Today we're off to some villages no one has been to yet. Things deteriorating healthwise -- not enough medicines. We treated 150 to 200 yesterday at Didi's, held a medical camp for local people who are living outside, no homes, etc. Had the help of three doctors from Chile, lots of infected wounds that would be treatable if we had the drugs," Zweig reported via email.

"In a phone call from Haiti early Tuesday morning, Joni lamented the lack of basic medicines like antibiotics that is causing treatable wounds to become infected and life-threatening. She says they are doing what they can, but medical supplies and drugs are badly needed everywhere. Hospitals have run out of supplies. The two schools that we have been running for 20 years survived, one with no damage and the other with minor damage which has been repaired so that the buildings are safe to use as clinics and feeding centers. Joni set up a coordination center in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, to coordinate with other NGOs and with our teams inside Haiti," Barefoot wrote in an email.

Amurtel is providing relief inside Port-au Prince and is also setting up child-friendly receiving stations in the countryside outside the demolished city, where stability, food, water and medical care can be more easily provided. For more information or to make a donation go to www.amurtel.org, or checks can be sent to AMURTEL, P.O. Box 232, Warren, VT 05674.

Other local fund-raising efforts include American Flatbread benefit bakes as well as a bake sale held at the Big Picture Theater over the January 16 and 17 weekend when Anda Gulley and Ayla Fidel baked and sold eight dozen cookies to raise $102.06 to send to UMCOR, a nonprofit, international, humanitarian aid organization that provides relief from hunger and disasters. The money will be earmarked specifically for Haiti.

Small Dog Electronics last week was matching donations made to Haiti relief and portions of the MountainTop Film Festival proceeds also went to Haitian relief.

The American Flatbread benefit bakes will take place in Waitsfield on January 22, in Middlebury through January 23, and in Burlington through January 27.

Waitsfield native Daniel Richards, CEO of Global Rescue, has also been active in the Haitian relief effort. The son of Stuart and Miriam Richards was among the first to be able to fly relief supplies and personnel into Port au Prince and continues to provide space on flights for medical personnel as well as emergency supplies.

January 20 email update from Joni Zweig

Update 1

Namaskar all, finally internet access and electricity! I am a bit overwhelmed.

Yesterday, we went up to Carrofore with our nurse and three Chilean doctors and one of their nurses, plus lots of meds. One of the teachers at our school lives up there and had come to see us to ask for some help. This is an area that was very badly affected and has a lot of untreated injuries.

We packed up the truck and, after arriving on this steep mountainside community, we offered our assistance. Immediately people came forward and found us a flat space that was relatively safe to set up on. Then they organized some security on their own, called all the people, and we were in business. We set up tarps overhead to ward off the intense heat, and later, the rain. Some of the first patients were in pretty bad shape. One older man had been taken to the hospital after the earthquake and they had released him with a few bandages in place. 

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When he was carried in on a board he could barely breathe and was in very bad shape. His house had fallen on top of him crushing his chest, with the result of two ruptured lungs and air filling his chest and abdomen. The facial injuries were bad but not life-threatening, but the internal injuries were. The doctors were able to give him something for the pain and arranged for one of their team to see him in the hospital, although they did not think he would make it. We used our Amurt/el truck to transport him.

INFECTED WOUNDS

There were a number of people with fractured legs, arms, hands and feet, who had not been treated yet, along with infected wounds. Earlier that morning we had seen a person with serious gangrene in his foot from a deep wound. It is terrible to think he may lose his foot. Here in Haiti people do not have many options for work, for transport, etc., and the loss of a foot will be a terrible blow to this man and his family. And all because there was not adequate medical care in the first 48 hours.
 
After we finished seeing patients, I asked two of the local men to take me on a tour of the area. The amount of damage was overwhelming: their church, their school, and just about every house on the mountainside. Many, many lost their lives here and many more were injured. All were living outside in the street under sheets and blankets tied overhead. There is little water or food and very unsafe conditions. Everyone is worried about what will happen to the pieces of wall that are still standing if a hard rain falls.

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A COMMUNITY

It is important for the public to understand these people are like families everywhere. They worked and saved to build their homes. They chose furniture, curtains and decorated their homes. Their kids had toys and books and friends came over to play. They were a community moving forward in their lives. Now they have lost everything but a few clothes they could pull from the ruins. Living on the streets, no toilets, no facilities for bathing and, most important, no idea how to rebuild. Needless to say, they do not have insurance. When I asked my guides about employment, they shared that few now have jobs or any hope of getting the money needed to rebuild.

What they still have though is a strong sense of community and a commitment to take care of each other. This along with the inherent strength and determination will have to provide the foundation for their future.
 
Today we got news that we have a signed contract with the World Food Program. This means we can finally do some serious food distribution. Dhyana, our Amurtel coordinator, made a great contact with a Spanish corporation who has promised us tents. So things are moving forward.

OK, off to a UN meeting on medical response.

Love to all,
Ciras (Joni) 

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Update 2

From: Joni Zweig

Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 2:38 PM

Subject: please forward to distribution list

I was able to see some CNN news the other night when we were doing internet. There was someone named Anderson something or other broadcasting from Port au Prince. He seems like a good guy, but I felt really bad that all CNN was only presenting the Haitian people in such a negative light.

I realize I only saw this one clip, so perhaps that's not an accurate statement. But from what I saw, I can say, other than the looting, etc., but the reality is quite different. The communities we are visiting and working in are filled with hard-working, caring people, who are reaching out to their neighbors to make it work for everyone. They are not waiting for aid but doing whatever they can to make shelters and making sure everyone is okay. I would love to take this reporter to some of these places to see the other side of the violence and looting, i.e., the real Haitians.

Any idea how to do this?

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