U.S. Fund for UNICEF President and CEO Caryl Stern visited Haiti last week. These are her notes from the field.
Flying in, you first see the beautiful rock mountains and for a minute you are a bit awed by them. But then the tent cities come into view, literally lining the runways one after another. And the helicopters! Eight to 10 taking off and landing right next to us as we taxi in.
David Cook’s song “this is the time in my life” is playing as we land, and as the Haitians look out the windows longingly, all of us have tears in our eyes. Most of the passengers are Haitians — coming to look for family or to find what is left of the life they left behind here. The rest appear to be volunteers — USAid, CompassionCare, all sorts of people.
We see the cracks in the building as we pull up to the gate. Everyone is friendly and there seems to be a camaraderie amongst the volunteers as we wait to clear passport control. But the airport is complete chaos. Luggage is being unloaded everywhere in the main hall and you just have to follow the crowd until you find yours.
|U.S. Fund for UNICEF/2010|
|U.S. Fund’s Caryl Stern arriving in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.|
After almost an hour we find our boxes, our two huge duffels, our two suitcases – packed to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, water, food, UNICEF shirts, etc. Our clothes are in the knapsacks on our backs that we carried onto the plane.
Outside the airport is a crowd of hundreds: some waiting for friends and family, many asking to carry our bags in exchange for money, and others just asking for money. We find our UNICEF colleagues and our jeep and are immediately surrounded by teens clinging to the vehicle with their hands out. For quite sometime it is impossible to drive — the crowd is thick, the road is jammed, and the scene gives new meaning to the word gridlock. Only the scooters are moving as they weave between us all.
Along the road we pass lots where houses once stood and where now there is rubble or half a house and a tent, sometimes two.
As we cross the gate to the temporary UN compound space there are soldiers everywhere. They are from many countries, and their uniforms blaze each country’s name.
Some guests are staying on a boat offshore, but we have chosen to stay here with our colleagues so that we will be able to attend staff meetings and be part of other discussions. We are greeted at “UNICEFLand” as if we are long lost friends — lots of hugs. We pitch our tents alongside UNICEF staff, who are living in one and two-man tents. There is currently one shower for the team of 174 people but a second one is being erected. There are also 3 latrines (2 arrived yesterday – our timing is perfect!)
Offices for each program area – nutrition + health, child protection, water + sanitation, education, etc. are set up in small containers. On our first night in, we have our security briefing and get IDs. The briefing covers what to do in case of aftershocks (last night there was a big one and everyone is still unnerved by it).