Kevin Cavanaugh is a Senior program officer at the U.S. Fund who has been on assignment in Haiti since October. He returns to the states on Monday, bringing with him the field experience of witnessing double disasters in Haiti.
As a visitor, I’m technically non-essential staff in Haiti. During the hurricane, I was dismissed from one base to ride out the storm in another. When I think about everything I’ve seen I feel guilty about that. I was completely safe. If things had gotten ugly, I would have been evacuated. If things had gotten even uglier, I could have run 400 yards to the American Embassy. But so many here don’t have that luxury.
|A girl in the flooded city of Gonaives.|
When you’ve been to places like Mais Gate Camp and Terrain Acra in Port-au-Prince, you’re forced to acknowledge the vulnerability and suffering faced by tens of thousands of Haitians each day. And that’s just two camps. Mais Gate alone hosts about 10,000 people. I thought of them during the hurricane.
I had the opportunity to go back to Mais Gate on Wednesday.
Evidence of the storm’s passing was scattered about the camp. The tents looked like they had survived for the most part, but there was more debris than usual. A mixture of brown and green mud clung to the soles of my shoes.
I was extremely relieved when I saw that the camp’s UNICEF-supported baby tent is still standing and offering young mothers its services. I took one last opportunity to talk to Mauviette, the tent’s head nurse, who has managed the tent since January 13. She has a family of her own – two daughters aged 15 and 12. As a nurse, she worked in a hospital and taught classes at a nursing school. Both facilities were destroyed on January 12.
She told me: “I’m a woman, a mother, a feminist with a family instinct. I can’t give to everybody, but I have to try. People are so desperate.”
|Cavanaugh for U.S. Fund for UNICEF|
|Mauviette (r.), a nurse in Marais Gate camp uses a doll to show parents how to care for their newborns.|
Port-au-Prince was spared the worst of the storm, but even moderate flooding is a disaster here, as it increases the risk of the transmission of waterborne diseases such as cholera, which has already claimed the lives of more than 520 Haitians and hospitalized over 7,400.
UNICEF is regularly sending staff into the field to assess the flooding in communities near the epicenter of the outbreak and in the rising number of communities where suspected cases have arisen. UNICEF and its UN and NGO partners are bent on halting the disease’s spread, particularly in Port-au-Prince.
Fortunately, the women and children of Mais Gate have people like Mauviette on their side. She’s fully aware of the symptoms of cholera and mindful of its impact. She’s putting her family instinct to good use by watching out for children’s health and listening to their mothers each day for any sign of the disease.
Current circumstances are dealing a blow to Haiti. People like Mauviette help lessen the pain. In that way, she is not just an ordinary individual. I cannot distinguish her from UNICEF staff. She is playing as much a part of the recovery and transformation of Haiti as anyone carrying a UNICEF badge. She and everyone who has ever volunteered for, donated to, or advocated on behalf of UNICEF are all a part of the UNICEF family. And I am honored to have met her.