*CHICAGO – More than 700 people have died from cholera in Haiti in an epidemic that might have been prevented had international agencies heeded warnings from aid workers, asserted the Rev. Claude Joseph Pressoir, a director of the Chicago-based Remember the Children aid organization.
Pressoir and her husband, Robert, also a minister, traveled to Haiti following the devastating earthquake Jan. 12 that leveled parts of that country, killed at least 300,000 people, left 300,000 amputees and more than a million homeless under tent cities. In addition to the deaths, 9,000 people are being treated for symptoms of the disease. Remember the Children provides shelter, food and medicines to children in Haiti.
“I warned the government to take immediate preventive health care measures during a television interview one day after the earthquake,” Pressoir said. “I urged them to take necessary steps to clean water, implement a sanitation system and to provide nutrition assistance and vaccinations.
“It seems that very little was done toward prevention and now more than 544 people have died. These are deaths that perhaps could have been prevented,” she said. “There has been a lack of coordination, a lack of planning, a lack of caring.
“The international community has been tremendous in its response and aid to Haiti and for that we are very thankful,” Pressoir said, “but we have a sense that there is no one in charge, that agencies are not talking to each other or to Haitians, that desperately needed supplies are sitting in warehouses month after month because of government ineptitude and corruption by some workers.
“Ten months after the quake, we still are talking about the magnitude and the volume of the disaster, the death toll and the devastation. If we had applied some preventive measure, tried to add some structure, even one day or one week at a time, we would have had some effective results by now.”
A fundamental problem, she said, is failure by the United Nations, as the lead international organization, to effectively network with grassroots organizations and the people most affected by the quake, especially those living in slums.
“There seems to be a large number of agencies from the U.N. and other countries involved but not many Haitian-run organizations have been given opportunities to network or partake of the global resources and funds given.
“We know the country, we know the culture,” she said. “They are not empowering us to do the work. They should give us resources as Haitian nationals to deal directly with our people to boost the effectiveness of the relief effort. We speak the language, know the hearts of the people, understand their mentality and their thought process.
“Instead, we find ourselves in a state of economic slavery. The way the things are being done, it’s like we are in bondage. Those in control are not giving us the means or the structure we need to create,” Pressoir added. “Like Denzel Washington said: ‘We can not rebuild for the Haitians; we have to do it with the Haitians.’ There is lack of communication between the different social strata in Haiti, lack of unity and togetherness of purpose, vision and bonding in the process of rebuilding.
“I say to the international community: Even though you have the economic upper hand, it is still our land. It is still our people. Why don’t you go through us to do the work? Why do you want to do it yourself when you don’t even know the land?”
Nonprofit organizations have made a lot of mistakes because of this, she said. “There are instances where mistakes have been made in handling and processing hundreds of relief containers because they are not handled by Haitian nationals who know and could shortcut the customs process.
“This has caused many containers of rice, beans, medicine to expire before they are released from customs, truly a huge waste of resources and goods so greatly needed and expected by the people,” Pressoir said.
Added the Rev. Robert Pressoir: “We have 8 million people. Give them training, award the rebuilding contracts to Haitian-owned companies, which is a great way to increase employment and bring more resources into Haitian hands instead of favoring foreign companies. You see Dominican companies, American companies doing the rebuilding, getting the big contracts. That is not right. If you really desire to create opportunities, hire Haitians, deal with Haitian-owned and run companies with a component for training and management accountability. We must rebuild the economy. Why not teach the young people, train them to use equipment so they have skills that will be useful not only now but in the future?
“The international community has contributed a lot to Haiti,” Robert Pressoir said. “It has been doing great work and I believe it is genuine in its compassion and love for Haiti but we are making an appeal: that the international agencies work closer with Haitian nationals in Haiti at all levels – administrative, medical, nutritional, agricultural and educational – and instead of just telling us what to do, work together with us,” he said.
“We need things to function better. We want to be more effective. We have a lot of people who depend on us and we want to be able to help them and give them hope,” Robert Pressoir said. “We have hundreds of children waiting for Remember the Children to get better, to get a better location to house them so that they can have a better life.
“We cannot effectively accomplish our mission if things continue disorganized, if there is no improvement in communicating and networking with each other,” he said.
Jerry Thomas Public Relations