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Locals Discuss Haiti Relief

Audio

Aired 2/2/10

What kind of relief have San Diego residents provided to the earthquake victims in Haiti? We speak to two locals about the work their relief organizations are doing in Haiti.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The loss of life and devastation in Haiti after last month's 7.0 earthquake is almost unimaginable. Last week the Haitian president revealed that 170,000 bodies have been recovered and well over a million people have been left homeless. But even after weeks of TV coverage, we're left with only screen-size images of rescue teams searching the rubble or doctors treating victims in medical tents. The real view comes from the relief workers who've been there, and it’s a great pleasure to have two of those relief workers, both San Diegans, joining us today. My guests are Darryl Hall. He’s team leader with the Rescue Task Force. Darryl and seven other Rescue Task Force members returned home to San Diego yesterday after providing relief to the earthquake victims in Haiti. And, Darryl, welcome to These Days.

DARRYL HALL (Team Leader, Rescue Task Force): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Janine Schooley is Senior Vice President for Programs with Project Concern International. Janine, you’re still in Haiti.

JANINE SCHOOLEY (Project Concern International): That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: Where are you in Haiti and what kind of work is Project Concern International doing?

SCHOOLEY: Well, I’m sitting on the balcony of a house that wasn’t damaged, fortunately. I’m in an area called Tegedeel (sp), which is in the capital of Port-au-Prince. And I’m looking out over a canyon area that’s just filled with all kinds of makeshift tents and houses that have fallen down and, I mean, in every neighborhood, whether it’s in the downtown or in the red zone, the sort of shantytown area, or in the more affluent areas, you’ll see the same kind of thing, just houses crumbled, buildings crumbled, and people living in basically tents made of sheets.

CAVANAUGH: Janine, can you tell us, in your estimation, what stage Haiti is in in terms of relief and rescue efforts?

SCHOOLEY: Well, I’m sure Darryl will be able to say a little bit more about the immediate rescue, search and rescue. That’s not part of what I’ve been involved in. My sense is that we’re still in very early stages of emergency response. There’s still all kinds of problems related to the trauma. There’s a lot of sepsis, unfortunately, because of conditions during surgery and whatnot being optimal. People definitely need shelter. They still need food and water, though that’s coming. Shelter’s a big issue. There’s a lot of concern about rain on the part of the people of Haiti. And there’s definitely a need for just, you know, getting back to normal and I think that’s going to be – You see pockets of that but the schools are closed, there’s no real infrastructure or systems going on so people are sort of getting back to their own sort of normal day-to-day activities within the settlements or their tents but there is no sort of infrastructure or service that’s really helping them other than the sort of 900, I guess, organizations that are here and the U.N. and the military that’s here.

CAVANAUGH: Darryl Hall, you are just back from Haiti. In fact, you just got back yesterday. How long were you there and what kind of work were you doing over there?

HALL: We were there 14 days. The first, we set up a list of missions that we needed to take care of. One of the priorities was to fly into the U.S. embassy. There was several medical teams that were without particular medicine for crush syndrome while they were still pulling some of the victims out and it was paramount that they had this. So once we delivered the medicine to certain rescue and triage units, we ended up delivering medicines to different various locations and then once we completed most of the missions for particular areas, distributing that, we ended up starting to restore power. A school near the border, referred to as Love A Child, it’s just a school and it’s up on a mesa looking down over the city, we had created a triage and a hospital system so they could perform surgeries and a lot of amputations, and we set up tents to house what started off as about 30 patients. By the time we left, we had had just about 250, a lot of people all over the place. So power was important so they could operate 24 hours.

CAVANAUGH: Now your team, the Rescue Task Force from here in San Diego, has a very unique skill that you can bring to emergency situations. Tell us about that.

HALL: Yeah, we typically work disasters, anything from broad scale mutual aid here in the states to what we call mini- or micro-disasters where anything from cars crashing into things, structure fires where people need us to come out and secure the electric. We do a lot of other different types of things that we’re trained to do as well as some first aid, and so we’re somewhat acclimated to these types of situations on a regular basis. So what typically is normal, we come into areas most of the time that are abnormal.

CAVANAUGH: But you guys restore power for the most part, right?

HALL: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: That’s what you do.

HALL: Correct. We’re trained, some of our guys, from the generated 500,000 all the way down to usable voltage that these people need to run their equipments and medical supplies.

CAVANAUGH: Janine, being in Haiti, what are some of the biggest challenges you and your team still face?

SCHOOLEY: Yeah, we’re facing just any number of challenges. One is logistics, you know, the availability of trucks, for example, to haul non-food items and food and, ultimately when we start doing some cash-for-work, to haul rubble, do the rubble removal. So trucks is really an issue. Communications has been a challenge. You know, I carry around two different local cell phones and a satellite phone and we’ve got Skype and even, as you know, today that’s just been a challenge. The – So communications is one. And just coordination. You know, there’s a lot of effort, a huge effort to coordinate but with so many different organizations trying very quickly to give aid, it’s – it is a challenge to stay coordinated, stay up with the hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails and communications that we need. And we’re a pretty, you know, small staff here so we’re looking to, you know, expand and to hire some local staff and work with local partners because, you know, there’s just no way you can do this work without really connecting to the local, whether it’s the Ministry of Health or local community-based organizations or networks. So just identifying those and getting those folks trained and onboard is – it’s been a challenge as well.

CAVANAUGH: Darryl, I know that you and members of your team went to help victims of the tsunami back in 2006, I think it was. Tell us, what was Haiti like in comparison. Is there any comparison between the two disasters?

HALL: The magnitude of people that it affected, in the tsunami it was roughly 300,000 but it spread over four different countries and it was coastal line properties where the water had destroyed anywheres from two to 12 miles inland. But we had resources at our back. Haiti, I did my logistics and my homework prior to traveling over there and it was very evident being there and being throughout different parts of the country that this had affected an entire country. It wasn’t just a coastal, it wasn’t just the outskirts or border. It’s a country that’s completely isolated by water with one border to the Dominican Republic so their only resource is, immediately having the port, you know, dysfunctional, is aid from the Dominican Republic and transportation coming into Port-au-Prince Airport, which had became a military operation there.

CAVANAUGH: Now we see, Darryl, images on TV. What is it that we’re not seeing?

HALL: Well, first of all, the one thing many people have asked and – The images you’re seeing here at home are very accurate but it doesn’t depict the entire country. I would say it would be impossible to capture all the damage, all the effects it’s had on that entire country, that culture. You just can’t capture how broad the damage really is.

CAVANAUGH: And, Janine, I’m going to pose…

SCHOOLEY: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …the same question to you. What are we not seeing when we see TV coverage of the damage in Haiti?

SCHOOLEY: Yeah, I think it’s just that the sort of overwhelming scale of it. I haven’t been outside of Port-au-Prince myself but just within the capital city, everywhere you look – and you can take a photo of that and I guess you can pan around in a video, but you just can’t get the day-in, day-out, all-around-you scope and scale of it. The density of the city is such that, you know, just so many people affected, so many buildings and so many aspects of society and culture. Just, you know, I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of the National Palace. It’s like if our White House was destroyed and that’s the symbol – The symbol of that, it’s not just the country physically, it’s the country’s essence has been really, you know, hit. And then you also don’t get the sort of smells and the sounds the way you would if you were here. You know, the smells especially have been difficult and the sounds are starting to come around. You hear a lot more singing and laughing and kids playing. I see a group of boys playing soccer right now, or football. You don’t really get that, you know, on the TV and in the images that we’re seeing on CNN and that kind of thing.

CAVANAUGH: That is very interesting. Darryl, how did the situation improve in Haiti while you were there? What did you see that were hopeful signs? Like Janine is just telling us about there are some kids playing some soccer right now.

HALL: Yeah, when we got there, it was very evident that the people in the streets had a very uncertain, unstable, look. One of our team members is a Haitian, he’s a CHP officer up in L.A., and he’d even said I can see it on my people’s face that there’s – they’re very much in shock. They’re very uncertain. There’s literally no government. It’s completely disassembled. And I would say after about the 10th day we were there, you could see people were trying to do their normal activities even though without the direction or knowledge from their government what they were supposed to be doing, you could see that individually they were just trying to settle down, try to relax, and just try to do what they think what would be a normal thing that they would do prior to the quake. And…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I was going to ask you, Darryl, I know that this is – when rescue workers go in, it’s not all about them, it’s all about the people that they’re trying to help, but I’m wondering for you, you know, leaving San Diego, going to Haiti, how different was that, the environment for you? The level of work and stress that you dealt with for the past 14 days?

HALL: This was definitely more stressful. We didn’t have accommodations like we would in any other place. We had to manage our own food and water there, and as she can agree with that, I’m sure. It wasn’t readily accessible. There are no stores. There were a few in certain remote areas that would be open, and you certainly didn’t want to spend any time inside buildings as things were continually shaking there within the first 10 days quite a bit. So it was quite different. It was – you had to be careful. The people there were a lot different. It’s a very desperate place with desperate people. Food and water is the most important thing to them. There’s the awareness of they know what’s going on but unaware of what has happened to people. There’s many people they said they don’t know where their mom or dad is. There’s certain parents who don’t know where their children are. And when they’ve taken people to have certain things done, the Mercy ship, they’ve done operations, they bring them back in, they disperse them to different locations so they can be medically treated or at least monitored for a certain amount of time and then we filter them into refugee camps until they can hook up. So there’s this – Everything was a lot different. It was – Certainly, we were on guard. Working at night was pretty much improbable. It – you know, security, different levels of security that you had to monitor your team and keep them safe. The safety of our team was first and foremost.

CAVANAUGH: Darryl, are there may – is there maybe an image or two that sticks in your mind from your experience in Haiti?

HALL: Well, there’s several. One that sticks in my mind was a girl when we went to this one camp. She was probably about an 8 year old and she had just had – she came in and had below the knee amputated. And by about the sixth day, they took her back into a triage – a mobile triage van from the Dominican Republic, where we were at and it was parked on site, and they had cut off just above the knee. And when I had came back to resupply them and check on the electric system, close to leaving, I just happened to be walking by as a helicopter was landing and they were pulling a – somebody out of just having surgery, and I walked up and I – it appeared to be the same girl but it was a much greater portion, and I asked the surgeon, I said, how did it go? And he looked at me, he was a bit teared up, and he had said, it went okay. And I said, is this a reamputee? And he said, yeah, it’s the third time. It was the same girl and they had taken it up to about the mid-thigh. That stood out. One little child, maybe 3 or 4 at best, had 80% of his body in plaster with a broomstick plastered to keep his legs separated, apparently a multitude of fractures and pelvis area, hip, arms, and his face was so badly damaged that we had happened to have had some applesauce with us and we ended up, you know, giving that to him to try to have the doctors and medical aids just try to get something in his stomach. There’s certain things that will definitely remain with me. My team, unbelievable courage and what they did there was just unbelievable. We had quite a great team.

CAVANAUGH: Janine, how long are you planning on staying in Haiti?

SCHOOLEY: Well, I personally am leaving on Thursday morning but we have a team member coming in today. I need to get down to the airport to pick her up if she’s on the flight from Santa Domingo, it’s hard to know. And then we have other team members coming in next week. We have some funding that is just getting started so we’ll be hiring some staff. Our Haitian staff member, our sort of country director at the moment, is going to be here another few weeks and then we’ll have to find probably some kind of a longer-term solution for our staffing for – to replace her. So we’ve got people cycling in and out but we’ll be here at least for a year, that’s our plan and, hopefully, for longer because we’re, you know, we want to be part of the longer term recovery and rehabilitation solution going forward. So we hope to be here for quite a while.

CAVANAUGH: Janine, just really quickly, if I may, I want to ask you both, you first, Janine, what can concerned San Diegans do to help out with relief efforts?

SCHOOLEY: Well, one thing is just to make sure to keep this at the sort of forefront of everybody’s hearts and minds, and don’t let it disappear just because it may not be on the front page of the paper. Just realize that, you know, this is a crisis that continues on. There’s a lot more to be done and it has – I just don’t want it to go out of sight and out of mind. So anything that San Diegans can do to help keep that sort of message alive and keep connected and keep asking the questions like you’ve been asking and stay interested, you know, from kids all the way up to, you know, adults. And then, of course, resources, cash resources are always the most flexible and, therefore, the most useful. I know not everybody can go deep in their pockets even though it seems like folks already have quite a bit even with the economic crisis so we’re thankful for that but cash resources always the most helpful.

CAVANAUGH: And, Darryl, we have just about a minute left. I’d like you to answer what can San Diegans do?

HALL: Yeah, Janine’s right. It’s really important that people understand that this isn’t a crisis that’s just going to go away in a week or a month. It’s going to take years. That it’s important they understand how to donate money, where their money’s going. It’s important that they understand organizations that are also – they hear the term NGO, non-governmental organizations, which is what Rescue Task Force does, that’s the team I’m part of. And they need to know that it’s organizations like that that we get that money donated, it’s a nonprofit organization, that we hit the ground and it’s teams like this out of San Diego that go in and we do some of the things that the obvious isn’t being done, the search and rescue, the medical teams, we go in and set the power up and deliver and set up tents and do all these things. There’s a broad spectrum of labor that’s required. It’s a need there, it’s a necessity. And it’s, as she had said, the funding that comes in is what makes that possible and it’s so important that people know that and it’s so important that when we come back from things like this—and I hope you have a safe travel coming back—that it’s important that we continue to educate the public on what’s going on there and how they can do their part in helping. A lot of people want to assist but they feel the urgency or the compelling feeling to do it but they’re unable to so it’s important that we’re there for them to channel that energy.

CAVANAUGH: Darryl Hall, team leader with Rescue Task Force, and Janine Schooley, Senior Vice President for Programs with Project Concern International. I want to thank you both for speaking with me today.

HALL: You’re very welcome.

SCHOOLEY: You’re welcome, Maureen. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Now, for more information on organizations helping in Haiti, you can go to our website, KPBS.org/thesedays. And coming up, e-mails and ethics. We’ll examine how scientists manage their research data. That’s next as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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