Haiti quake: Feeding the thousands

A volunteer fills cans with lentils as part of the food aid to 50,000 displaced Haitians living on the Petionville golf course Photo by Lane Hartill/Catholic Relief Services 2010.

By Lane Hartill, CRS Communications Officer, Port-au-Prince.  CRS is a Caritas member in the USA.

A lot of people around the world are asking the same question about Haiti: What’s taking so long for food to get out.

Spend a morning at the Petionville golf course, and you’ll have your answer.

The once-swanky country club in Port-au-Prince is now home to some 50,000 displaced Haitians. The camp is already taking on the trappings of a community. In one section of the camp, you can charge your cell phone, call Europe at a phone kiosk, buy vegetables, and get your haircut.

Cardboard street signs are even popping up on some trash-strewn paths. The place is so packed you have to turn sideways to get to some tents.

Behind the flowered bed sheets that serve as walls, you see shadows moving, hear babies crying and smell the akra sizzling in oil, the flat cakes made of flour and spices that Haitians love. The sun feels like it’s closer here, and most people lay in the shade, fanning themselves, trying to figure out how to make it through another day.

Most people keep their eyes averted from one of the hills at the camp. That’s where some Haitians bathe in their underpants, hiding behind some scrawny trees that offer only a suggestion of privacy.

But when veteran CRS/Caritas workers go to the camp, they see problems—and solutions. One of the biggest issues: Tens of thousands of people living in shelters made of bed sheets tied to sticks. In a country that has been denuded of trees, lumber is a valuable commodity. Residents have used machetes to hack off limbs of some of the trees lining the fairways. All that’s left are trunks that look chewed and frayed. The rolling fairways are balding, with the brittle yellow grass getting further ground into the dust every day.

When the rainy season starts in late March, the place is going to turn into a Haitian version of Woodstock: thousands of people living in mud. And that has a lot of people worried.

CRS/Caritas has already ordered plastic sheeting to improve the shelter of thousands. There are plans to start cash for work programs. Haitians who lost their homes will start clearing rubble in their former neighbourhoods to make space for new, longer-lasting temporary shelters.

But the urgent need right now is food. Close to 200 tons of food will be brought into the Petionville Club and stored on the tennis courts. The food is packed in 100-pound sacks. It’s offloaded from 10-ton trucks and boosted onto the heads of Haitians one sack at a time. From there, the food is divided up by volunteers sitting on the ground measuring out rations for each family. It’s then repackaged and prepared for distribution.
But getting that food to all the people in the camp is the challenge.

When CRS/Caritas distributed more than 1,000 food kits a few days ago at the golf course, thousands of Haitians thronged to the site, pushing against the rope cordon, wanting food. Thanks to Haitian volunteers, CRS/Caritas staff and the US Army’s 82 Airborne, order was maintained, but the frustration was palpable. It could have turned unruly quickly with that many hungry people. CRS/Caritas knows from years of experience you can’t just back up a truck full of food and fling open the doors. There needs to be structure to keep people safe.

That’s why a group of CRS and Caritas staff and volunteers have fanned out in the camp. Some have cans of spray paint, others hold on to about 100 yards of blue rope. A handful of volunteers circles a collection of makeshift tents with the rope. Every shelter in that circle will receive a ticket. Then an X will be painted on the shelter.

There are so many shelters, so close together, the volunteers want to make sure they reach everyone.

Then the team goes tent to tent, pulling back curtains and asking who is the head of the house, then giving them a voucher for two weeks worth of food, stuff like vegetable oil, lentils and bulgar.

It’s a rudimentary method, but it works. And at this point, that’s what’s most important: Finding something that works.

Petionville golf course

Relief efforts in Petionville golf course  is receiving support from the worldwide Caritas network as part of their appeal for Haiti. This blog first appeared unedited on CRS voices.


Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Haiti, Haiti, Latin America

3 responses to “Haiti quake: Feeding the thousands

  1. Tim Devlin

    There seems to be a great effort in Port-au-Prince and other large centers like Jakmal. Is there any word of assistance reaching out to the more remote villages? Is there word of plans to transport or drop food etc. into remote places?

    • caritasinternationalis

      We’re working on the rural areas identifying distribution points there that will get aid to people in real need. Stay tuned and we’ll up date you on this.

  2. Vicki Lynn

    I read this below and was so encouraged.
    It reminded me of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
    Can we believe God would do it to-day as well ?
    I don’t know anything about this organisation, but they were very encouraged.

    Food for 50 Children in Uganda Feeds Over 200 on Show Mercy International Trip

    By ShowMercyIntl
    We planned for 50 kids to eat. We bought food for 50 kids to eat. Over 200 showed up along with some adults. EVERYONE ate until they were full and there was much food left over. It was amazing. Team members were crying when they saw that we only had food for some of the kids. They rejoiced when they saw everyone eat!

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