I can't imagine a country less well-prepared for an earthquake than Haiti, says Adele Kierans, a professional fundraiser for international aid charities, who spent some time in the country. "I've never seen such poverty anywhere, they have absolutely nothing, and no resources to deal with such a disaster."
Adele was in Haiti on a fact-finding mission, reviewing projects run by an international charity in the slums of Port au Prince. She vividly recalls landing at the main airport:
“It is one of tiniest airports that I have ever been to, it's no wonder there are problems bringing in aid," she says. "You get off the plane, walk through a small holding bay - which is the airport building - and into the arrivals area. This is actually outside the main door of the building. Suddenly you are completely overwhelmed by noise, heat, smell, colour and crowds. Waiting is a huge mass of people shouting and calling, they surround you, and instantly you feel that your personal space is grossly invaded. That's a feature of life in Port au Prince - you never have any space for yourself.”
The city slums are one-room shacks, built of breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofs. They climb the steep sides of the hills that make up this city, one piled almost on top of the next. The streets are of mud, and the sewers are open gullies. Yet living in these dreadful conditions were some of the most welcoming people that Adele had ever met:
“They were so generous and giving, they would insist on cooking for us, and then would watch us eat, and we were afraid that we were eating the only food they had. But you couldn't refuse, as that would offend them. One of our projects was a Nutrition Clinic which helped parents to treat their children's malnutrition with foods that were locally available. When we visited, all the children were lined up in their best clothes, waiting quietly to meet us. It was very moving. The Haitian people have resilience, strength and a strong faith, which is very important to them, and I heard that they were singing hymns in the streets during the quake. They also have pride in themselves and their country, and don't like asking for help. But they have to ask, and now more than ever.
"Conditions were so bad before the earthquake. There were only a few hospitals, and a third of the population has no access to medical care at all. And as well as all the usual diseases you find in a tropical country, Haiti is afflicted with one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Now the hospitals have gone, and there is no water, no food, nothing, just searing heat and dead bodies. I was there, I met the people, and now I find that I cannot turn off the television, and I cannot sleep for thinking about what these lovely people are going through."
Recent pictures of post-earthquake Port au Prince here:
Adele currently has no connections with any of the charities that work in Haiti, but suggests that giving to Concern would be a good option, as they have had an office there for 16 years so know the country and have people well placed to help. Contact Concern here: