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News from Haiti

February 2, 2010 was my birthday — and it marked my second week in Haiti as the Senior Representative of the Secretary HHS.  It was an incredible opportunity to see both the tremendous outpouring of response; and our HHS assets who, as of February 3, HHS has assisted 24,570 patients in Haiti and in whom I am incredibly proud!

But, the most memorable, yet heart wrenching, event was to walk among the men, women, and children of an Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camp.  The one I visited was not sanctioned by the Government of Haiti, but a spontaneous accumulation of an estimated over 200,000 Haitians.   It was below the (formerly plush) golf resort of Petionville which is situated on top of a hill, south of the city of Port-au-Prince.  The US Army has occupied the facility and HHS established a 35 person medical team (Disaster Medical Assistance Team – DMAT).  They saw literally 100’s of patients every day!  “Strike Teams” of 4 to 6 roved through the IDP camp daily to seek out the very sick & injured.  Gangrene, open wounds, fractured bones, women in labor either too early or way past due, or children with a variety of infectious disease – EACH DAY!!!

Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp

Dozens lined up and circled a kiosk where a physician sat like Santa Claus chatting with a mother who held a little girl of perhaps 4 or 5 who lay limp across her lap.  The little girls eyes revealed were as the Japanese would describe as “Dame” – “the emptiness of the eye of a horse”.  No expectation of relief, only that soul grabbing gaze of one who had given up.

IDP Camp lining up for doctor

Yet, I witnessed little boys who had constructed small kites from garbage who were flying them successfully and competing with each other. 

IDP Camp boy made kite from trash - flew very well

 I saw a little boy pounding on a can with a stick while two little girls danced to his makeshift music.  As I passed by with my camera, children were like children everywhere – posing for the camera and smiling with all the innocence of youth.  Their mothers were busy trying to wash or nurse infants, make food, or wash clothes in little basins of non-potable water.

There were entrepreneur vendors – food (cooked and raw), clothing, soap, even silver jewelry!  The problem is that there seems to be no cash for such items. 

IDP Camp food for sale

But in all that I witnessed, the children will forever haunt my dreams.  I will never forget.

Children of the IDP Camp

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