Amid Cholera Epidemic, Haitian Immigrant Community Sends Soap, Money and Prayers

Damage from the 2010 Haiti earthquake

Damage after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. (Photo: United Nations Development Program).

“It makes me feel bad,” said Lucia Anglade, a Haitian immigrant and founder of the Long Island, NY non-profit Life and Hope Haiti that supports a school in Milot, a town in the north of the ravaged Caribbean country. “Again we have a lot of people dying.”

Anglade is like most Haitian immigrants who are in despair over the  cholera outbreak barely nine months after a powerful earthquake flattened their homeland in January, killing nearly 230,000. The spread of the bacteria-borne disease has killed at least 1,300 people with about 57,000 confirmed cases reported.

The country, which has hardly had a chance to catch its breath from back-to-back crises,  is now heading into a national election on November 28.  Some say the election is distracting leaders from dealing with the cholera outbreak. There are 19 candidates for president and at least four of them have asked that the voting be postponed until the epidemic becomes more manageable.

Anglade was in Haiti in October visiting the Eben Ezer school she founded, when the cholera outbreak began. While there, she and the school’s teachers began to educate people, especially parents, about the importance of basic sanitary practices that can help stop the spread of the disease, such as washing hands, keeping the house clean, and thoroughly cooking food.

She will be back in December, along with a volunteer doctor from Maine, bringing boxes of soap donated by communities from Long Island and Maine familiar with her work.

When she returns, Anglade said she would move on to the next phase of her project: making sure that water from a well near the school is safe to drink. “I want to build something to give the community,” she told Fi2W. “We already have a well, we want to see purified water from the well.”

“The response requires technical, highly enlightened health specialists who know what to do with cholera,” said Catholic Bishop Guy Sansaricq of Brooklyn. “You don’t simply send aspirin.”

The bishop pointed out that hundreds of humanitarian agencies, among them the Catholic Relief Services, are already in Haiti, providing assistance to people with infections or those needing to be relocated to avoid contamination. Sansaricq said the community is concerned, but for most Haitian immigrants with relatives who may be affected, cash may be the only way they can really help.

Community organizer and columnist for the Brooklyn-based Haitian Times newspaper, Ilio Durandis, said the response to the cholera outbreak, while generally “not well organized,” can be seen at the grassroots level, through hometown associations that are collecting medical supplies and mobilizing networks of volunteers who might travel to Haiti to help with health education.

“Not on a larger scale,” he told Fi2W, “but getting people to come to Haiti and help educate people about not drinking dirty water, how to dispose of waste, or how to put in IVs is what we do.” He said people in Haiti are “panicking” and don’t know how to use IV needles to help people suffering from dehydration, one cholera’s principal symptoms.

Following the January earthquake and now the cholera outbreak, Haitians are feeling angry and tired, said Durandis, founder of Haiti 2015, a community organization in Boston advocating for social empowerment.

“It’s more like tiredness kind of anger. Why always us? Who do we blame?” he said. “It’s that kind of anger.”

“The best thing is to send money,” he said. “Water is expensive in Haiti.” While the capital, Port-au-Prince, has access to clean, potable water, the same cannot be said of rural areas where people drink from “clean-looking” but “untreated” water from pumps and rivers.

The election may seem inappropriate at a time of great human suffering, said Durandis, but “it’s one of those things that have to go on.” He said the election had already been rescheduled after the January earthquake, and another postponement could create a leadership vacuum resulting in a political crisis.  He conceded that many Haitians are angry that millions are being spent on the election.

Meanwhile, the Evangelical Crusade of Fishers of Men in Brooklyn said it is organizing a 40-day vigil starting on December 3, expressing sympathy for the victims and also gratefulness to the international community for continuing to support the country through all the turmoil. There will be a rally in preparation at City Hall on December 2.

“The 40 days of prayer is for all the Haitians in the Diaspora,” Episcopalian Pastor Philius Nicolas explained to Fi2W. Interdenominational churches, groups, homes and individuals will hold prayer meetings with Haiti as their special intention.

He said prayers are what Haitians need at this time. “Haitians see the hand of God in everything. But we don’t want to blame God, we don’t say that God is wicked, that he would give us catastrophe. But when we feel despair, we need and have the human capacity to call for prayers.”

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