Reality in Haiti

Leisa Faulkner

Photo courtesy of Leisa Faulkner

Leisa Faulkner of Cameron Park and 20 volunteers in her aid group, Children’s Hope, rushed to Haiti after its 7.0 earthquake on January 12. The local mother of five sons arrived there two days after the disaster, bringing donations and antibiotics, painkillers and other medical supplies to the victims. It was Faulkner’s 11th visit to Haiti over the past six years. When not pursuing such humanitarian work, she is completing a master’s degree in sociology at Sacramento State. Her special focus is children living in acute poverty.

Describe the scene when you and your organization were in Haiti recently.

At the Matthew 25 House in Port-au-Prince, there is a soccer field in back serving as a large field hospital for post-operation and treatment. Doctors were doing surgeries with flashlights on kitchen tables under tents. Proper surgical equipment, such as surgical saws for amputations, were in short supply, forcing the use of hacksaws. Patients had an incredible need of medications, such as anesthesia.

What did you do there to help ease the suffering of the quake victims?

I helped to organize the pharmacy, fill prescriptions and distribute medications. I also helped with some post-op trauma care.

Describe the challenges uninjured survivors face.

The people need food and water. They are in desperate need of income and work. Everyone is broke after the earthquake. Unemployment was 80 percent before that. Those who did have a job earned about $2 a day.

What has happened to commerce in Port-au-Prince after the quake?

There is not a business open now. Farmers are bringing in food. There are food stands throughout the city but no customers with money to buy the farmers’ produce.

How much do everyday consumer goods cost in Haiti?

A loaf of bread is the same or higher price as in the [United States]. Haiti has to import most all goods except sugar cane, rum and sugar.

What challenges do the injured survivors face?

Pain medications and antibiotics are in short supply. Surgical masks and gauze are too few as well.

How did the suffering of the people in Haiti after the quake affect you?

Every once in a while I just had to stop, go in a quiet place and cry. You can’t do that in public.

Can you talk about the origin of Children’s Hope?

I was asked to join a nonviolent direct-action delegation after the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s elected president, in 2004. This was called Operation Human Shield. As part of it, I helped to protect a politician who had gone into hiding after the coup to stay alive to return to public life. This former mayor under Aristide went on to join Haiti’s post-coup government of President René Préval.

Describe your first impressions of Haiti when you first visited the island nation in 2004.

I had never been in that intense poverty before. My first three days in Haiti I did not eat a bite of food, because all of the kids around me were starving. It was then that I saw that I had to go home and do what I could to help.

What happened next?

I began to bring back to Haiti much-needed supplies, such as Advil, antibiotics and school supplies, every six months or so. Hospitals and other people began to hear what I was doing and contributed. As this grew, contributors asked what organization I was with. It was then that I founded Children’s Hope, a not-for-profit organization. It’s just over four years old.

Where do things go next for the earthquake survivors and Children’s Hope?

Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere before the January 12 quake. They have been through so much, and the future can only go up from here. Children’s Hope is building stronger connections because of this recent catastrophe. For instance, I was just contacted by a man who said he has 7,000 trained nurses with passports ready to go to work in Haiti.

How have people in Sacramento responded to the Haiti earthquake?

They donated over $11,000 in cash and an equal amount of supplies. Sacramento has really come through.

What are your final comments?

There is no security threat from the Haitian people. Aid workers do not need to fear them. I would really like for the guys with the rifles to put them down and pick up shovels to help find people still buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes. It just makes me furious to see multiple truckloads of fellows with automatic rifles. The pressing need is for electricity and trash removal, and body bags to bury the dead with dignity.