Racial Justice Resources

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance grant helps network share lifesaving information in Haiti

COVID-19 has created additional difficulties in hunger-ridden nation

by Cindy Corell, World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service

An agent hired with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance funds uses a bullhorn to share information to prevent COVID-19 infection in remote areas of northwest Haiti. (Photo by Rose Edith Germaine Raymonvil)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As Americans watched the pandemic move across the globe with startling speed, we thought about our medically vulnerable relatives, our children and the elderly. We planned how to gather food and water, made sure we had medicine in our homes. We washed our hands, didn’t touch our face and if we had to leave the house, we put on a face mask. It was inconvenient, but for most of us, possible.

We prepared to stay home to stay safe. We prepared. We prayed. We waited.

But for those of us who love people in vulnerable places, the pandemic we knew would be even more terrifying, even more deadly and so much more unfair.

Fabienne Jean, coordinator of our Joining Hands network in Haiti, FONDAMA, reached out to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance immediately when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Caribbean country.

Jean is familiar with PDA because Haiti is familiar with disaster. And she knew, like many of us did, that this deadly, virulently contagious disease would sweep through the country like a slow-moving earthquake. In fact, when the pandemic spread through the country, Haitians still were reeling from a cascade of disasters, most of them economic, political and criminal.

“The results of the food insecurity analysis conducted by the national food security department in March showed that 4.1 million people (40 percent of the population) in the country are undernourished and have need of the state and/or other organizations to act hastily to feed them so that they do not starve,” Jean said.

Most Haitians live day to day, more than 80 percent living on less than $2 a day. Those few dollars are earned by scraping up work in the informal market — selling goods or produce on the streets, taking odd jobs or going out to pick up funds sent by relatives in other countries.

To live means leaving the house every day.

So by March 20, when COVID-19 first was recorded in Haiti, the government’s order to remain at home met with dismay and a brutal choice for most Haitians.

Do I stay at home and stay well but have no food for my children?

Or do I go out to find money and food, and risk dying from the virus?

In which way do I choose to die?

The immediate need, Jean said, was to get news to people in ways they could understand how to prepare and react in this time of COVID-19. Remember that in places like Haiti, remote communities, misinformation, rumors and distrust of government mean essential information isn’t disseminated in a timely manner.

More than half of households do not have electricity or radios to gather news. An even larger complication: many Haitians believe news of the virus to be a myth, and so they do not abide by safety measures.

Others harm or even kill people they believe might be infected. In this context, many people will not seek medical treatment, but will hide any symptoms they can.

If Haiti was a developed country, the response would be in the way most Americans reacted: Gather food and clean water, make sure you have your medicines, especially protect those who are medically vulnerable and stay home.

But even considering Haiti’s historic dire poverty, social and economic worries in the country were at an all-time high before news of the pandemic began to spread.

“Beyond the fear of dying from the coronavirus, that of dying of hunger worries Haitians because an unprecedented food crisis is to be feared,” Jean said.

“So the first thing that FONDAMA did was to set up a solidarity brigade whose mission is to go to distant lands in order to inform and raise awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus and how to avoid to be infected and spread it,” Jean said.

The PDA solidarity grant ($10,000) enabled FONDAMA to provide materials and equipment to those agents to reach as many people as possible who live in the most remote places. These agents worked in several parts of Haiti, include North, Northeast, Artibonite and Central Plateau.

Because many rural families do not have clean water, FONDAMA gave three hand-washing stations in different localities.

“This initiative was designed to ensure that these people were able to have soap and water at their disposal in order to wash their hands.  It’s important to note that more than 24 percent of the population living in rural areas do not have a toilet at their homes,” Jean said.

Finally, FONDAMA distributed 500 food kits in seven localities in the urban area. Each contained rice, beans and oil.

“Given the scale of food insecurity in Haiti, more particularly in Port-au-Prince, FONDAMA finds it is necessary to support these most vulnerable families by allowing them to have enough to eat even for just a  very limited moment,” Jean said.

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to respond quickly to catastrophic events.


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