When Cherlie and I returned to Jérémie after our help with the relief efforts in Port-au-Prince, we did a little survey among our patients to get an idea as to how many of them were, indeed, affected by the earthquake. Out of 74 adult patients surveyed, 74% of them (55 patients) said they had family members who had died in the earthquake. Many of these were close family members, such as children, brothers and sisters. One woman tearfully told us about the deaths of her oldest son and daughter, who were university students in Port-au-Prince. Her son was working a part-time job at the Hotel Montana, which collapsed, killing hundreds of people, and her daughter was killed while in a class at the university. It is especially tragic when young people in Haiti die, because oftentimes, their families have sacrificed for years to provide them with an education. To lose them just at the time their education is being completed, with the potential for helping the entire extended family, is very tragic.
69% of patients surveyed had family members from Port-au-Prince living in their homes out in the country. Some of these were immediate family members, such as children, and others were cousins and more distant relatives. I asked them how many people were living in their house at the present time and the responses varied from 5 to 18, with an average of 10 people per house. Most of these country houses have 3 rooms – two bedrooms and a central living area. So, one can only imagine what sleeping was like at night with 15-18 people in the house! In addition, 38% of the people said their own homes had been damaged in the earthquake. So, some of them were living in their outside kitchens, which are usually little structures made from coconut leaves and bark. When I asked how they were managing to support and feed so many extra people, every one of them shrugged and said, “We’re managing. This is life.” Adaptability and flexibility are the norm here.
Cherlie and I were especially concerned about the additional food needs of our patients and members of the communities around our clinic. So, we held a large community meeting and announced that we would be distributing funds to 25 communities to be used to buy bean or corn seeds or yam plants to be given to those community members most in need of assistance. In the past few weeks, each of the communities has organized a management committee to direct the seed distribution and will give us periodic updates as to the results of the harvest. This is our second seed distribution program and we are pleased to see that many of the community leaders are beginning to grasp the idea of multiplication – requiring the return of part of the harvest to be used for another round of distribution at the next planting season. In this way, an initial gift recycles, giving a continuous supply of seeds for distribution within communities.