From Dr. Pam Ryan, PBB Chair & Co-Founder
I am writing from the Petionville displaced persons camp in Haiti. Six weeks after the earthquake, and the physical and human landscapes are still chaotic. We are staying in a camp of tents constructed on tennis courts of what was once a beautiful golf and tennis club — the “Petionville Club”. The US Army has taken up residence here, so everyone entering and exiting is checked by heavily armed troops. Their tents surround the entire property, with one small group on the adjacent tennis court. On another side, is the JP Foundation (Sean Penn’s foundation), which consists of a large contingent of doctors and nurses who have set up a medical clinic. We share bathroom and other facilities with the soldiers and the JP team. Amazing the short time it takes to blend into the hum of army/camp routine. I now have a deep respect for the role allied military can play in humanitarian missions.
The fairways in front of us have been turned into ‘home’ for 50-65,000 Haitians (numbers vary depending upon who is quoting them), with tents and makeshift shelters providing the only cover they have from the sun during the day and the downpours of rain during the night. The spaces/pathways between the rows of shelter have turned into slush with the rain but everyone trudges through. My first morning in the camp, about 200 people were lined up for water. The smells of so many people congregated in one place pervades the air. Kids and adults stood around watching the activity around them. Three “school tents” have been constructed in the precious space. The school is open to only 100 students – the demand so great on the first day that over 500 lined up to attend. But space in the camp is limited, and that allows just one hundred kids to attend for one month. Little markets have sprung up outside tents, selling anything from water to fruit to candy, canned goods and used clothes – all sitting in the mud waiting to be sold. UN or army helicopters often buzz overhead, hummers zoom in and out of the main drive, and huge supply trucks are often coming in and out.
I am told that the streets of Port au Prince are pretty much as they were since January 12 – with whole buildings just collapsed in on themselves and each other. “Pancaked” seems the only word that captures the complete dissolution of the floors that once separated the now flatly layered concrete slabs. Houses that were once terraced homes cascading down the mountainside are piles of rubble cascading down the mountain instead. In some places kids sit atop the rubble and stare into space. The street market economy is equally abuzz here, with throngs of people everywhere. Products for sale are displayed on any available space – jeans hanging on fences, rows and rows of sneakers tied to metal railings, food displayed in baskets – connecting people to each other and to their past by continuing some normal routines. Signs of resilience and strength living hand in hand with distress.
Psychology Beyond Borders is currently monitoring the situation on the ground in Haiti and talking to groups involved in both the physical and psychosocial recovery efforts, ever mindful that the very presence of foreign NGO’s can add to the burden of the locals, even with the best of intentions.