‘Back from Haiti’ report-backs feature a short version of the upcoming full length film ‘Haiti: Rising from the Ashes’ and the Medical-Media Team – Minister of Information JR, Dr. Chris Zamani, Naseema McElroy, R.N., videographer Siraj Fowler and filmmaker Angela Carroll – plus updates from Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee on
Thursday, March 11, 7 p.m., at the Black Dot Café, 1195 Pine St., West Oakland;
Wednesday, March 17, 7 p.m., in the Richard Oakes Room on the T-Level of the Cesar Chavez Student Union, San Francisco State University; and
Thursday, March 25, 7 p.m., at the Kaos Network, 4343 Leimert Blvd, Los Angeles
by Siraj Fowler
On Feb. 11, 2010, I was blessed to be a part of a media-medical team that arrived in Haiti to give aid and document the real conditions on the ground. The effort was made possible by a collaboration of organizations including the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, the Haiti Action Committee and the POCC (Prisoners of Conscience Committee). Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. I arrived the day before the one-month anniversary of the earthquake commemorated by three days of public prayer services all over the country. This was my experience in three different areas during the three National Days of Prayer for Haiti.
Day One: Delmas
The first area I visited in Haiti upon touching down was Delmas. The houses in Delmas received a lot of structural damage during the quake. There were many two-story houses and complexes collapsed in on themselves.
I could only imagine the mindset of the people forced to live in a halfway demolished home where their loved ones were both injured and killed. The medical team unloaded their medicine at a mission house that gave medical care to injured Haitians living in a soccer field turned into a tent city. Not only were the Haitian people living in tents, but the mission house residents were also sleeping outside in fear of another aftershock.
The head of our medical team, Dr. Chris Zamani, treated and diagnosed many infections and amputees at this site. Media team leader and POCC Minister of Information JR Valrey and myself began to organize by joining in on a basketball game with the Haitian youth, exchanging music and giving away food.
The cultural exchange gave the Haitian youth confidence that we weren’t there to exploit them like many other journalists had done in the aftermath of the devastation. How would you feel after losing nearly everyone you loved and almost immediately having a camera shoved in your face? The media team made it clear that we were freedom fighters/relief workers first in our list of priorities to help the Haitian people.
“[H]e who remains thoroughly dutiful and chooses to do good deeds spontaneously, then surely Allah is Appreciative and rewards every good deed done. Surely, Allah is All-Knowing.” Al-Qur’an 2:158
Day Two: Downtown Port au Prince
My second day in Haiti marked the first of the three National Days of Prayer in remembrance of the earthquake. The media team and I met with freedom fighter Rea Dol, who selflessly agreed to give us a tour of the damage done to Haiti’s metropolitan area.
On our tour of Port au Prince we were accompanied by Gadi, a Haitian translator I met the night before in Delmas. Gadi helped to describe the different scenes of devastation that used to be his social hangouts: memories now reduced to rubble.
Our first stop was at a local multiplex mall that had been shaken to its foundation. The closer I got to the entrance of the mall, the more the smell of dead bodies trapped inside became unbearable. It’s hard to fathom the strength of spirit required to keep one’s peace of mind while living in a city turned demolition zone/cemetery.
The earthquake spared few buildings, turning both schools and churches into disaster zones. We came upon a library that was still burning inside a month after the quake. Even the prison suffered structural damage that allowed many inmates to escape.
We finally reached the capital palace, the Haitian “White House,” to bear witness to a massive prayer service being held just outside the gates of the palace. There were beautiful Black people dressed in their best for as far as the eye could see!
As we walked through the crowd, the Haitian people resembled our family members and friends in the U.S. The people looked you in your eyes, staring into your soul as though they were searching for your true intentions for being there.
Rea Dol was not merely our tour guide but also the director of SOPUDEP school and orphanage. She took us to her school, where the earthquake caused serious damage to classrooms and desks. Rea told us that she released her students early from school merely 30 minutes before the earthquake hit. She lost some good teachers and many children but was spared the grief of watching them die at her school.
Rising above the smell of death and the sight of destruction was the sound of praise. Amidst crushed buildings and fallen telephone poles, the Haitian people stood tall in solidarity despite a country in pain.
“And We will certainly reward you after disciplining you with something of fear and hunger and some loss of substance and of lives and of fruits. Give good tidings to the patiently persevering;” Al-Qur’an 2:155
Day Three: Cite Soleil
Cite Soleil is known as the most dangerous city in Haiti. The youth in Delmas called Cite Soleil “a country within a country.” The people of Cite Soleil are known for fighting with and killing U.N. officers that do too much. Within the city there exists extreme poverty the likes of which many Americans only see on television during a “Save the Children” ad.
I was blessed to go on two different trips to Cite Soleil on two different missions: both to help the people in different ways. My first trip was with the media team on a mission to deliver water to the starving and thirsty people throughout the city.
Once again Rea Dol took us into the heart of the city were many foreigners were afraid to go. On the way into the city, we picked up Jean Ristil, a HERF (Haiti Emergency Relief Fund) worker and local resident. Jean helped us load about 60 bags of water, each filled with about fifty individual size bags, into our pickup truck for distribution.
Nothing could have prepared me for the conditions these people were living in. Many families lived in shantytown style homes with four walls and no running water or plumbing. Some of the neighborhood children were running around naked because their parents could only afford to either feed or clothe them … not both.
We entered a tent community of at least a couple thousand people who were living in tents prior to the earthquake due to a serious lack of concern from the local and international governments. In fact, the U.S. government is stationed right outside of this starving tent community, while the food, supplies and clothes everyone sent to Haiti go to waste at the international airport … just sitting there rotting.
With HERF’s help, the media team assisted Rea in distributing water to several prayer services and families throughout Cite Soleil. Adults and children alike walked up as we handed out individual bags of clean water to a starving community of human beings. We didn’t have to drop the water out of helicopters or planes like the Haitians were wild animals; they were extremely polite and civil even in the face of famine.
My second trip to Cite Soleil was with the medical team led by Dr. Chris Zamani. The team pulled into Cite Soleil and within minutes had managed to set up a curbside clinic. Young Haitian mothers began bringing their children to be checked out by Dr. Chris. More and more people came because a doctor coming to their neighborhood was unheard of … a spectacle.
Many of the people were suffering from malnutrition and health conditions resulting from a lack of exposure to proper healthcare. The doctor had to see so many patients back to back that I began to get tired of recording it, but I couldn’t get tired if Dr. Chris and team were still helping the people.
It was in Cite Soleil that I really felt the true purpose of my experience as a Muslim and a journalist: to tell the truth about the real conditions a proud and G’d-fearing people are living in.
“We will put you to trial until We make manifest those among you who strive their utmost, and those who persevere in patience, and We will bring to light your reports.” Al-Qur’an 47:31
I encourage anyone who wants to donate anything to relief efforts that really do get to the Haitian people, please visit haitiaction.net and sfbayview.com. Mention the Haiti delegation on your checks and in emails. For more information on upcoming Haiti speaking events and documentary showings, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first Haiti Report Back speaking event will be held Thursday, March 11, 7 p.m., at the Black Dot Café, 1195 Pine St. in West Oakland. Look forward to seeing all supporters of the Haitian struggle there. It is a fundraiser, so cash, checks and medical supplies are appreciated.