By Fiammetta Cappellini
Despite all our efforts and the endless days of work two weeks after Hurricane Matthew violently struck Haiti and left 750,000 people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, we are still facing an emergency situation. We struggle, powerless, facing this enormous disaster. There are no houses, schools or bridges. Nothing works. We have no power, no Internet, no water or infrastructures. And, more importantly, there is no food.
The rain stopped, but the soaked ground no longer absorbs anything. Filthy water that becomes black mud mixed with broken branches covers the ground. Huge trees clutter the streets of the major cities or lie in the fields, as if they had been ripped from the soil by the hand of a giant.
The exceptional sea storm that accompanied the hurricane swept the coast for hours and days. Haiti’s white beaches have disappeared, and the restaurants along the sea were swallowed up by the waves. A pierced boat is still enthroned in the middle of a street in the center of Les Cayes, more than 500 meters from the pier.
Surrounded by a landscape similar to the one seen in the movie The Day After, we struggle. Disoriented and incredulous, we can’t get used to this devastation. AVSI’s staff is waiting for the World Food Programme (WFP) truck that is bringing 300 tons of food, which will then be distributed to nearly 20,000 families, the most vulnerable families of Les Cayes. While part of AVSI’s staff was waiting to unload the bags and prepare the rations, the rest of us was visiting the communities to prepare the distribution.
There is not enough food for everyone, so we must decide who needs it most and we have to come to an agreement. After exhausting discussions with mayors and religious leaders, and after distributing thousands of passes, we are finally ready: 19,900 families will receive a monthly ration of rice, beans and oil. We now have a month to think about the next steps.
Along the road, we see houses wrecked by fallen trees; the river remains high carrying mud and debris. There are almost no roofs in place. Two weeks after the hurricane, we are still surrounded by water everywhere. Yet, the sun shines high in the sky and the temperature reaches almost 95 degrees.
We stop at the University of Agriculture that has been our partner for the last 18 years. The director is waiting for us, smiling despite the situation. He shows us the damage and once more, we feel powerless in the face of destruction. The university’s premises were not affected, but the new laboratory, not yet open to the students, suffered serious damages.
The experimental farm, where young agronomists practice their skills, is devastated: there are no trees standing, the cultures were swept away and the space where students were breeding chickens and rabbits was completely destroyed. I cannot even say where the greenhouse was: it has been completely erased.
The University doesn’t event seem to be the place I knew. When we reached the library, we found more devastation. The hurricane has torn and thrown away the windows, and has flooded the premises with water. Most books are lost. On the balcony, a handful of students are at work: they lay the books in the sun, and then turn the pages so they don’t stick together. The students put the books back in the sun to dry with a rock on top so they don’t fly away.
They are tired, and they still don’t know when the courses will resume. Yet, the books are precious and they cannot be lost. So, while the students wait for the University to reopen, they spread the books out in the sun to dry.
This is Haiti. You can shake its foundations with one of the worst earthquakes in History. You can inundate its lands and sweep away its houses with a very violent hurricane, but the country will always find a way to get back on its feet. Haiti will only find a place from which to start again, from where to start rebuilding. I don’t know where Haitians find this strength, this determination. But they are like that. They sit under the mercilessly Caribbean sun, turning the pages of a book lying in the sun to dry, surrounded by a devastated landscape. They firmly believe that the book will dry. Despite everything, they believe that tomorrow life will be better.
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