From a country in ruins, Susan Phillips reports on Domincans who are ignoring long-held animosity to come to the aid of their Haitian neighbors.
WHYY’s Susan Phillips spent a week in the Dominican town of Jimani, on the border with Haiti, where scores of American doctors, international aid workers, and Dominican volunteers have worked to help victims of the earthquake. She filed these reflections on her experience at the backdoor of the Haitian catastrophe, and her trip into the capitol of Port Au Prince.
Traveling from the Dominican Republic, the raw poverty of life in Haiti is as jarring as the pot-holed, narrow dirt roads. Dominicans aren’t well off, but they wear new clothes that fit. Haitians, on the other hand, wear T-shirts with names of far-flung universities and phrases like “Walk for the Cure,” the cast-offs of American promotion.
Dominicans have running water, while Haitian women walk down the rural roads carrying five-gallon tubs on their heads. With elections approaching in both countries, Dominican candidates advertise in bold, colorful billboards. Haitian political ads consist of grafitti sprayed on bare walls, announcing “vote for Bob Morales, number 27.”
And, perhaps the most significant difference, Dominican construction sites have steel rods poking out of cement columns. This is called rebar, and prevents the pancake collapse of buildings that killed so many Haitians in the earthquake.
Mauro Vargas, a pastor with the evangelical christian Church of God in Santo Domingo rides with a busload of pastors and a truckload of supplies across the border. He’s heading to a Church of God seminary in Port au Prince where he’s heard the campus has become a refuge for the surrounding neighborhood. Vargas says Dominicans and Haitians have been at odds from more than 150 years, but that has to change.
“I think this time its very important for us, its an historical moment. Because in this moment I think its the time of God, sit in the meeting and both country, what is my problem Dominican, what is my problem Haiti, what can I do? This is the historical moment for both countries too.”
As the bus pulls into Port au Prince, crumbled concrete is everywhere, and hundreds of people are walking along the streets, stepping over boulders, sleeping on median strips. Some beseech the pastors for help. Signs at every turn read, in both English and Spanish, “S-O-S, help us we need food and water” and point would-be aid workers up a lane or down a crumbled alleyway. Some intersections have trash piled 6 feet high.
At the Church of God seminary, about 800 people from the surrounding neighborhood of Doo-bwos camp out in the open. Most are children. A large truck from the Dominican Republic arrives with food and water.
Pastor Valentine is trying to keep order as a human chain is formed to unload the truck. He says its the first shipment of aid the site has recieved.
Valentine says the people living here are without food, water, shelter and light. When asked if the Haitian government has helped or even contacted him, he laughs. A man in dark glasses walks around the camp carrying a machine gun. No one seems to know who he is.
Herve Cheri just entered the camp, but had been sleeping in the streets.
“I don’t have no home right now to sleep, so its not safe. For example, right now, we have this term “zangladow” a stealer…we call them zangladow…so right now they come and they take what you have. So we try to fight to live. But things are not easy.”
Haitians like Cheri, refer to the earthquake as “the thing.” The people here have lost children, parents, spouses overnight. No one knows how long they will be living here. Emmanual Peter is a painter.
“God only know what can pass. God only know. The people living here, they don’t think anything because they live in the present. The future we don’t know what pass in the future.”
Most of the residents of this camp look forlorn, and helpless, as they sit and wait. But off in one corner, a young woman named Emilie, sings to her 2-year-old niece.