Mainers raise funds, work to help survivors

Nathan M. Nickerson, RN, DrPH. Executive Director, Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership. w/Wickenheiser story
Nathan M. Nickerson, RN, DrPH. Executive Director, Konbit Sante Cap-Haitien Health Partnership. w/Wickenheiser story
By Matt Wickenheiser, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 11, 2011, at 9:57 p.m.

It was a year ago that Haiti’s capital literally fell to pieces around Jessica Frick.

The Eddington woman was visiting Port-au-Prince with her Colby College roommate when a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed the Haitian capital. Frick spent three days in the city before getting out of the country and back home.

“The past year Haiti has been on my mind; there hasn’t been that much progress down there as far as getting people housing and just stabilizing people’s lives in general,” said Frick, 22, now studying for a master’s of social work at Boston College.

For Frick, the experience has led to a greater appreciation for life and for taking opportunities she is presented.

“I very well could have died down there,” said Frick, who has raised funds for Haiti in the last year, but has not returned to the country.

The earthquake destroyed the capital and created huge problems for Haiti’s already shaky government. Progress on rebuilding the world’s poorest country was slow; then the area was besieged by a cholera epidemic. Political unrest has added to the challenge of helping Haiti.

“You have an environment where nothing is working; it’s completely chaotic with no leadership and no real structure,” said Darcy Pierce, an international development consultant with Scarborough-based Envoy. “To put disaster relief into that mix is just mind-boggling in terms of the complexity it gives everyone to work through.”

Pierce has been in Haiti several times over the past year, consulting with groups such as Maineline Haiti, a coalition of Maine businesses that seeks to build new schools there.

In the days, weeks and months after the earthquake, Mainers reached out to Haiti, raising funds to aid in reconstruction. Maine doctors and aid experts have traveled to the island, working among refugees and then among cholera victims.

Konbit Sante, a Portland nonprofit, has been working with Haitian partners in the northern city of Cap Haitien for a decade to improve the public health system. Executive Director Nate Nickerson has spent much of the last year working at the Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, first helping officials there deal with the influx of refugees, then with the cholera outbreak.

While Cap was spared the direct destruction of the earthquake, it has been the epicenter of the cholera outbreak, Nickerson said Tuesday from Haiti. The number of new cases in the north has slowed to about 100 a day, he said, with an overall estimated 25,000 cases in the region. The city has had about 560 deaths from the disease, said Nickerson. It has progressed to reach every remote village in the country, facilitated by the dramatically poor water and wastewater infrastructure.

“It’s really another disease of poverty,” said Nickerson.

The country had endemic problems before the earthquake and the cholera, Nickerson said. More children die from diarrheal disease than they do of cholera, he said, but that has become an accepted part of the health landscape.

After the cholera outbreak, Konbit Sante and its partners bought and brought in water treatment products and rehydration supplies. They set up another 800 hospital beds for disease victims, and set up 50 staffed posts throughout the city to educate the population on how to slow the spread.

Each challenge in Haiti has made the other challenges more difficult, said Nickerson. For instance, when the political unrest was at its worst, people were afraid to leave their homes to seek treatment for cholera, and the mortality rate jumped.

Still, Pierce sees positives there. The nongovernmental organizations are cooperating with one another and moved quickly to deal with the outbreak. The country hasn’t totally devolved into “chaotic anarchy.”

But the lack of government structure needs to be addressed, he said.

“The international community has to come in and help resolve this political crisis of not just a president, but an entire government,” said Pierce. “Once that happens, I think things could move very quickly.”

Nickerson said he was too close to the ongoing struggles in Cap to take a step back and look at what should have happened over the last year, but didn’t.

“For most of us who keep coming, it’s not necessarily because we see all the progress we’ve hoped to see happen, but we’ve become very close to people here,” said Nickerson. “We have people here we believe in and who we think are the hope for tomorrow, and we want to see them succeed.

“They inspire us. If they can keep on, we can keep on.”

To help Haiti earthquake relief visit www.unicefusa.org

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/11/news/mainers-raise-funds-work-to-help-survivors/ printed on September 22, 2014