Tuesday, March 2

Lorries, helicopters, mules and 4x4s

Thursday morning found me at the logs base again talking to the nice people in the OCHA office about a map.  We had some of the GPS coordinates of our distribution sites and wanted them plotted on a map.  Over two hours later, I had a number of copies of a beautiful full colour map, showing our sites, the towns and also the hills and contours.  We had to call at the warehouse that stores the gift in kind items to sort out truck loading, then lead a truck back to our compound for loading of the cut tarpaulins.  I ended up travelling in the lorry, following another 2 from the team in the car, to Leogane so that we could keep in contact with VHF radios.

Travelling in the cab of a lorry does give a very good view of the city as we travelled out of Port au Prince.  I could see over the walls into the tent cities, see the destruction behind the house fronts and we also passed along the edge of the port.  One section of the port was completely taken over by row upon row of US army tents, at the start it seemed to stretch as far as you could see.  Once out of the city the houses were spread further apart and somehow this seemed to make the scale of destruction look worse.  There weren’t roads to go down that looked untouched, or one house standing next to one that wasn’t.  It just seemed to be houses that had all suffered to some extent.  Sections of the road had giant steps in them, other sections were like the waves in the sea and other parts just had enormous cracks.

We got to the warehouse just before it closed with our lorry, we’d borrowed a small section from another agency for a few days, unfortunately the 4 following on behind were not so fortunate so the drivers had to stay overnight to unload the following day.  It is a big task to do a distribution.  Not only do you have to get the right goods in the right place, but the lorries, the staff, the loaders and unloaders, the agreement between agencies of whom is distributing where.  Then you add in meeting with community leaders to ask them to identify the most vulnerable in their community to receive assistance and to compile a list.  We had local staff on what seemed like endless phone calls to make sure the tickets had been given out for the distribution, the list of names written and collected, the site for distribution identified, the security sorted out and the time of the distribution agreed.

Friday we got a late start because of the trucks needing to unload in Leogane and a late release from the airport of the jerry cans.  We were still trying to confirm helicopter drops for the communities inaccessible by road, and cutting the last few tarpaulins which had arrived late from the supply chain warehouse in Port au Prince.  4 small distributions were done in the afternoon.  When the needs assessment was done the other week, one community had a lady whose baby had been born the day of the earthquake.  The baby was well but she was concerned about the coming rains and how to keep the baby well, she had also hurt her leg.  When they went back to the community to do the distribution the lady was at the front of the queue for her tarpaulins!  Within an hour of some people being given the tarpaulins some of the shelters were seen going up.  On Saturday after more distributions during the day, the rains came down very heavily in the evening.  It was a good feeling to think that some people were dry that night because of the tarpaulins given out a few hours before.

Saturday was a busy day with more distributions, some going very smoothly without a hitch, one that the committee were working from 3 different lists which was a challenge (!), others were there was minor difficulties and another which became like a Whitehall farce where the lorry refused to go down the last half hour of the road, when the goods got there the committee which was mostly nuns hadn’t drawn up the list (one of the sisters had forgotten to give a message to another) and the only sheets given out at that location were to the people who came on mules or horses down the mountain as the heli couldn’t fit in the last 20 household sets!  Sometimes there are moments when you think I could write a book about this!  The heli drops went well, though late as there was a delay for an hour and a half at the beginning of the day.  The team who had to climb the mountain to meet them had to set off at 4.30am to ensure they were there on time and didn’t get down and back to camp until 7.30pm.  The community were very grateful though and appreciative that after the visit from the needs assessment team they hadn’t been forgotten but had returned bringing items for them.

Sunday half the team went back to Port au Prince first thing and the rest of us carried on until the evening.  I did one in the morning right on the top of the mountains, the road up was incredible, again with earthquake fractures, a challenge even in a 4 x 4 vehicle, but at the top you could see for miles out across the other mountain ridges.  The afternoon we set off with two lorry loads for 450 households at 3 sites.  I never thought the lorries would make it down into two river beds and up the other side but to my surprise they did!  The more urban communities felt very different from the rural, much more questioning about what they would get now and in the future.  The rural communities just seemed grateful that they had been remembered.  At my first distribution it was very touching to see an elderly lady right at the front of the line on a chair.  She was helped up the steps to where we were distributing (community along a tarmac road with a narrow concrete walkway with nothing to prevent you from falling off the edge to the road 3 metres below!), collected her sheets and then was helped away back to her home.  Helping the most vulnerable in society, has to be what it’s all about!


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