NEW CITY, N.Y. – A Rockland legislator and nurse who recently took part in a medical relief mission to Haitian communities hit by Hurricane Matthew said she was shocked by the extent of the damage and the lack of food and medication for the victims.
“Homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, everything – just everything – was destroyed in the places we visited,” said Legislator Aney Paul, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner.
“The people are desperate and we must help them,” she added.
Paul and 12 other volunteers went to Haiti for six days and returned to Rockland last Thursday. They did everything from staffing a clinic to treating the sick and injured to packing bags of food for distribution to the hungry.
Many Rockland residents are of Haitian descent and still have relatives living in the Caribbean country.
The late-season Category 5 storm struck southwestern Haiti near Les Anglais Oct. 4. When it made landfall, its winds were clocked at 145 mph, making it the worst hurricane to hit Haiti since Hurricane Cleo in 1964.
The government estimated the death toll at 546, but Haitian activists said it was at least three times that. According to other reports, Matthew left close to 1 million Haitians without sufficient food or shelter.
The local mission was organized by the Haitian American Nurses’ Association of Rockland County, which is collecting over-the-counter medicine, First Aid supplies and items for children, such as formula, baby food, diapers and onesies. Especially needed are antibiotics as reports of suspected cholera cases continue to rise.
Berthilde Dufrene, founder and past president of the association, led the mission, which was conducted in collaboration with Rockland County Haiti Relief.
Volunteers from the Spring Valley-based Konbit Neg Lakay also went to Haiti to help out.
They carried the supplies in bags, some weighing close to 100 pounds. The airliner waved limits on the number of bags, organizers said.
“People who were in desperate need of the help had to be turned away,” because of the limited supplies, Dufrene said, adding, “some people are just wandering the streets asking everyone they encounter for help.”
Storm victims are camping out in rubble of their damaged homes or building makeshift shelters from metal sheeting and scraps of wood, Dufrene said.
The volunteers spent two days staffing a clinic in Beaumond. It opened at 9 a.m. each day, but people lined up for help starting before 6 a.m.
Paul said one of the people they were able to help was a young woman who had just given birth. She collapsed because of postpartum bleeding and probably would have died had Paul, the only volunteer at the clinic with the necessary medical knowledge, not been there.
Paul and Dufrene also visited the severely damaged École Nationale d`Infirmières Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours de Jérémie, a major nursing school in Jeremie, Haiti, and the Hôpital Saint-Antoine de Jérémie.
Volunteers were able to distribute rice, corn meal and pasta, and personal toiletries such as toothbrushes and soap to three communities outside the city of Grand Goaves.
Paul said she hopes to return to Haiti in June. “It was very difficult to see so many people in need,” she said. “I feel compelled to use my skills to help.”
She encouraged people to do or donate whatever they could.
“Donations of medicine and first aid supplies, small monetary donations -- all of it adds up and all of it can help people who are truly suffering,” Paul said.
Here’s how to help:
- To reach the Haitian American Nurses Association, call (845) 641-6672 or e-mail ROCKLANDHANA@Yahoo.com
- For Rockland County Haiti Relief, call (845) 425-4623 or (845) 709-3084, visit its website: www.rocklandcountyhaitirelief.org or e-mail email@example.com.
- To contact Konbit Neg Lakay, call (845) 425-4623 or visit http://www.konbitneglakay.com/home.aspx.
- For the Nyack Center , call (845) 358-2600, visit http://www.nyackcenter.org/ or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.