SPRING VALLEY, N.Y. -- For the second time in six years, Spring Valley’s Jackie Cassagnol traveled to witness firsthand devastation in Haiti. She came away more heartbroken from the pain of a recent hurricane than she did in 2010, when an earthquake ravaged the island.
“It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’’ said Cassagnol, who started Worldwide Community First Responder (WCFR) in the wake of the earthquake six years ago. “I went to areas that were never visited since the hurricane. There are places that before the hurricane, there were houses. Now it’s just land. It’s rubble. There was still flooding, even a month after the hurricane. It was unbelievable.”
More than 1,000 people died when Hurricane Matthew slammed into the island on Oct. 4. According to a report from UNICEF, up to 80 percent of hospitals and health centers in Grand’Anse, the hardest hit section in Haiti, lost their roofs. Seven health centers in Grand’Anse are no longer in operation, and an estimated 50,000 homeless children were living in temporary housing. The destruction left over 800,000 people in need of food assistance, and more than 112,000 children were at the risk of malnutrition.
Cassagnol spent two weeks in Haiti, and visited Leogane and Jeremie, during which she initiated the "Be Hurricane Prepared!" project. Cassagnol founded WCFR in 2011 with a mission to prevent deaths worldwide through education and training. The purpose of the "Be Hurricane Prepared!" project is to educate community members about how to get prepared for a hurricane.
She made presentations on disaster preparedness, and provided handouts and first aid kits at Faculté des Sciences Infirmières de Léogane (FSIL) and Faculté des Sciences Infirmières Notre Dame du Perpétuel Secours (FSINDPS) nursing schools. The project is supported by Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) Upsilon Chapter of New York University.
She teaches frequently at FSIL and had planned to visit the school for a graduation ceremony shortly after the hurricane hit the island. She also had planned to evaluate a disaster preparedness project initiated four years ago at the school by WCFR in collaboration with Haitian American Nurses Association (HANA).
“The nursing students were greatly affected by the hurricane,’’ she said. “But, they were able to practice what they had learned. We have been teaching them about disaster preparedness. But I don’t think anybody could have prepared for a situation like this.”
Cassagnol, whose parents are from Haiti, said she went with HANA to visit areas severely impacted by the hurricane and provided medical attention to over 1,200 residents. At one point, the vehicle they were traveling in reached an impassable road that required them to walk 45 minutes to a guest house. She worked with other nurses in a hospital the next day.
While emotionally devastating, the trip re-emphasized to Cassagnol the importance of her work, both in Rockland County and abroad.
“It reminded me of how much we can prevent certain things and how much we can prevent deaths worldwide,’’ Cassagnol said. “These people in Haiti need so many things. I felt like I could’ve done more, but I don’t know if I lived there forever I could do all the things that need to be done. It brought back the idea that fulfilling basic needs that people can be taught is as important as ever.”
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