We arrived early this morning in Port-au-Prince, and first visited the Food for the Poor center where mounds of rice and beans were being prepared to feed thousands of Haitians. Six days a week, FTP prepares meals for 15,000 people twice a day. Although we did not participate in serving them today, we have in the past and were able to see again today the gracious thanks that the many give.
After leaving the center, we traveled to the Bernard Mevs Hospital that was started by two Lebanese twin doctors. Although medical volunteers from the U.S. still fly in weekly, Haiti’s only trauma, critical care and rehabilitation hospital is staffed by Haitian doctors and nurses. The group of medical professionals see 150 patients a day, and the EMT are being trained now to fly helicopters to trauma scenes. Bernard Mevs and its unprecedented medical emergency response, is inching toward its long-held vision of creating a self-sufficient critical care and trauma network in the impoverished nation that didn’t even have an ambulance service before the earthquake four years ago. The hospital opened under four large tents just nine days after the earthquake. The tent hospital was dismantled and moved to Bernard Mevs six months after the quake, laying the foundation for the unique programs at the tiny hospital that, slowly but surely, are empowering Haitian doctors, nurses and other allied health care professionals to take care of their own. Bernard Mevs recently graduated Haiti’s first class of professionally trained EMTs who are operating Haiti’s only coordinated rescue service from the hospital – in ambulances donated by the city of Miami Beach. The graduates literally trained on the street, responding to simulated emergencies staged by Haitian citizens who portrayed mothers whose babies suffered gashed heads, teens with gunshot wounds, and the like. While there, we were able to see the Food for the Poor water project that created the clean running water for the hospital, allowing for the care from the youngest of the patients to the oldest.
After leaving the hospital, we flew to Cap Haitien. I had not been here since before the earthquake, and the progress to the area is simply amazing. Although still a frighteningly impoverished nation, the amount of progress in the last four years has taken this country from a place I thought was beyond hope to a country with roads, an infrastructure and an economy. Despite this, the prison and penal system still devastates me. Those accused of petty crimes are arrested and jailed, many of them for years at a time, with no access to lawyers or the judicial system. Haiti is a democracy, with a criminal system based on the French constitution. Although the Haitian constitution guarantees similar rights as the US system, individuals are rounded up, imprisoned and left there. The conditions are horrendous and the smell atrocious, with dozens of people forced into one jail cell, literally rotting away.
We visited the prison with the hopes of being able to release some of those that have been kept without bond or who had been there well past their release dates. Working with the local authorities, we were able to have nine men released who had been there between two months to a year for being accused of petty crimes like stealing a chicken or an iPod. We tried to have some of the women released, but the prison would not allow it as there were ‘only’ 32 women and 710 men. Instead, we are now working with a local lawyer to get the names, crimes accused of and amount of time these women have been sitting in jail. We hope to be able to work with local lawyers to get representation for these women, so that they can have work through the judicial process, rather than continue to have justice delayed.