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Dr. Joia Mukherjee of Partners in Health shares firsthand experiences from Haiti

<ical Director of Partners in Health (PIH) Dr. Joia Mukherjee arrived in Port au Prince the day after the earthquake shook Haiti, Mukherjee asked her taxi driver to take her to Neg Mawon. Neg Mawon, which means ‘marooned man’ or the ‘free man,’ is a statue that stood in front of the then crumbled Haitian National Palace.

As Mukherjee stood in front of Neg Mawon weeping, an older Haitian came to console her.

“He’s still standing,” said Mukherjee.

The woman responded, “The free man will never be defeated.”

Mukherjee shared this story on Thursday, April 8, in Skinner Memorial Chapel. In a presentation entitled, “Relief and Long Term Partnerships,” Mukherjee spoke about PIH’s presence in Haiti and its approach to aid.

When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti on January 12, the epicenter of which was 16 miles from Port-au-Prince, PIH was one of the first organizations to help.

PIH gave direct relief in medical care, water, food, shelter and accompaniment.

The effects of the earthquake killed 250,000 people, injured over 300,000 people and displaced 1.7 million. The aftermath of the earthquake was even more devastating due to the poor infrastructure in Haiti.

“Haiti collapsed unto itself because of its impoverishment,” said Mukherjee, “The earthquake in Haiti was not just a natural disaster, it was a natural disaster layered on years of impoverishment.”

For comparison, the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile on February 27 killed around 500 people.

PIH has been in Haiti for 25 years working in the community with Haitian doctors, nurses, and community organizers.
PIH’s approach to aid first changed in 2002 when it decided to stop doing charity care but rather to partner with the public sector. In the aftermath of the earthquake, PIH applied this model to working with the public sector to provide aid.
Mukherjee talked about her experience arriving at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince to find 1,500 people lying on the lawn because the building had collapsed. With its team of Haitian and foreign doctors and nurses, PIH was able to set up makeshift operating rooms fully staffed with rotating teams of Haitian and foreign doctors.

PIH doctors and nurses also gave medical aid to self-organized communities formed after the earthquake. With Ministry partners, PIH was able to get 20 operating rooms fully staffed in the public sector.

Mukherjee spoke of the success PIH had in working within communities and involving its members.

“Working with locals and people who are engaged with their own community is a completely different feel than a top down relief organization. Community based strategy can work in disaster relief,” said Mukherjee.

She points out that while the U.S. is a powerful force in international aid, its strategy needs to change from military action to a more compassionate model since too little money trickles down to the most vulnerable.

Mukherjee noted that future challenges in Haiti will be dealing with resettlement and the desperate need for shelter. She points out that most importantly, the aid money that is coming into Haiti needs to get as close to grassroots as possible.
“There was no violence in the beginning but there’s violence now because people are desperate. Money needs to stay in Haiti, not go to U.S. contractors but to Haitian employment,” said Mukherjee.

Historically, Haiti stands out as having the first slave revolution, being the first black republic and being critical in ending the transatlantic slave trade.

“Haiti is a unique and special place. It’s not a poor country, it’s an impoverished country,” said Mukherjee, “Haiti is impoverished by its history and it’s time we restore Haiti to the place it needs to be, as a basin of liberty and freedom.”
Haiti Relief Carleton invites the community to the Great Hall from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to help put together care packages for new mothers.  Carleton nurse and midwife Natalee Johnson will bring the packages to Haiti on her service trip in June.

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