A letter from IGLHRC’s partner Colectiva Mujer y Salud, a Dominican feminist group helping with relief efforts in Haiti
I returned from Haiti this morning and it is hard to put into words what I witnessed there. The smell of death clouds your senses. Thousands of people are trapped and crying beneath the rubble, and you are unable to help them. People seem to be staring into another world, their eyes flashes of lightning fleeing the horror.
People walk around, coming and going, but headed nowhere. They are wanderers carrying their pain and misery, wanderers carrying their broken dreams. They just walk and walk – it’s as if by walking they will free themselves of the tragedy.
The streets are full of decomposing bodies. Yesterday afternoon they decided to bury their dead in common graves. They probably decided that it was necessary in order to overcome the tidal wave of smells, and they must have asked their gods and goddesses and their ancestors for forgiveness.
Improvised camps have been set up everywhere that was untouched by the tragedy: squares, parks, streets, empty lots, etc. But no one dares enter the small buildings that have been left standing; being under a roof inspires dread, insecurity, and fear. The earth is still dancing, readjusting its plates, finishing its cycle.
Yesterday there was still no medical assistance at the camps. In the streets, people were trying to heal their wounds and stave off death by the only means they had: hope. Their skin shows signs of dehydration and the only roof over their heads is the sun. Luckily, the rain has held back its tears, so when night falls, the people can lie down on the ground, wrapped up in their sorrow.
Hunger and thirst have left their faces listless, drained of energy, and showing a resigned agony. They must sleep in the same places where they relieve themselves.
My friends, it is impossible to ignore the cries beneath the rubble, the cries for their wounds, for their bruises, for their dead, the cries for the pseudo life they are now living. It is impossible not to hear them today, in the middle of my meetings. I tried to shut out these cries, but I could not.
I decided to look for our friends Lise, Colette, Ann Marie, Miriam, Nikette, Susy, Magui, Olga, and the others. I went to their offices: some had been reduced to rubble; others were half-destroyed and deserted. Someone informed me that Ann Marie* had died. I cried and cried, and then I carried on.
In addition to its people, the infrastructure of Haiti has been shattered: the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Economics and Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Public Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, Public Works, the armed forces, the internal tax building, hospitals, etc. The State no longer exists.
Help is slow in coming because there is no one to coordinate it. The airport has no control tower, there is not enough room for more planes to fly in, and there is no light to allow work after dark. The United Nations organized an airlift, but it is not enough.
Social organizations such as ours are establishing a Binational Commission to try to create a platform for receiving aid in Haiti. We are trying to give our friends a bit of hope so that they stay united, and so that we may organize aid coordination. It will take some time, but we will succeed. Haitians have a special strength and they will recover from this.
Friends, right now solidarity is the only thing holding us together. Solidarity is the only thing strong enough to hold back the pain and make our Haitian sisters feel hopeful when they think about the future.
January 15, 2010
*Anne Marie Coriolan was a militant feminist and the founder of SOFA (Solidarity with Haitian Women). She attended the most recent meeting of Encuentro Feminista, a feminist forum, held in Mexico City.