A Clare woman who visited Haiti with aid agency Concern has expressed her distress at the aftermath of the earthquake that recently hit the country and has urged all those who can afford to contribute to the relief effort to do so.
Eimear O’Brien from East Clare travelled to Haiti with Concern back in 2006 after winning the Concern National Debates competition while studying at the Presentation School in Thurles.
During her time in Port-Au-Prince, Eimear and her classmates were introduced to their Marassas. The word means twin in Creole and according to the second-year law student, the group did everything with their Haitian siblings.
“Immediately my thoughts went to the people we were with, like the students. We became very close to them over the course of the eight days. It sounds short but we lived with them. The conversations with them were very deep and we learned a lot,” the Ogonnelloe woman stated.
While in Haiti, Eimear stayed in St Joseph’s, a home for street children.
“I can’t remember the exact amount but there was a significant number of children there that were brought in off the streets. The building was mostly concrete and there were no windows or doors because it was so warm. There was such a sense of community though from the first minute we walked in the door.
“The children gathered around and welcomed us and they were really hospitable,” she recalled.
“When I heard about the earthquake, immediately I thought of the children in St Joseph’s and the Marassas. They were right there in Port-Au-Prince. The building might not be there now. It is so far away that you would like to think that it wasn’t true. It is just that the people don’t deserve it.
“They have been through so much and they are such lovely, welcoming people in what they do and optimistic and upbeat and have a great spirit as a nation and to think that this sort of thing would happen to them is so unfair,” she told The Clare Champion.
Because of the country’s extreme poverty, Eimear finds it difficult to imagine how it will build itself back up.
“I visited the slums there. It was shocking. They had canals that were meant to be for water that served as nothing more than rubbish dumps. Houses were made up of sheets of galvanised metal propped up against each other. The floors were just ground. There was no water system, no sewerage system, no bin collection, just piles of designated areas for dumping where things just rotted. The smell was very strong, especially with the heat. You had to hide your shock out of respect for the people because they were so kind and welcoming and if you started comparing things with home you wouldn’t stop,” she remembered.
The young Trinity student pointed out that even before the devastating earthquake, Haitians were not well off.
“It was amazing to see what a small thing could do in Haiti. Concern had worked with Haitian people and brought water in a tap. It meant local people didn’t have to walk for miles to get water.
“The people were so proud of it. It was like Christmas for them to get the tap of water. You hear people complaining about being stuck for water for a couple of days here but it really brings you down to earth to see places like that,” she said.
“I walked through the streets of Port-au-Prince that now lie in ruins. I can still see the children playing on the streets and the local people manning their stalls on the side of the road.
“It’s hard to contemplate that many people we encountered may not be alive now,” she continued.
“A nicer and more welcoming nation would be impossible to find. All I can say is that my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. A crisis like this puts our bad weather in perspective,” Eimear added.
She called on people in Clare to pray for Haitians at this time and urged those in a position to do so to donate to Concern’s relief fund.
The public can donate to the appeal through by phoning 1850 410510 or online through www.concern.net
‘Beyond anything I have seen before’
An Ennis man working for charity Plan Ireland has described the situation in Haiti as “beyond anything I have ever experienced before”.
Damien Queally from Ennis is programme manager with the aid agency and has been speaking to people on the ground in the areas worst-affected by last week’s quake.
“Having worked in Asia and Africa for more than eight years, I have seen lots of poverty, destruction and devastation.
“However, speaking with our team on the ground in Haiti, the catastrophe that is unfolding there is beyond anything I have ever experienced before.
“Dead bodies piled on streets and in fields; no food, water or medicine; a horrific stench in the air; orphaned children; people buried under rubble still alive knowing that their sibling or family member lying beside them is dead. It is beyond belief,” he stated.
Four of Plan’s 274 child sponsors in Clare sponsor children in Haiti and according to Damien, Plan is doing its best to try to provide updates as to the welfare of these Haitian children.
The charity has been working in Haiti for more than 35 years and has 140 staff there.
“The commitment from our colleagues is amazing. Many have lost their own homes, family members and friends, yet they are working flat out helping us with our search, rescue and relief efforts. Their dedication is humbling,” said Damien.
“Our priority now is to get food, water and medicine to those in need.
“Also, we will be focusing our efforts on helping children deal with the trauma they are experiencing and protecting them from risk of abuse or trafficking, which are common when such turmoil exists,” he continued.
Anyone wishing to make a donation or to find out more about Plan’s work can visit www.plan.ie or freephone 1800 829 829.