Storms wreak havoc
Helping Haiti: Local aid efforts suffer setback
By KAREN ESCHBACHER
eadly storms that pounded Haiti last week slowed the flow of food to a hospital run by a South Shore organization and destroyed homes in an area adopted by the group.
Randolph resident Nannette Canniff, who has just returned from a visit to Haiti, said roads that are difficult to travel under the best circumstances were dotted with puddles that resembled small lakes and covered with several feet of mud in some stretches. A stream swelled so much that it swallowed up to its hood the sports-utility vehicle Canniff traveled in.
In the southwest community of Fond des Blancs, where Canniff’s St. Boniface Haiti Foundation runs a hospital and provides other humanitarian aid, some families were left homeless when mud huts collapsed under the weight of the rain. When the one-room shacks did hold up, their thatch roofs provided little protection.
“The people hadn’t been sleeping because they were standing up in the middle of the houses trying to stay dry for days,” Canniff said. “Everything in the house was wet.”
Fond des Blancs was spared from the worst of the powerful tropical storm, which killed nearly 1,700 people along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In southeast Haiti, floods wiped out entire villages surrounding a farming community called Mapou.
Canniff said she did not know of any deaths in Fond des Blancs.
The St. Boniface Haiti Foundation, started by a group of parishioners at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Quincy, adopted Fond des Blancs more than 20 years ago and now raises nearly $1 million annually to provide medical care, housing and education to the region’s 45,000 people.
Canniff, who travels to Haiti several times a year, said the recent storms were especially devastating because they followed months of political turmoil and violence in the Caribbean country, the poorest in the western hemisphere.
An armed uprising that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster in February and ongoing instability have thwarted international relief organizations’ attempts to deliver food and other supplies. Treacherous travel conditions caused by the weather are further hampering those efforts.
“We’re low on everything,” Canniff said.
Prices are also skyrocketing.
A 50-pound bag of rice that had cost 100 Haitian dollars now sells for 600, or $80 in U.S. currency, Canniff said. The per capita income in Haiti is $250 a year, meaning residents who could hardly afford one meal a day before are even more likely to go hungry.
Half of recent patients at the 20-bed St. Boniface Hospital are severely anemic.
“It’s very, very rough,” said Canniff, who arrived in Haiti on May 24. “Everybody has lost weight. All the children have lost weight. They’re just not eating as they were.”
Canniff said the foundation’s goal is “just to keep things running in a stable manner, to keep the programs going, try to keep them up to the standard that we had them at.”
The organization is also trying to press on with plans for the future. An expansion of the hospital is under way, and construction of housing for elderly residents is nearing completion. Although bad weather has slowed work, Canniff said the projects should be finished soon.
Despite the poverty and other problems, Canniff said, the Haitian people continue to show warmth and a positive attitude every time she visits.
“I’m always heartened when I come away from there, even with the weather and the political turmoil,” she said.
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com
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