Update from Jayne Fleming, Humanitarian Project Project, Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN)
By 8:00 a.m. yesterday there were 45 families at the door of the BAI. I was thrilled to see them. Yet I had no legal or medical support teams for another five hours. Our doctors and lawyers were in flight. I did, however, have three great interpreters. We got moving right away.
We did 23 straight interviews, rotating interpreters with each case. Each person had a heart-breaking story to relay. Many of the women had horrifying pre-quake histories of gender-based violence. The women out-numbered the men two to one. I soon realized about half of the women were widows.
We did the interviews methodically. By noon we had completed about 15. It was now roasting outside. There were 30 families, many with small children, who had been sitting in the sun for hours. I asked the community organizers who had rounded up our families if we could get them all lunch. Based on the stories that morning, I knew most of them had not eaten that day and had had, at most, one meal the day before.
I provided money for food and returned to interviewing.
We did another six interviews. Widows, grandparents, the wounded. We spoke with a mother who had lost three daughters in the quake. They were housekeepers at the Hotel Imperial, which had pancaked. Their bodies were not recovered. She was waiting for someone to dig them out so she could bury them.
We met a woman who had lost her husband. She told us his body was picked up by a garbage truck and taken away. We saw several women who needed medical evaluations. One was a definite suicide risk. We also had a five year old boy who had watched his mother die in the earthquake and then remained trapped under rubble for three days before being saved. I wanted him to see our child psychiatrist.
By 1:00 we had worked our way through half of the group, but more had arrived. The rows of folding chairs assembled in the driveway were still full.
Our team arrived at 1:00 – four doctors and two lawyers. Of course they had been flying all night and I was not sure what condition they might be in. We gathered together in a back room. I am not one to display emotion at work. I confess I could not keep my voice from shaking as I described the morning.
Thankfully they were ready to dive right in. We got two medical teams started on two of the most high-risk cases. Our legal team continued to screen families.
We did not finish until after dark. The last “family” I interviewed consisted of a 28-year old man and two children, ages 6 and 14. The children were not related, either to each other or the man. Both had lost their parents in the earthquake. He was looking out for them because he had known their families. The children were shell-shocked, wide-eyed with fear.
By the end of the day we had identified 20-25 applicants for humanitarian parole. (We also identified 2 families in the tent camp on Weds).
This morning we have 45 more families arriving – 15 at 8:00, 15 at 10:00 and 15 at noon. By Sunday, we will narrow our pool down and move from interview mode to application prep. By the time we leave we will have 50-60 of the most compelling applications possible.
The members of our team are spectacular. We had a long meeting last night and planned our legal strategy for getting the applications granted. Everyone is determined, smart and tactical.
The most important thing I can convey about my experience is the unbelievable courage and beauty of the Haitian people. They are gentle, humble, intelligent and resourceful. All of the stories that portray Haiti as some kind of savage, lawless territory are totally false.
I’ll write more soon.