Update Part II from Jayne Fleming, Humanitarian Parole Project, Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN)
It’s day 4. I feel tired. I woke at 4:00, but forced myself to stay in my tent until 5:30. It is now just after 6:00. All of the others are still sleeping.
The latest challenge is that the water tank is empty. I took a sponge bath with bottled water and “no rinse bath wash”, which came with one of my REI kits. I did not have the courage to try the “no rinse shampoo”. My hair is wild enough already.
These roosters are hilarious. I have now seen them in action a few mornings. They not only wake everyone up at 4:00 a.m. on the button, but they persist until 6:00. It is like they have a built-in snooze button. If no one gets up after the first wake up call, they go off about every ten minutes to remind people the day has begun. Each reminder becomes more urgent.
Let me tell you a little about yesterday. We saw 45 families. Many have 3-4 individuals, so the courtyard was full all day. The percentage of gravely serious cases rose yesterday. We saw at least a dozen cases involving a combination of past political persecution (homes torched, women raped, husbands killed during the coup), and present harm (deaths in quake, inhumane living conditions, major medical issues). One woman put it most vividly. She had suffered through two political conflicts and was raped during both. She said the earthquake felt like a third rape. She could not differentiate between the causes of loss and suffering. It all merged. We referred more than half a dozen rape cases like this to our psychiatrists (Daryn, Suzan and Dina).
We had two cases involving young mothers who had lost their entire families (parents, husbands and children). They are terrified, empty. We referred them to Daryn and Suzan and Dina.
We referred eight cases for children (now orphans) to our child psychiatrist (Victor). At about 3:00 one of our interpreters alerted me that two orphans had arrived together – the boy was 14, the girl was 6. They were not related, but the boy had “adopted” the girl and was caring for her. We referred them to Victor. They went home with one of the adult community leaders, but today we have to find out what nets exist for protective care. We had a young woman arrive with a five year old girl in her arms. She found the girl on a pile of rubble and has been caring for her since then. The two are inseparable, bonded. The woman is deeply protective of the child. She brought her to us because the child has a fractured femur. Our first job today is to find a clinic that can help her. We saw two amputees, several students who had their schools collapse, a pastor who had his church collapse, and a grandmother who has lost everyone in her family except one grandchild.
The scale of human tragedy is impossible to comprehend. We have seen about 120 people. We can multiply those cases by 500 and we would be underestimating the magnitude of loss and despair.
The common thread running through every case is extreme poverty and inexcusable humanitarian neglect. I have interviewed over 60 people myself. Not a single one has received food aid for two months. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Families are helping families. The children eat first. The adults are stick-figures. One woman told me she drinks coffee flavored water and sucks on salt crystals to ease the hunger. Every person I have interviewed said they are lucky if they eat once a day.
Not a single person we have interviewed has a tent. All of our families are living in the street under makeshift “shelters” constructed of tattered shreds of cloth and sticks.
90% of those I have seen have had no medical attention. We have four medical emergencies that need immediate attention. Finding a clinic with space is on our list today.
The level of neglect and global indifference should enrage the members of our team. We are saving the fury for later, conserving our emotional energy for compassion.
We had a “de-briefing” last night. We have more than 50 cases that we will include in our humanitarian parole pool. We have promised to help every family we have seen, even if they don’t fall into that pool. At a minimum we will supply each family with a tent and tarp before the rains come in April. We will need 150 tents.
This morning we have 45 more families coming. Tomorrow and Monday we will have focused interviews with our parole candidates.
Everyone is working very hard. We are in harmony as a team. We have one unified focus – to help.
The New York Times reporter Deborah Sontag dropped by yesterday. She hung out with us for a couple of hours. I hope she will help spread the word about the need to utilize humanitarian parole to help people who are suffering.