By Erica Butcher
More than a week after the earthquake, “people are still alive under the rubble, especially in the poorest areas,” Ohio University alumnus Frednel Isma said in a phone conversation from Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Thursday.
“It is so frustrating! We cannot do anything! When the rubble is as tall as I am standing and you hear people still calling out. They’re alive and we cannot do anything. We don’t have the equipment to lift the stones off of them,” Isma said in a sober tone.
He explained Haitians’ frustrations escalated as they noticed search and rescue teams in wealthy areas, “where they may be one or two people in need of rescue” rather than in areas “where hundreds of poor people are alive calling out for help.”
Talking about the rescue operation, Isma said, “Maybe they don’t have maps or information about where to search, but something has to be done.”
He is pressuring relief and aid agencies to go to places outside of Port-au-Prince also badly affected by the quake. “There are places where it is really bad. People are still alive and there’s nobody there to help them,” Isma said.
Isma returned to Haiti last August after earning a master’s degree at Ohio University in International Development Studies, as a Fulbright scholar, but his studies and previous work experiences with aid agencies never prepared him for what he is witnessing now.
“It is so scary! Last night I slept outside. The home where I was living was destroyed. There are not even any latrines. It’s unbelievable! So many people are fleeing and looking for anywhere they can find shelter. The earth was shaking again this morning. People are scared. They are panicked!”
Isma was not in Port-au-Prince at the time of the initial earthquake on Tuesday, Jan. 12. He was traveling in Southern Haiti, in an area not as greatly impacted by the quake. Instead of staying in a safer region, he returned to the city to search for relatives and friends.
Isma reported that the president of Haiti, Rene Preval, waited until Wednesday, Jan. 20 to make his first address to the nation, more than a week after the earthquake. According to Isma, until Wednesday, the president had only addressed the foreign press and not the Haitian people directly.
With tension in his voice, he said, “The government is totally absent. I am so pissed to see that no one is in charge from Tuesday! Nobody was helping from the government. The president admitted yesterday that the government is down. Instead of responding with their means, even though limited, they (government officials) fled. And they have not done anything. Even the mayors of cities are no where to be seen.”
He urged the president of Haiti to “Say Something! Talk to the people!”
Isma, who is voluntarily leading the efforts of a Haitian nonprofit organization, spends his days in meetings trying to organize aid distribution, and distributing water, energy bars and face masks. He said that there is a desperate need for face masks because of the suffocating smells of decomposing bodies everywhere.
“I have seen things you can’t imagine. . . I just don’t know.”
Haitians struggling to survive themselves are grappling with feelings of helplessness because they lack rescue equipment and cannot provide adequate medical care to the injured or suitable burials for those who lost their lives in this catastrophic event. For Haiti, Isma is urgently calling up on the world to continue to respond as thousands fight to survive.
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Author’s Note: During the “Rally for Haiti” event that took place on Sunday, Jan. 24, in Athens, OH, U.S.A., Isma via phone explained that his organization, COSPED, Collectif de Specialistes en Population et Developpement, is trying to get aid to areas that have yet to receive assistance. Isma was one of the founding members of COSPED when the organization was established in 2006, before he began his studies at Ohio University. In Dec. 2009, he was elected Deputy Coordinator. Isma is working voluntarily and not receiving a salary for this position. The organization was originally established to address population issues, such as HIV/AIDS and reproductive health. After the earthquake, COSPED shifted its focus to relief because of the gravity of the event. The organization does not currently have a website, but is working to develop one with the assistance of volunteers in the U.S. The organization has minimal overhead expenses, only those related to communication, transportation and the basics needs of its Haitian staff, food, etc. If you would like to make a donation to Isma’s organization please contact the author.
Frednel Isma: Isma earned his undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Université Adventiste d.Haïti. He also earned a post-graduate degree in Population and Development from Université d.Etat d.Haiti via Faculté des Sciences Humaines (Human Sciences Faculty). He has 11 years of experience working in different institutions and fields. He spent 5 years working as an accountant and from 2005 to 2007 worked as a project manager and logistics assistant in United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Haiti. He also taught accounting and accounting software in Université Adventisted in Haiti as well as courses in demography in INHSAC before his arrival at Ohio University as a Fulbright Scholar in 2007. His thesis, titled, “Trends, Composition, and Demographic Structure of Haitian Employment: Census and Policy Analysis from 1971 to 2003,” analyzes Haiti’s development policies and economic constraints and their impact on employment and is available online through Google Scholar.