Home Selected Post-Earthquake Dispatches 2010 Basic Questions and Answers for Members of the Press (March 24)

Basic Questions and Answers for Members of the Press (March 24)

March 24, 2010

Basic Questions and Answers for Members of the Press

What is the Haitian Resource Development Foundation? (please elaborate on why you founded this organization and what work it does for the people of Haiti)

In 1987, my friend Dr. Jacques Bartoli, a general practitioner residing in Haiti and myself an Obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in Lafayette Louisiana, decided to help Haitians because the country was trying to recover from many years of dictatorship.  As physicians, we taught we could be of special health in the field of medical services, public health and education and the environment. We created the Haitian Resource Development Foundation (HRDF), so we could raise money for our work, hire staff, gather supplies and equipment, and recruit volunteers among the Haitian communities in the United States and Haiti.

On of our first projects, was to repair the Source Barrière, a natural spring high in the mountain above Aquin that provide drinking water to the people in the city. The nature of the problem was infiltration of dirty water into the delivery pipes. The result was water that was chronically contaminated. People were getting sick from using it. So HRDF, repair the lines, protected the source. Some of the money from the work come from people of Lafayette Louisiana. The work we stated there more that twenty years ago has been maintained and expanded by Aquin. It was very gratifying during my visit in early January, actually just before the earthquake, I have seen some workers renewing and expanding the spring box. Some of these workers were not even born when HRDF started that project. We are now two generation in health and environmental protection.

For another story, in 2004, after a series of very bad hurricanes, HRDF made a partnership with the Humanitarian Assistance Program of US Military Southern Command to improve the emergency response capability of some hospitals in Haiti, that were overwhelmed. Among them, was the Hôpital de la Communauté Haitienne in Frères neighborhood of Pétion-Ville, a large suburb of Port-au-Prince. A new trauma unit with operating room and an intensive care unit was made. Then, for more than a year, HRDF, in partnership with the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad and Mole Saint Nicolas in Action, trained physicians, nurses and other paramedical personnel in emergency medicine. In fact this facility was made available to surgeons of the University of Miami field Hospital when they came to help Haitians after the January earthquake.

What were you doing in Haiti in January?

Stuart Leiderman, an environmental refugee and ecological restoration specialist from New Hampshire and I went to Haiti to survey, investigate and propose solutions for the environmental situation in Aquin, a south coastal city in Haiti. Aquin suffers from cycles of flash floods and droughts. It is unprotected from storms that approach from the sea and much of its mountainside has no forest. We returned to Port-au-Prince on January 11 and the next day we were caught in the earthquake. We return to Weston a week later, where we continued to coordinate and prepare teams for return trips.

What was it like to be in Haiti during and immediately following the earthquake? (Please share your fears, struggles, etc.)

Stuart and I were having dinner at my friend Gilbert’s restaurant “La Plaisance.” It’s a restaurant where old friends meet to talk about everything and nothing, have a drink and a nice dinner. We were sitting outside at a kind of picnic table. It was getting to be twilight and we had just ordered.

Imagine if you were with us, very relaxed. Suddenly, there was an apocalyptic noise, as if my head were tied to a railroad track in Times Square, New York City, during rush hour. Then the ground violently shook, I lost my balance. My first instinct was to run towards the building. Meanwhile, Stuart had ducked under the table. I saw the building falling towards me; I never saw anything like that. I ran to a big palm tree on my right at the edge of the yard. The shaking was continuing. I did not know if it would ever end. Then Stuart ran over to the tree and we just hung on. Slowly, the proprietors and the diners staggered into the yard wondering what happened. This generation of Haitians had never experienced an earthquake in their country. Probably, one hundred thousand had died in that minute of shaking.

It became dark. Stuart and I walked to my sister’s school nearby. We found the building mostly destroyed. We discovered that she was trapped underneath the concrete slabs. Neighbors tried to help us, but she had to stay there overnight before anyone could help her escape. Our own apartment was still standing but some of the walls were cracked, so we slept outside in the courtyard with everyone that night and for several more nights.

In the daylight hours, when I went out to find food and water, I saw a completely destroyed city, like a scene from a First World War movie. The national palace, the ministry buildings, the churches, schools, police stations, businesses, gas stations, hotels, hospitals and houses had fallen.
On the second day, bodies wrapped in sheets appeared on the streets and sidewalks. There were growing piles of garbage and debris.

There were no phone services. During those days, we went to the national civil defense office, to the general Hospital in Port-au-Prince, to the Community Hospital in Petion-Ville, to the field Hospital to the airport to help. We discovered there were a big mismatch between the availability of doctors and other relief workers, and the supplies and facilities they needed to do their job. So we helped matched them up. This is the kind of thing that HRDF has been doing for years, although never after an earthquake.

How had things changed upon returning to the island almost a month later? Where things getting better or worse ? 

Yes things were getting worse. I saw more crumbling buildings and destruction because of the aftershocks. People were under makeshift tents all over the city. I could see, smell, hear, and palpate the human misery. What is stuck in my mind are the big green cadaveric aggressive flies all over the city. These flies came from the cadaver, buried underneath the rubbles. Every time, I tried to eat something the were allover my food.

Why did you return to Haiti? 

The first time, at the en of January Dr Wiener Leblanc a Haitian-American pediatrician  from Weston, a HRDF board member and I retuned to Haiti to treat patients at the General Hospital and to coordinate the activities of physicians from the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad

What is HRDF’s “Mission Possible”?

Over the years, it seems that approximately half of all foreign aid to Haiti has gone directly to the National Government. These have been hundred of millions of dollars in grants and loans every year, primarily from other national governments such as the United States, France and Canada and from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The other half of foreign aid has been in the form of private charity and foundation money directly to Haitians in their communities.  For more than twenty years, HRDF has been one of these donors.

In this catastrophic time, it is a fair and very important question to ask which kind of aid has been more effective –  money and other resources to “Haiti”, in other words to the government, or money and resources to “Haitians”, in other words the people and their communities?  HRDF believes that the latter has been more effective. When it comes to suffering and survival, there has been little or no help from “Haiti”.

A first example is civil defense. “Haiti” has permanently buried the operation and maintenance of the Direction of the Protection Civile, the focal point of emergency response for the country. It is only a small technical office within the Ministry of Interior and Territorial Collectivities without autonomy and legal framework, sufficient staffing, funding, and decision making authority. It also lacks the communication and implementation infrastructure to reach out and mobilize the entire country. It causes a sad and unnecessary sacrifice of Haitians. HRDF believes that the Direction of the Protection Civile should be elevated at least to a secretary status or preferably given its own ministry.

Until then, we urge direct funding and training of local Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). As recently as October 2009, HRDF had successfully recruited and received the commitment of the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management for CERT in Haiti. Planning for their first visit to Haiti was being made when the earthquake struck. And in November, the firefighters of Limoges, France gave their first instruction in community emergency response, in Aquin on the southern coast. This is “Mission Possible” – saving “Haitians” not “Haiti”.

The second example is Customs, the national government office responsible for the orderly oversight, receipt and passing through of all of the country’s imports, including humanitarian supplies. The consensus among the Humanitarian community and the Haitian Diaspora is that Haiti’s Customs does not work, even in noncatastrophic times. This is specifically asserted in a resolution of the Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress that convened in Miami this past August and is now a major concern of the Congress NGO Follow-up Committee chaired by HRDF.

Unlike the first example, foreign aid donors and now the greatly expanded emergency response must send its supplies through Customs, i.e. through “Haiti” rather than directly to Haitians. This is a serious constraint. Direct access to communities must be immediately opened throughout the country. Millions of lives are on the line. “Mission Possible” in this case cannot wait for governmental customs reform.

These are only two of many examples that are now forcing generous and professional responders around the world to ask a difficult question – Shall we save “Haiti” or save “Haitians”? HRDF believes the former is “Mission Impossible” while the latter is “Mission Possible”. This is because the country’s remaining viable assets are the people and the land they occupy. The government exists, but unfortunately it is not a viable asset.   

What did you do during this last visit? (Please elaborate on CERT training, etc.)

During the last trip, HRDF completed teaching part II of its CERT  program, “Responding to Mass Casualty” in Aquin. There were fifty students, men and women, all residents of the city and communal sections of Aquin. Among them were members of Aquin Protection Civile, Red Cross, soccer teams, government officials, citizens groups, water management officials, and business people. All but one successfully completed the rigorous program and were awarded certificates of completion.

The Creation of HRDF-CERT

This experience led HRDF to create in July 2009 its own Community Emergency Response Team training program for Haitians. The purpose of the CERT Program in Haiti is to:

  • Educate communities about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.
  • Use the training learned in the classroom and during exercises to assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.
  • Encourage teams to complement emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community.
  • Inform their communities on the existing emergency services   
The HRDF-CERT Training Program

3 sessions, each meeting once a month for 3 days at the time. The sessions are:

  • Basic medical care and cardiopulmonary resuscitation – Safety
  • Accidents – Simulation of disasters
  • Search and rescue operations – Principles of organization: prevention, early alert, disaster management, and mitigation

Haitians, from 18 to 30, who positively and actively participate in their communities and are likely to greatly benefit from their training.

The host populations who are continuously exposed to hazards and vulnerable to disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides, building collapses, vehicular accidents, etc…

Each program educate and train 50 Haitians, male and female, capable of coordinated response to a variety of danger in their communities. They pledged to maintain and improve their skills. HRDF typically selects among the graduates to serve as trainers in future programs. 

The program is offered at no cost to the participants. Each training program cycle (3 sessions) costs HRDF approximately US$ 15,000 that includes staff expenses, teaching material, travel, student meals. Expenses are paid for through tax deductable contribution and grants to HRDF.

Expansion Potential
With existing staff and format, 16 trainings a year are possible at a cost of approx. US$ 200,000. Additional teams can be formed to offer even more programs per year.

Limiting factors

Proximate limiting factor – HRDF is more that willing and capable to conduct more CERT training both in the southern region where it begins and around the country if funds were available. As mentioned above, US$ 200,000 would be enough to fully employ current staff and graduate approximately 800 HRDF-CERT students per year. It is an investment of US$ 250 per student.

Ultimate limiting factor – Imagine a team of 50 HRDF-CERT graduates with the knowledge to protect their community but without the requisite equipment, supplies, tools and replacement necessary to go into action. This is the ultimate limiting factor. Ideally, HRDF would add a forth session to its program where the team assembles, tests, uses and repairs a variety of vehicles, search and rescue equipment, emergency communications, computers, boats, earthmovers, bridges, drains, water filtration and sanitation apparatus, shelters, body bags, identification, etc. This requires capital investment that is not only used for education purposes but also becomes lifesaving assets in the community. HRDF cannot turn a blind eye to this ultimate limiting factor. And as most of these are not manufactured in Haiti, another source can be through in-kind gifts, such as from the surplus and excess property of foreign governments and aid agencies.

Equipment needed to continue the Program

Personal protective equipments – booths, hard hats and helmets, heavy duty work gloves, eye glasses, back pack, protective jackets, chemical goggle vented,  dust masks,

First aid Antiseptics and Ointments to treat all kinds of minor cuts, burns and abrasions –  First Aid/Burn Cream Isopropyl AlcoholAlcohol cleansing padAntiseptic Cleansing Wipes (sting free)Antiseptic Cleansing Wipes (sting free)Cleansing Wipes & ToilettesHydrogen PeroxideHydrocortisone CreamPovidone-Iodine Solution/ Wipes/ Swab sticksPetroleum JellyAmmonia Inhalants/Smelling Salts SBS Sanitizing GelTriple Antibiotic OintmentInsect Sting Relief PadsMineral OilLubricating and Petroleum JellyHealing SpraysBite Relief , Bandages to treat minor cuts, abrasions, scratches and puncture wounds, such as Gauze Roll BandagesPlastic Bandages, and First Aid Tape

First responder emergency kit: 12 hour light sticks – green, safety vests dark green w/ reflective trim, large mayday solar blanket, D size flashlights, batteries, 15 inch pry bars, lumber crayons, caution tape, hammers, jacks, extrication material

 Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs),

Cots, Canopy, Tents, sleeping bags and blankets, Emergency Rain Gear: Ponchos, Rain Suits (Heavy Duty) for Adults & Children, Tarps for emergency Cover and Protection,

Communication equipments – megaphones with siren, Bull Horn – 16 Watt (600 Yard Range)Compasses, Weather thermometers, Magnifiers, Keychain straps, Whistles, commander walkie-talkies, Solar / Dynamo / Battery Powered Radio, cell phones, Battery-Free Cell Phone Chargers

Emergency storage items – duffle bags, cabinets

What’s next for HRDF?

The plan for the south of Haiti!  [see below]


For twenty-three years, HRDF has had a strong presence in civil defense and emergency response training, health and environmental research and development in Haiti’s southern peninsula.  Its headquarters are in Aquin, a coastal “commune” of 60,000 located on the Caribbean coast approximately midway between the larger cities Les Cayes and Jacmel.  The south is rich in natural resources, much of the land is fertile, supplying large quantities of fresh produce to Port-au-Prince.  HRDF intends to concentrate its effort in this southern region for several reasons:

  1. The South is home to approximately a million Haitians.
  2. The South has not been systematically assessed for damage, loss of life, condition of infrastructure, survival needs, etc.  A few reports indicate significant needs and communities isolated.
  3. A major east-west geological fault underlies under the entire region.
  4. The epicenter of the recent earthquake was in the northeast quadrant of the South.
  5. HRDF has viable, continuing partnerships in the South with disaster relief and community development entities including the United States Military Southern Command (SouthCom), agencies of the European Union, and several cities and organizations in France and Belgium.
  6. The South is a significant “breadbasket” for Haitians and for high-value exports such as coffee and mangoes whose farmers will need help to prepare for the year’s planting, harvest and shipment.


At this point, we are calling our work “Mission Possible” for two reasons: First, HRDF for a long time had a “culture of preparedness” built into all its projects such as the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), the medical training for physicians and nurses in emergency training, planning for catchment lakes, drinking water etc. This means careful design, budgeting, staffing and anticipating problems along the way because Haiti may be the most difficult place in the world to improve people’s living conditions.

Second, especially after the earthquake, it is essential to have a positive attitude that recovery is and will be possible. There is no room for failure or pessimism. Those who have the culture of preparedness should have the responsibilities for leadership. Others who have been living in blind faith have become victims. We hope they survive but there is no guarantee. The whole country has so much to learn.

If organizations such as HRDF are to accomplished “Mission Possible”, there are the usual requirements – adequate staff, headquarters here and in Haiti, equipment, mobility, program contributions. But there is also a unique requirement – a clear, detailed, practical and affordable definition of the “Reconstruction of Haiti” that everybody is calling for but no major power or relief organization has yet put forward.

For example, where the refugees live? Who will be trusted with the donors’ money? What would be the system of check and balances? Will old cities be repaired or new ones built? Can the food, water and housing come from Haiti or will everything have to be imported? Questions like these obviously need to be answered first, then people hired, money spent, refugees cared for, etc. HRDF and its partners have some answers, and are building a brain trust in Weston, Florida to take this farther. In term of specific work, “Mission Possible” is comprised of both expended and new activities:

Systematic and continuing assessment of medical and health care needs with status report to donors, suppliers and relief workers. For example, recent field visits earlier this month to the Hôpital   in Croix des Bouquets, the Hôpital ….. in Petit-Goâve and the Hôpital Immmaculée Conception in les Cayes, has brought major pledges of equipment worth more than one million dollars for those three hospitals.

Community emergency response teams (CERTS). These are nine-day professional training sessions in each communal section that need to be followed by distribution of equipment and team assignments. HRDF initiated its HRDF-CERTS program in Aquin last year and has secured the support of Florida State Emergency Management Division as partner.

“Ecological sweat equity” for environmental refugees – People fleeing Port-au-Prince and other damaged areas need shelter and tools to resettle in safe areas and reestablish their lives. For this, HRDF proposes ecological restoration and disaster preparedness, vocational training in agriculture and fishery management for coastal zone cities. Partners include Cités Unies France and the Department des Hauts de Seine, France. 

What can Weston and other south Florida communities do to help?

Awareness of Haiti – HRDF wants to make sure that the people of Weston and other southern Florida communities keep the people of Haiti in their minds, especially environmental refugees who still have no place to go, no belongings, no ability to support or feed themselves, and no assurance of being able to survive the months of rains and storms that are coming. The emergency continues.

Awareness of HRDF – HRDF wants to make sure that the people of Weston and other southern Florida communities know about us and that HRDF is a Weston-based organization with active projects that need their contributions, partnership and advice.

Our current needs – HRDF is tax-exempt and will be grateful for contribution. The address is 854 Marina Drive Weston, Florida 33327. We also need donation in of camping tents and laptops computers, so our staff in Haiti can continue their work and help the population at large, especially the students. Here in town, we also urgently need the free use of a car and an apartment, and office equipment, so we can keep and attract experts to work with us day by days and keep things going while others are in Haiti.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers about life in Haiti or relief efforts?

So far, Billions of dollars seem to have been collected after the earthquake. But almost none of it has gone to enable Haitian organizations like HRDF to do its work. We think that is unfair and unwise, especially because Haitians organizations have the advantage of culture, motivation and opportunity for success. People of Weston need to speak to their members of congress to require a portion of the relief money to go to qualify Haitian organizations. This would be a great help.


The Haitian Resource Development Foundation prioritizes programs that enable and empower various Haitian locales to further personal and collective independence. Engaging in a range of programs over 20 years, the HRDF continues a commitment to providing measurable results for program beneficiaries and program benefactors. Working with multiple international partners from North America and Europe, the HRDF is committed to fundamental improvements in Haitian villages to ensure greater economic vitality in the near future.