Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hotel Montana: What should have been...

Rick Santos, President and CEO of IMA World Health, and his colleagues Ann Varghese, IMA Senior Program officer, and Jim Gulley (right) with UMCOR have their photo taken on the balcony of the rebuilt Hotel Montana in Port au Prince, Haiti last week. Photo Courtesy: IMA World Health

By Rick Santos, IMA World Health
President and CEO

On Wednesday, June 21st, 2012 I sat with Jim Gulley from UMCOR and my IMA colleague Ann Varghese on the patio of the Hotel Montana in Port au Prince, Haiti, discussing our organizations’ health work. Two years, five months, and nine days ago—on January 12, 2010—we were supposed to sit on that very same patio and have a very similar conversation. It was nice to finally have this meeting, though three of our colleagues were missing—IMA’s Dr. Sarla Chand, who was in South Sudan doing other work, and Rev. Sam Dixon and Rev. Clint Rabb from the United Methodist Church, both of whom perished in the rubble of the Montana the last time we were supposed to meet. This time the evening was cool and clear, the view of Port au Prince spectacular, and the conversation about how to improve the health conditions of the people of Haiti, productive. This time, thankfully, the earth was still.

Rev. Samuel Dixon, Jr.
Ann, Jim and I were joined by Dr. Abdel Direny and Tom and Wendy Vencus, all three of whom were also in Haiti that fateful day that changed our lives forever. After the work conversation ended, we talked a lot about what happened when the earthquake struck. I think we retold stories we’ve probably told a hundred times before, and heard new details from Dr. Direny and the Vencuses that we had not heard before. We talked a lot about Sam and Clint and how much they meant to their families, to the Methodist Church, and to us. Jim reminded us that Sam had a wonderful sense of humor and of the jokes he told, even in the darkness and the rubble of the Montana.

For me it was a bookend to that day two years ago; it was the evening that should have been, but turned out so differently. It was a very bittersweet moment.

Rev. Clint Rabb
This is the second time I have been to Haiti since the earthquake. The first time was six months later, to visit IMA’s restarted Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control Program, which is funded by USAID via RTI and is part of a larger national program with many partners including the Haitian Ministry of Health, CDC, and other organizations. Though the earthquake threatened to end it, this program has since achieved full national coverage and is on the road to the elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis by 2020. It is truly a remarkable program, one which costs so little—and our portion, led by Dr. Direny, has reached over four million people annually.

On that first trip back, I was amazed by how little had been done to rebuild, how tent cities were set up in the middle of rubble-filled intersections, and how the rhythm of daily life seemed to have regained a semblance of normality, yet the conditions were still horrible and anything but normal.

On this trip, two years later, much of the visible and palpable effects of the earthquake seemed to be gone. However, as I drove around Port Au Prince and the countryside, what struck me this time was the grinding poverty that has been part and parcel of pre- and post-earthquake Haiti. Even though the international community and the Haitian politicians have helped Haiti begin to put the earthquake behind it, I am not sure they have yet created the conditions to address the poverty of the Haitian people in the long run.

As a CEO of a public health organization, a person who is concerned, and a person who shares in the sorrow and loss from the earthquake with so many Haitians, I continue to hope that conditions will get better, and I am committed to working towards that end. I would like to think the Haitian people and politicians can work with United States Government, the international community, NGOs, and the private sector to overcome the crippling cycle of poverty in Haiti. Sitting on the patio of the Hotel Montana, this is what my colleagues and I hope and pray for. As I come to terms with what should have been all those months ago, I can’t help but turn my thoughts toward what’s to come. If we can each do our part well to turn the tides of poverty in Haiti, I think that is something both Sam and Clint would be quite proud of.

Posted with permission from IMA World Health. View original blog post here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Finding Joy in Helping People

UMCOR Philippines volunteers build temporary shelters for the Navotas community in the northwestern part of Manila whose homes were demolished two years ago. Photo: UMCOR Philippines

By Clinton Bonghanoy*

On June 22, 2012, I was invited by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to go to Navotas fish port complex, the largest fish port in Southeast Asia. I had never been to Navotas before and since I knew that whenever UMCOR responds to people in need, it usually means we are able to extend our help to the less fortunate. With this in mind I opted to help.
The municipality of Navotas is located in the northwestern part of Metro Manila. It is the fish trading capital of the country and the site of Navotas fish port complex.
It took us about three hours to arrive at Navotas. When we got there I could not believe what I saw— poverty at its worst. I was emotionally struck. The area was over populated and signs of malnutrition were everywhere. The place carried a foul odor and the children’s clothes were tattered and dirty. What was more shocking was that in the face of all this misery, some members of the community had turned to vices and drugs. At the sight of all of this, I realized how blessed I am. There are a lot of things I should thank God for in my life and not take for granted.
Our basic reason for coming to Navotas was to help the local community and their organization KADAMAY in rebuilding the homes of some 41 families who were forced to sleep on the sidewalk after their houses were demolished by local ports authority.  The beneficiaries were survivors of a violent demolition that occurred two years ago. We also distributed canned goods and sugar.
Children are happy to see UMCOR Philippines staff and volunteers who not only provided shelter and food assistance, but also spent quality time with the Navota community. Photo: UMCOR Philippines 

The recipients were so grateful and the children were so happy to see us that day. I was so moved by the community that I wanted to give them more. So I decided to play with the children. I had a wonderful time enjoying the games. It was very rewarding to see their happy faces and I felt the joy inside of me.
We left the area before sunset with all our energies drained.  But, in spite of this, I found joy in all these wearisome tasks and I’m grateful to the UMCOR family for giving me once again an opportunity to help others in need.  Indeed, it was a great experience.
*Clinton Bonghanoy is an UMCOR Philippines volunteer.