Live From Haiti – Arrival

by Jon L. Denby

Port-au-Prince—We descended through the clouds in the 737 and suddenly the coastline of Haiti appeared. It was déjà vu all over again. In June of last year I had gone to Haiti to see for myself the aftermath of the terrible earthquake that had obliterated the island-nation. Now, I was looking down again at the land that Graham Greene, the famous English author, had once called the “Nightmare Republic.”

I was apprehensive about what I might find (or not find, for that matter). Back in June I was shocked by how slow progress was in the reconstruction efforts. People languished in squalid refugee camps while nations and aid organizations congratulated themselves on how great a job they were doing. Billions of dollars promised to Haiti was never delivered. The Haitian government continued its long tradition of corruption and robbery. People continued to suffer.

The scenes that I glimpsed today did not give me great reason for hope, unfortunately. Port-au-Prince still looked much like I remembered it: an apocalyptic landscape of tents and rubble. Obviously, the money that the international community promised Haiti still has not arrived—or, if it had, it has not found its way to the people who need it the most here.

Ironically, I had come back to cover a story I thought would offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise horrendously tragic story. This is a story of a group of 42 New York City EMTs, paramedics, and civilian volunteers who have come to Haiti to train the Gwoup Aiyisen pou Ijans (GIA—Haitian Emergency Group)—an all-Haitian outfit of 128 first emergency responders.

These EMTs, all volunteers and working under an umbrella of different organizations, will spend the next four weeks helping their Haitian counterparts to establish Haiti’s first operational emergency medical service. They will try to succeed where larger organizations, with far more resources, have failed. We shall soon see if they can pull it off.

From January 10th to the 17th, I will be traveling with these EMTs and documenting their efforts in training their GIA counterparts. I will also be here for such momentous events as the anniversary of the earthquake.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for real-time blogging, dispatches, photos, and video from field.