Today marks the two year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that buried Haiti in rubble. This is an article I wrote last year, published in the Good News, where I interviewed Angel Aloma, director of Food for the Poor. Haiti still needs help.
By Bryon Mondok
The Good News
Since the first days after the quake, Food For The Poor has worked to alleviate suffering and rebuild the lives of the Haitian people, said Angel Aloma, Executive Director of Food For The Poor in an interview with the Good News. “It’s a long-term solution. There are no short cuts to it.”
Food For The Poor launched a campaign two days after the earthquake and have continued the work ever since.
“It’s continuous. We’ve been there for 24 years. And we have accelerated our work tremendously. But it’s not a special campaign. It’s a continuous effort.” said Angel Aloma, Executive Director of Food For The Poor
Aloma was born in Santiago, Cuba, and raised in Jamaica. He received his Master’s Degree from Nova Southeastern University.
Growing up in Jamaica has uniquely equipped Aloma with the necessary skills to guide Food For The Poor through the organization’s incredible growth. Because Aloma is especially attuned to the plight of the poor in the western hemisphere, he leads numerous mission trips to the Caribbean countries.
“Food For The Poor is in just about every city in Haiti,” Says Aloma. “We have distribution centers in the north and the east and the west and the south. Because we work through churches, we have a tremendous network of more than 2,600 recipients who actually collect from our distribution centers and then they distribute to their churches and the churches distribute to the final beneficiaries. Our mission, basically, is to turn the church of the first world to church of the third world.”
Good News: Tell our readers what was going through your mind when you saw the news about the earthquake. Were you in South Florida at the time?
“I was about to leave for the Dominican Republic. When it happened, I was about to meet with the president of the Dominican Republic, but the meeting was cancelled. I was on my way to the airport when I got a phone call saying the president would not be able to see me. So I cancelled the trip and then about half an hour later, all hell broke loose in Haiti. It was a shock for us; we had a group there from Lynn University going with some of our staff members. And, unfortunately, although eight of the twelve students survived, four students from Lynn University and two faculty members lost their lives at the Hotel Montana. We also had a staff member that was with them that was buried in rubble for 17 hours before she was saved.“
Good News: How soon after the earthquake were you able to get into the country?
“I went down there six days after the earthquake, myself, and spent eight days in Haiti. I had to go through the Dominican Republic. I brought in a convoy of four trucks with water and medicines and cement to start the rebuilding. I took 1,500 bags of cement. That’s the actual truck that I rode over on.”
Good News: What was it like being on the ground there?
“When I went to the Hotel Montana - where I always stayed - I saw it completely in rubble. Knowing that four of the students and two teachers from Lynn had died there and that one of our staff had been buried there for 17 hours, the owner came up to me and hugged me and started crying. I started crying also. It is just very, very sad. When I drove downtown, seven to fourteen days after the earthquake, there were still dead bodies all over the place. The stench in the city was horrendous. One night, my nose actually bled from blowing it so much trying to get rid of the stench. I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies in my life, but I wasn’t prepared for the decomposition of the bodies. The stench was all over the city. Downtown you could see the bodies, but there were areas where you couldn’t. Bodies were buried under the rubble, but you could still smell them. It was a very pervasive situation.”
Good News: How do you respond to the cholera situation? When your mission is to distribute food, how does a crisis like that play into what you are doing? Is it an interruption of your work?
“Since the cholera outbreak, we have installed thirty solar powered water purification units. These are systems that will purify, if you have a water source, regardless of how contaminated the water source might be, up to 10,000 gallons per day. We have installed 30 of those in the Artibonite area, the area with the most cholera incidents. That means that we have a total production of 300,000 gallons of pure water per day. That came almost immediately after the cholera epidemic started.“
Good News: How are you able to handle set back after set back? How do you endure them?
“I saw some of the most inspiring things that I’ve ever seen. At one of the tent cities I met some women that had lost their babies in the earthquake. In the midst of their grief, they had volunteered to breast feed the infants that had lost their mothers. And I thought to myself, ‘my God, can anyone give more of themselves than that?‘ The generosity of the people who are suffering toward each other is amazing. I saw people whose hands were bleeding from helping their neighbors dig out the rubble to try find their relatives even though, by that time, the majority of them had died. They wanted to at least give them a decent burial.”
Good News: What does that do to your faith?
“It strengthens it. It strengthens it because when we drove home at night around nine o‘clock after very long days, we had to drive around groups of people whose churches had been destroyed. They were congregating in the streets to worship and praise. I thought to myself that if these people, who have every right to feel forsaken by life and by God, if they are able to maintain their faith and be here, now, amidst the tragedy of lost family members, lost possessions, lost homes, and lost churches, and still gather to worship and thank God for their blessings, that really strengthens my faith, let me tell you.”
Food For The Poor provided millions of meals from the rice, beans, canned goods and water that were shipped into Haiti. They’ve installed latrines near tent cities where several thousand people were sharing fewer than a dozen portable toilets. Solar lights have been installed near the latrines in tent cities and other communities to provide a higher level of safety for the people living nearby.
By the end of November, 2010, Food For The Poor sent 1,377 containers valued a $182 million in relief to help the people in Haiti. These containers included food, water, and water filtration systems, medicines, building supplies, tools, boots and hygiene kits in response to the cholera.
“This isn’t a campaign with a beginning a middle and an end. Haiti is going to need help for the next 20 or 30 years,“ Aloma said.
For more information about
Food For The Poor, go to www.foodforthepoor.org.