Charity well trusted in Haiti
NORWICH — An eastern Connecticut aid organization was well placed when the 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the southwestern “claw” of Haiti on Aug. 14.
The Haitian Health Foundation has been working in that section of the country for 36 years.
Now, 250 staffers in Haiti, aided by five in the Norwich office, are in the midst of helping Haitians in the Grand’Anse area whose homes were destroyed and who have infected wounds but little soap, food or supplies.
“Normally we care for 250,000 people in Jérémie and in the villages around it,” said Marilyn Lowney, executive director of the agency.
Her father, Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, traveled to Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince in 1982 to offer free dental care. After Mother Teresa asked him to focus on the southwestern peninsula, he began the foundation in 1985. A clinic was built in 1987.
At 85, “he’s working there right now,” Lowney said. “He has been a volunteer all these years and he’s pretty much full time in our office, fundraising.”
Her mother, Virginia Lowney, volunteers to run Save a Family, a monthly giving program.
Because it has been working in Haiti for so long, the foundation is trusted by the local Haitian residents.
“They know that we’re fair, that we give to the poorest of the poor,” Marilyn Lowney said.
“The babies we were treating when we first got there are now mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers,” she said. “We’re trusted in the community.”
The foundation’s staff in the country are almost all Haitian, and “most of them have been there for years,” Lowney said.
The small staff in Norwich focuses on fundraising, administration and logistics. The charity has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, with 91.8 percent of donations going directly to those in need.
The earthquake, which
killed more than 2,200 people, hit east of Jérémie, a remote, mountainous area where relief has been slow to arrive. The earthquake hit at 8:30 a.m. and “by 9 we had staff showing up” to help, Marilyn Lowney said.
After the earthquake, a 5.0-magnitude aftershock, as well as smaller aftershocks, hit.
“It really hit Jérémie hard, as well as Les Cayes,” Lowney said. “It’s going to be a long-term recovery because thousands of homes are damaged and
destroyed. … People are traumatized. They’re sleeping outside,” for fear of more aftershocks.
“Now it’s a week later and more people are still living outside, sleeping outside, still homeless,” she said Monday.
Respiratory disease and diarrhea are among the illnesses from which the people are suffering, and “the big fear we have is cholera,” she said.
Lowney said people also were showing up with infected wounds.
“This is what happens
after a disaster,” she said. There are “isolated pockets of people out in the mountains and we were fearing that when we got to them we would find this kind of problem, and we have. … They’ve got wounds that haven’t been treated for a week and other problems.”
Soap sells for $3.50 in a country in which people make $3 to $5 a day, Lowney said. “Even before this earthquake, food and essentials haven been increasingly expensive . ... A lot of food, hygiene supplies were out of reach of the poor.”
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Political turmoil and crime also are endemic to Haiti. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated July 7 and gangs have stolen aid from hijacked relief trucks.
Lowney said the healing and rebuilding will take time and money. “It’s a long road ahead. We’re committed,” she said.
To donate, go to haitianhealthfoundation.org.