Hurricane Matthew was the first category 5 Atlantic hurricane in half a decade. Striking the Caribbean island nation of Haiti on 4th October 2016, it caused over $10 billion of damage and the deaths of an estimated 1,600 people.
NHS physiotherapist Justine Gosling regularly volunteers in response to humanitarian crises around the world. In the last of a four-part series for Avaunt, Gosling describes her work at an orphanage with local Haitians and Team Rubicon UK.
Our last project was at an orphanage for 32 children aged between 10 months and 18 years in Port-au-Prince. The orphanage was one of three supported by the Future for the Kids charity, which is funded for the most part by American donors. Most of the children living here aren’t orphans; some have been brought here by their families who cannot afford to feed them, others were simply found living in the rubbish dumps.
Off a small courtyard, the children sleep in two rooms packed tightly with bunk beds, lined with dirty mattresses and no sheets. One room for the boys and the other for the girls. Every child shares a bed with at least one other. The room was smelly and barren – a dark, empty space with no lights, filled only with bare, rusty bunk beds.
The roof in the bedroom was so old and damaged that every time it rained the roof leaked. During Hurricane Matthew the girls’ bedroom flooded, soaking all their beds with dirty water. When asked what Team Rubicon UK could do to help, the manager of the orphanage asked if we could replace the roof so that the children would not get wet as they slept.
Over two days, that is what we did. A new, leak-free roof was erected and tested by an almighty downpour the very night it was finished.
Our team nurse and allied medical professionals also administered health checks, treating the children for ringworm, skin conditions and infections before tempting them with fresh apples to take a deworming pill. We also made removable covers for the drains which the children were using as toilets to stop them from falling in.
The orphanage struggles to feed the children, their diet consists mostly of rice and beans. Nutritional deficits were evident and many of the children have diarrhoea. We provided them with some fresh fruit and vegetables, rehydration medication and brought drinking beakers for the toddlers as they were struggling with the water in plastic bags. In the post-disaster zone food and clean water can be hard to source and sellers cash in by inflating prices to the highest bidders, making life even more desperate at the orphanage.
The children were dressed in an array of dirty clothes. Most of them had no underwear, including some of the older, menstruating girls which prompted a drive-through shopping spree at the local market. We asked our driver to take us shopping and he pulled over at a clothes stall and wound down the window. In the passenger seat was our team leader, a hardened Yorkshire lumberjack who was more than a little uncomfortable being handed girls’ knickers through the window for approval and handing over cash.
Working in the orphanage was a truly humbling experience. Aside from the work, the volunteers were used as climbing frames and the children loved to play hairdresser with us. By the time we left our skipping had improved considerably too.
Justine Gosling’s aid work in Haiti was part of a wider initiative by Team Rubicon UK and Hope for Haiti, and both charities continue to need help for their ongoing work in Haiti, and responding to disasters around the world. Donate and find out more about Team Rubicon UK and Hope for Haiti here.
Team Rubicon UK unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams in the UK and around the world.
Hope for Haiti works to improve the quality of life for the Haitian people, particularly children.