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 second of a four-part series for Avaunt, Gosling describes the devastating effect of Matthew on Haiti and her aid efforts in the country.
Earning the respect of the local communities and listening to their needs was vital for the success of our deployment. The local charity Hope for Haiti provided us with daily clean water, translators, drivers, roadworthy trucks and bargained with the locals to help us buy the materials we needed to complete our jobs.
Hope for Haiti also directed us to the villages most in need and gave us a list of jobs that required urgent attention. In return, we provided the expertise and manpower. It was a vital relationship that ensured we delivered what the locals wanted, in a sensitive manner at a time of desperation and heightened emotions, when they felt forgotten.
Each morning at 7.30 we would be briefed over breakfast. Within our teams we made plans for the day under the direction of our team leader, while eating a single-egg omelette, sometimes with a piece of bread that we’d cover in peanut butter from our own rations. We could never source enough food, but we never complained as we knew the locals were eating even less.
While one team would spend the day building pre-fabricated frames for school buildings which doubled up as community centres and shelters, another group would be out re-roofing a building. Other allocated tasks included; collecting clean bottled water, buying building materials with our local partners or doing a recce of the next job.
Nothing ever went smoothly. Each morning our drivers would turn up very late having struggled to find fuel. En route we’d get stuck in traffic, or the mud. Roads that were passable one day were not the next, after overnight flooding. There was a lot of hauling planks of wood around on our shoulders in 35-degree heat, or through rivers in intense humidity.
We targeted the remote communities that hadn’t yet been reached due to the difficulty of access. On one job this meant that together with the locals we had to carry all of our tools, building materials and pre-fab buildings for three hours up a river, with frequent crossings, just to be able to get to the village each day. We were worn out before we even began the real work.
We had to carry an additional burden – the minimum of four litres of water that we had to take with us, as there was none we could safely drink at out destination. We suffered in the intense heat, under a burning sun.
Back in the capital Port-au-Prince, the affectionately named ‘air donkeys’ of our team began delivering food aid to remote communities – communities that could only be reached by helicopter because they were so remote and the hurricane damage to infrastructure. In just four days they managed to deliver 330 boxes – each which weighed 15kg and contained 36 meals – to those families most in need, a total of 11,880 meals weighing 5,000kg.
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.