Haiti and Hurricane Matthew: My Experience and How You Can Help
Written by Taylor Pizzuto on October 17, 2016 in General, Haiti
July 2016 marked the beginning of Taylor Pizzuto’s adventure to the Dominican Republic as our first field communications fellow. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, it has been a blessing to have Taylor travel across the border to Haiti providing valuable support to our staff and dispatching updates on our partners. Today we share Taylor’s most recent reflection with you.
In the short distance of tarmac from the plane to customs, I looked out the the bus window at pallets stacked high with USAID boxes, organized in rows between CH-53e helicopters. The early morning sunlight glinted off the taut saran wrap. This is what I will forever remember as the moment Hurricane Matthew’s impact became real to me.
On the morning of Tuesday, October 4th, Hurricane Matthew barreled through Haiti. Heavy rains, winds, mudslides, and flooding had destroyed thousands of homes, demolished critical transit, and wiped out agriculture. Even after a week, damage assessments were still certain, and the numbers of dead and displaced were still rising.
For a nation still trying to cast off unfortunate identities of “food-insecurity,” “international aid,” and “poverty,” a hauntingly familiar wave of news headlines dragged the battered country back into the spotlight with echoes of destruction.
With Matthew throwing its weighty wrench into the already complex machine of Haiti, many deeper and more complex issues remained in its wake. Sadly, they will remain for much longer.
From the other side of the island in the Dominican Republic, my own first hurricane experience consisted of nothing more than heavy rain and a couple inundated rivers. DR had experienced some damage and impact, but it was considerably nothing compared to what occurred to the neighbors farther west. I just couldn’t comprehend what “worse” might look like.
Larger organizations began reporting complete destruction of agriculture. From what I saw, however, news outlets were still focusing mainly on the immediate impact of death and damage, and just beginning to touch on the dangers of a cholera outbreak. For vulnerable subsistence farmers, though, especially those isolated in the most rural areas, rebuilding their farms and livelihoods would far outlast the timeliness of these headlines.
A natural inclination began to rise in my gut. It was my familiar desire to amplify the voices of those who most needed it. In this case, the impacted farming families. And why not? I was already geographically so close! But the more I thought about it, what could I really do? I’m not an expert in humanitarian logistics. I can’t navigate Haitian Creole. And I’m still just an amateur photographer and writer (if I can even claim that).
I had heard far too much of the dangers of international aid and people wanting to do the right thing before fully thinking things through. Plus, through Plant With Purpose in the DR, I was already communicating on behalf of farmers building resilience against such instances in the future.
Ultimately, I decided that others with far more experience were already taking action. So I tried to quell my inclination.
Meanwhile, Plant With Purpose was one of those organizations taking action. A disaster response had indeed been announced to assist affected farmers and community members, and it was thought-out, thorough, and sustainable. But it needed funding, stories, data, and information. Someone on the ground. That’s when I got a call.
The first conversation was to see if I was even interested. That former inclination in my gut reawakened, boiled over, and spewed out with an immediate “yes.” But the bigger question was IF I could even go. A lot of logistics needed planning, such as airfare, housing, translation, and roles. And there were many other unknowns requiring great flexibility. I could at least provide that.
But chalk it up to the Plant With Purpose team, and frantic emailing, I received another phone call within just a couple short days. This time, I was told to stuff some things into my backpack, and to be at the airport the following morning. I was going to Haiti.
Now, at the time of writing this I’ve been in Haiti for several days. Having seen the USAID boxes, military helicopters, and white UN vehicles streaming through Port-au Prince, I understand the chaos of a natural disaster response. And now that my idealism has calmed to realism, I understand the responsibility and the honor of representing Plant With Purpose.
But most importantly, after hearing a couple farmers whose crops and livelihoods had been destroyed in the hurricane , the need for Plant With Purpose’s response is critical. And it is promising.
So with an initial goal of raising $100,000 here is what Plant With Purpose is planning to do:
- Help impacted families access seeds to replant lost crops
- Construct 15 miles of soil conservation barrier
- Plant 25,000 trees to replace damaged trees and build environmental resilience
This is already being implemented through an immediate and effective cash-for-work program. This way, impacted Haitian farmers and community members can get back on their feet quickly to feed their families and repair their homes. Long-term, this will also allow their farms, livelihoods, and local environment to recover sustainably. But this needs financial support. Here’s what YOU can do:
Please consider donating to Plant With Purpose’s Help Haiti fund here.