Peace Corps, NPS, MIIS officials and ordinary local citizens try to do their part.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The 7.0 Haitian earthquake shook the Marina home of Francine Marshall Rodd, thousands of miles from the temblor’s epicenter. The former Haiti Peace Corps director heard the news via e-mail and prayed it wasn’t true. Then her screen filled with images of crumbling buildings, and she began to sob. Now, with an estimated 200,000 dead and many more homeless, she scans her inbox for news of friends who are still unaccounted for, and hopes that soon either she or her husband can return to the country to help.
Rodd is one of dozens of Monterey County folks gathering aid for quake victims or heading to the island nation to offer hands-on assistance.
Naval Postgraduate School communications guru Brian Steckler boarded a plane for Haiti Jan. 18, but says the U.S. Department of Defense should have sent him immediately after the Jan. 12 quake. Communications were so wrecked that even Haiti’s president and vice-president desperately sought satellite phones in the wake of the disaster. Steckler says he hooked them up through his own networks while awaiting orders in Monterey.
Now, he’s leading a six-person team that will set up Wi-Fi on the fly so that military and United Nations personnel, NGO staffers and medical volunteers can e-mail, Skype, and scan Google maps in the field.
In Salinas, search-and-rescue volunteer Steve Hilts has barely kept his mind on work since getting word that he and Daisy, his 8-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, could be on call to save lives in Haiti. One of just 200 certified disaster dogs in the U.S., Daisy combed post-Hurricane Katrina wreckage for survivors with Hilts in 2005 and now drills weekly in remote parts of the county, where she earns treats for sniffing out volunteers hiding under rubble or wooden pallets. But with every passing day, the likelihood of finding survivors diminishes, along with the chances that Hilts and his canine partner will be deployed to Haiti.
Meanwhile in Marina, Rodd keeps the TV off to spare her kids, ages 13 and 10, gruesome images from Haiti. But Twitter feeds offer grim up-to-the-minute updates like this one from the owner of an old Port au Prince hotel that remains standing: “Decomposing bodies everywhere. Looting is beginning… Seven dead bodies in the prison.” Rodd turned out for MLK Day marches and rallies in Marina and Seaside, where donors filled Red Cross canisters with more than $1,000 in coins and bills. The Red Cross reports $23,000 in county contributions as of Jan. 15, including $1,284 in mostly rolled pennies from Salinas’ El Gabilan Elementary.
The Monterey Institute for International Studies has also launched a fundraising effort, while Monterey-based Language Line will offer free Haitian Creole interpreter services for aid workers on the ground, and the Defense Language Institute supplies pocket-sized Haitian Creole phrase books for Marines and emergency medical terminology for aid workers.
Rodd hopes the outpouring of support will last as long as it takes to rebuild the country. She’s sure of one thing: The spirit and resiliency of the Haitian people will remain with aid workers who visit, just as it has with her. Quoting a Haitian proverb, she says, “Once you get Haitian sand in your feet, it never really leaves your heart.”