#HurricaneMatthew Response: Three Weeks on the Ground in Haiti

After a major disaster, humanitarian workers often rush to chaotic and dangerous environments to help people in their time of need.

Since Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti’s southwestern peninsula three weeks ago, USAID’s Hurricane Matthew Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and our partners have been working around the clock to support the Government of Haiti’s efforts to provide help to communities affected by the storm. On top of delivering food assistance and relief supplies, we are clearing roads and debris, providing materials for emergency shelter, and working with health authorities to monitor and prevent the spread of disease in areas where water and sanitation services have been compromised.

DART Press Officer Scott Fontaine asked several team members to share insight into their work and what motivates them. Read on to meet seven of these dedicated disaster response workers.

Mette Karlsen, Food Security Advisor

Mette first came to Haiti in 2005 to evaluate development programs in the southern peninsula. Now, the native of Norwood, N.J., is working to ensure that urgent food assistance reaches the people who need it most.

What is your role on the DART? ​I help get food to the people who no longer have anything left after the hurricane. I’m also working on strategies for the U.S. Government on how to help these people to get back on their own two feet, get food back on their tables, their kids back to school, and their lives rebuilt. ​

What is your most memorable moment so far? ​A week after the Hurricane, it rained​ … a lot. The capital of Port-au-Prince was not very affected by Hurricane Matthew, but this rain turned the roads into roaring rivers and it paralyzed the city. It impressed upon me how traumatic the Category 4 hurricane must have been, and it really reinforced our need for urgency to respond.

What motivates you? The goodness of humanity.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? ​I want to get people the food and assistance they need to rebuild their lives.​

Al Gembara, Civil-Military Affairs Officer

When the military needed to know where to send their helicopters or what to deliver, they turned to Al, a resident of Alexandria, Va.

What is your role on the DART? I liaise with the U.S. military, which is providing a unique capability on this response. Specifically, they provided critically needed airlift to help us distribute relief supplies to areas that are inaccessible by road.

What is your most memorable moment so far? The first time we successfully delivered relief commodities to the hard-hit city of Jeremie. Roads were cut off, and people were running out of food and clean water. Hundreds of Haitians were at the landing zone when the helicopters landed, and they knew relief had arrived.

What motivates you? Now that I’m a father with another child on the way, I can’t help seeing my kids in the faces of all children around the world. It shouldn’t matter where you were born or into what circumstances — if someone is in need, I want to provide help and comfort.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? First and foremost, help those in greatest need. I also want to represent the best the American people have to offer.

Jonathon Anderson, Deputy Team Leader

Jonathon knows Haiti as well as anyone else at OFDA. Since 2014, the native of Syracuse, N.Y., has worked in Port-au-Prince as a regional advisor.

What is your role on the DART? My day-to-day is lots of focus on operations, planning, programs, information and meetings with the U.S. Embassy, other donors and partners — with time for snacking in between.

What is your most memorable moment so far? The day after the storm passed, I joined an overflight with Provisional President Privert, Ambassador Mulrean, the directrice of the Haitian Department of Civil Protection and a representative from the United Nations Disaster Assessment Committee.

What motivates you? Two things: OFDA’s mission to help people who really need it, and the team we have here. We have a great team.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? I want the DART to collectively support the best response we possibly can.

Lara Sulzman, Information Officer

For information officers like Lara, the demands of serving on a DART are nonstop. They constantly collect, analyze and report information about the humanitarian response — and the native of Staten Island, N.Y., is putting those skills to work on the Hurricane Matthew DART in Haiti.

What is your role on the DART? In a word, I write! I convey the DART’s activities and information about the disaster- — such as needs of disaster-affected people and challenges to providing assistance — to our colleagues in Washington, D.C. I like to think of myself as an internal reporter, as I regularly speak with nearly everyone on the DART to capture their work in a daily report.

What is your most memorable moment so far? Taking my first helicopter ride to deliver food to an area made inaccessible by the hurricane is tied with doing laundry with my boss for most memorable.

What motivates you? I am very inspired by the resilience of people who have lost everything to a disaster. While there are always sad stories, there are many more of courage, creativity, and humor amidst dire circumstances.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? I want to do my best to ensure that all aspects of our team’s work is given the attention it deserves in our reporting, I want to help identify where our assistance is most needed, and I want to eat as many Haitian avocados as possible.

Pete Warker, Safety and Security Coordinator

Pete, a former Marine and resident of Emerald Isle, N.C., ensures all members of the DART can help coordinate the humanitarian response in a safe and responsible manner.

What is your role on the DART? My job is to ensure the safety and security of all DART members for the DART team leader. I coordinate approval by the regional security officer for DART members to travel throughout Haiti to perform their duties providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by Hurricane Matthew.

What is your most memorable moment so far? Traveling to Les Cayes and accompanying DART members on multiple assessments in the southwestern sector of Haiti, as well as actively participating in aid distribution with Catholic Relief Services in the commune of Torbeck.

What motivates you? I spent over 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. I want to continue to serve my country by contributing to the humanitarian assistance of people affected by disaster.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? The safe and healthy return of all DART personnel to their homes and families.

Sonia Walia, Health Advisor

Sonia has worked at OFDA since 2011, helping advise host governments and NGO partners about public health risks that arise during and after disasters. The native of Augusta, Ga., is serving on the Hurricane Matthew DART as its health advisor, with a primary focus on mitigating the spread of cholera.

What is your role on the DART? I provide technical guidance to the U.S. Government and NGOs on health programming to respond to health situations after the hurricane, including cholera.

What is your most memorable moment so far? Our first cholera treatment unit is up and running to treat suspected cholera patients!

What motivates you? Knowing that what we are doing is immediately providing emergency health care to those that need it the most.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? Put health services in place quickly so that we can provide immediate care in the hurricane-affected areas, including prevention and treatment for cholera.

Greg Elder, Planning Coordinator

Greg is no stranger to Haiti. The native of Owensboro, Ky., worked in Haiti for an NGO from 2007 to 2009, and also worked on the humanitarian response after the 2010 earthquake.

What is your role on the DART? As the planning coordinator, I meet with potential partners — like the United Nations, NGOs and the Government of Haiti — to gather information to inform response strategy and program portfolio. I also review concept notes and proposals to shepherd them through the process.

What is your most memorable moment so far? Witnessing the resilience of the Haitian people in the face of such incredible devastation.

What motivates you? Making other people’s lives a little better.

What do you want to accomplish on this response? Help ease the plight hurricane-affected Haitians are experiencing and assist them to get back on their feet.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation pubication on Medium.com.

After Hurricane Matthew, USAID teamed up with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to train local staff on USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in Haiti on how to install and use USAID plastic sheeting and shelter kits properly. [USAID]
Posted by DipNote Bloggers
October 27, 2016


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