Convoy of Hope on front lines in Haiti

Published 3:33 pm Thursday, January 28, 2010

The not-for-profit organization that showed up in Pearl River County immediately following Hurricane Katrina offering food, water, and help before the federal government even arrived — Convoy of Hope — was on the front lines when the devastating earthquake shattered Haiti two weeks ago.

“We had a country director already down there — Kevin Rose,” said Convoy of Hope Communications Director Kirk Noonan. “We have a children’s feeding initiative for the last three years in Haiti that we partner with Mission of Hope and the warehouse had just been stocked and that was how we were able to helping out immediately.” Convoy of Hope feeds over 7000 children in Haiti.

Mission of Hope is a not-for-profit faith-based organization that works in Haiti to help provide education and medical care for the thousands and thousands of children there, many of them orphaned. According to their website, over 400,000 Haitian children are orphaned, and in the area in which the organization is stationed, over 17,000 are not able to attend school. Noonan said Mission of Hope works with churches, orphanages, and schools to help the underprivileged children there get medical attention and education and that Convoy of Hope partners with them providing food and clean water for the children.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Noonan said that Convoy of Hope had a response team in the air two days after the quake and on the ground the next day. “This is on such a larger scale than (our Haiti team) is accustomed to dealing with,” explained Noonan.

He continued that when they arrived — he was one of the team — they were almost stunned at the chaos and desperation. “It was really chaotic. The first week there were a lot of hungry people walking around, a lot of people searching for water, a lot needing medical care,” said Noonan, going onto explain that bodies of the dead were everywhere. “You have to realize, there were still bodies laying in the street, in the crushed buildings where you could see them, all around. The first few days were pretty intense and everything was in disarray.”

Noonan credited Mission of Hope and other charity organizations also stationed in Haiti with helping Convoy of Hope get food and water to areas that were not being helped. “They got us into places others weren’t going,” said Noonan.

Rose, Haiti director for Convoy of Hope, noted that getting to those places was difficult at best. “The lack of fuel and security issues has made it very difficult to move food around the city,” said Rose. On the Sunday morning following the earthquake, Rose reported that the aid group had passed two young men with their hands tied — they had been executed for reasons unknown. Even so, the team did not turn back. “Through our network of partners we are getting food into some of the most desperate places,” he explained.

Noonan said that as of Tuesday, Convoy of Hope had distributed 1.6 million meals.

Continuing, he said that some of the deployed Haitian team found themselves doing double duty following the earthquake. One of those was Gary Higgins — the “water man” for Convoy of Hope. “Gary was on water duty,” said Noonan, explaining that Higgins is responsible for installing water filters to ensure residents have access to clean water. “As you know, a lot of diseases are carried by dirty water,” he continued. “But (Higgins) is also a trained paramedic so he found himself doing double duty. He saw a lot from delivering babies to setting broken bones.”

Higgins, who is the International Project Director for Convoy of Hope, said that when he arrived at Quisqueya Chapel, the organization’s main distribution point in Port-au-Prince, one of the first things he had to attend to was two women in labor and ready to deliver. “I delivered the one,” said Higgins, before pausing to reflect on the second delivery. “But the other one did not turn out good.”

Higgins, who was working alongside a team member who is an OB/GYN, explained that they discovered the woman’s water had broken six days prior and they realized she would need a cesarean section. They also knew that at their small streetside medical station under the trees did not have the necessities, such as anesthesia, for such a medical procedure, they opted to take her to a near by medical clinic they had been told was operational.

“At that so-called clinic there was no anesthesia, no incubation for the mother and baby, no cauterizing equipment,” he said. Adding to the already critical situation was that the mother was suffering from placental abruption. “We were forced to do the section,” he said, adding that the mother died almost immediately. That is when Higgins and the doctor struggled to save the baby. “We did CPR on the baby for several minutes, we really tried, but to no avail.”

He said the medical care continued almost non-stop and that the team is still setting broken bones and treating severe lacerations, most of them on children and all without anesthesia. “A week later we were still setting broken bones on children and I do not mean just simple broken bones, I am taking about severe fractures like a fractured femur bone.”

He said that trying to care for the sick and injured was emotionally and physically exhausting. “It took a lot,” he noted.

In addition to helping out as a part of the medical team, as the “water guy” for Convoy of Hope, Higgins main responsibility is to organize, plan, and install water filtration systems for third world countries. “We provide clean, safe water,” he said, adding that the church had allowed a local orphanage which had been displaced by the earthquake to set up outside in the courtyard.

“When we arrived at the first distribution point at Quisqueya Chapel, there were dozens and dozens of children — toddlers, babies, young children — all around,” said Noonan. “And the people were having to ration them to a half a cup a day of water — can you imagine that for a child?”

Higgins pointed out that not all of the 150-plus orphans relocated to the Chapel may not be true orphans in the sense that both parents are dead, but that many are street children, while others may have been given up by parents who can not afford to feed and care for them. “They are children who are left to fend for themselves,” said Higgins, noting that when he got the filtration system up and running, it helped tremendously. “When we were finally able to install water filters what a difference it made for that church and those children,” said Higgins.

In addition, he noted that the water filtration systems were permanent systems. “This will provide them with clean, safe water for years to come,” said Higgins.

Higgins, who is heading back to Haiti at the end of the week, said that as of last Friday when he left Haiti for a brief respite, more planes were landing at the airport, more organizations were arriving and setting up distribution points, and although things in Haiti were beginning to settle into a less chaotic pace, help was still needed and would be needed for a while by the Haitian people. “There is still a lot that has to be done, a lot of people who still need help, a lot who need medical attention and food,” he said.

Rose pointed out that even when food is available, as it is in limited amounts on some street corners from vendors — many families cannot pay for it. “The situation regarding food and water remains dire,” said Rose, adding that the food being distributed is inventory from Convoy of Hope’s warehouse that is used to feed the 7,000 children each day and who are a part of Convoy of Hope’s feeding initiative in Haiti. “That supply will last 10 to 14 more days,” admits Rose. “That food needs replenished so that Convoy of Hope can continue to feed children as well as victims of Haiti’s massive Earthquake.”

For more information on Convoy of Hope and Haitian response, visit their website at