There are two ways to look at the earthquake-ravaged nation of Haiti, Edgar Snyder said. There is the macro view, which takes in the enormity of the tragedy, and the micro view, which finds the good in the relief effort under way.
“There are probably thousands of structures that have been destroyed, including all the government buildings that are still left lying in rubble. The enormity of it is more than you comprehend,” Snyder said
But he added, “After you are there for a while, your senses begin to accept and then you start seeing through all the rubble, all the tent cities, and see what good is going on.”
Snyder, his wife Sandy, and Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein, returned last week from Haiti, where they were among 24 Federation representatives from North America visiting to see how the money their agencies raised earlier this year through mailbox appeals for earthquake relief was being spent.
According to Finkelstein, the combined Federations raised nearly $8 million for Haitian relief, $95,000 of which came from the Pittsburgh area. Much of that money is being used and distributed through the Joint Distribution Committee, the in-country partner agency with the Jewish Federations of North America.
A 7.0 earthquake struck southern Haiti on Jan. 12 affecting an estimated 3 million people. According to the Haitian government, an estimated 230,000 people died, 300,000 were injured and 1 million were left homeless. In addition, an estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged.
Snyder, who sits on the executive committee of the JDC and the board Jewish Federations of North America, said the challenges facing his agency, and others like it, are almost too much to imagine.
To give just a few examples, he said there are 200,000 amputees in Haiti, not a single physical therapist and no means to clear away the mountains of rubble left by the quake.
“On a macro level you can’t get your hands around it,” he said. “The destruction is so enormous.”
But on a micro level, he said he was heartened by the JDC efforts in country.
• Its support for a clinic at Haiti University Hospital and run by Israeli volunteers from Tel Hashomer Hospital and Mogen David Adom, to help amputees with physical and occupational rehabilitation;
• A JDC-supported project by ORT to train 4,500 construction workers in five years to rebuild Haitian dwellings and commercial buildings to withstand future quakes, and
• The construction of 80 water tanks around the country, but mainly in the capital of Port au Prince, to provide potable water to a thirsty population. That network is currently supplying one-third of all potable water in the capital.
“The biggest need, we learned in the first weeks and months after this earthquake, was water,” Snyder said. “There wasn’t any potable water available that was not contaminated in the beginning. People were literally dying of thirst.”
Finkelstein, who posted an online report to the Federation website about the trip at ujfpittsburgh.org, also noted the presence of an Israeli group called Tevel B’Tzedeck, a peace corp-like organization of recently discharged Israeli soldiers who choose to volunteer their time in needy parts of the world following their compulsory military service.
They met two Tevel B’Tzedeck working in a tent city set up on a nine-hole golf course in Petionville.
“They are sitting in a sea of tents doing leadership development programming with teens and teaching some classes for younger kids,” Finkelstein said.
“Clearly, our money has been very well spent, documented and accounted for” Snyder said. “That’s important for people who send money through mail boxes to know.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)