Thank You for Helping
Imagine arriving in a country to find its president and prime minister sitting forlornly on the sidewalk. Or seeing lifeless bodies or the living trapped beneath the rubble of buildings that have toppled on top of them. Or dazed, tearful people moaning in pain caused by open wounds and their broken bones piercing their skin as blood oozes from their bodies.
That was only a small part of the scene that greeted members of the Jamaican army and health-care professionals who arrived in Haiti two days after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that ravaged the country, and which is still indelibly etched in their memories today.
So, on Sunday January 18, they gathered at the home of Tourism and Entertainment Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill and his wife, Sheila, who, along with Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, had invited them to say thanks for the job they had done in Haiti five years ago.
The CARICOM community sent a team of 168 in response to the tragedy, 150 of whom were Jamaicans, and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) personnel accounted for most of that number. There were also doctors, nurses, public-health experts among them, Dr Marion Bullock-DuCasse, acting chief medical officer in the Ministry of Health, told Outlook. She said the team from Jamaica felt reassured with the presence of the JDF who, having arrived in Haiti on January 14, set up their complete base and provided electricity and water in record time.
Dr McNeill was among the medics who left Jamaica to help their less-fortunate brothers and sisters. The medical doctor-turned-politician traded his comfortable home for camp site-like living, and his balanced nutritious meals for army rations and corned (bully) beef and rice. Memories of the latter included the team salivating in anticipation of the popular combo nightly at 7 p.m., compared to their initial reluctance to eat it. You see, they weren't allowed to eat anything not prepared under strict supervision of public health personnel, for fear of contracting air/waterborne diseases.
In welcoming his guests, Dr McNeill thanked them for helping out in what was a terrible time for Haiti. "We learnt many things about ourselves and what to do if something like that ever happens again," he said. He also encouraged them to reminisce on their time in Haiti by exchanging anecdotes they remembered.
Dr Ferguson said he was always happy to host patriotic Jamaicans who had done well in service to their country, while Chief of Staff Antony Anderson said it was a pleasure to have served. "We are used to doing what we do and moving on to the next assignment. We have been responding to disasters around the region, but Haiti was a model of cooperation. It was unique, but we were up to the task," he said.
Between January and March of that year, the team made contact with several hundred households, transported 5,000 tons of cargo, and saw more than 12,000 medical cases in some 16 deployments. "We were able to see how our collaboration helped another country," Dr Bullock-DuCasse said.
Among the invited guests were: Angella Hutchinson, Dwain Sterling, Justine Henzell, Peter Wright as well as Drs Karen Lewis Bell, Warren Blake, Stuart Murray, Kenneth Vaughn, Mark Minott, Leo-Paul Powell, Rhonda Hutson and Simone Dundas.