Humanitarian comes home for brief respite before returning to help Haiti

Three weeks ago, Morgan Wienberg was hunkered down in her Haitian home with seven children who had taken refuge with her, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pass.

Three weeks ago, Morgan Wienberg was hunkered down in her Haitian home with seven children who had taken refuge with her, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pass.

In a matter of hours, the storm grew in intensity from a downpour to a torrent. Internet access quickly went down, followed by cell service. The wind ripped off entire roofs and sent tiles flying against Wienberg’s home.

But nothing prepared her for the chaotic scenes she saw the next day.

Water filled the streets, metal roofs were torn from most buildings, and live electrical wires were dangling amidst broken vehicles.

In one night 10,000 people in Les Cayes, a city of roughly 70,000, lost their homes.

Wienberg, the founder of Little Footprints Big Steps International Development Organization has called Les Cayes her home since 2011. Her charity helps reconnect street kids with their families and takes care of those taken in by corrupt orphanages.

While the storm has passed, the worst is yet to come, she warned in an interview with the News Wednesday.

“All the food sources have been completely wiped out,” she said. “The hunger has already started. People are becoming violent.”

Last week the Guardian reported half the country’s population was undernourished — and that was before Matthew hit.

Wienberg also fears massive outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever.

On Thursday Wienberg spoke in Whitehorse about her experience dealing with one of the worst natural disasters Haiti since a devastating earthquake six years ago that killed between 80,000 and 200,000 people.

It’s yet another hardship the people of Haiti have to deal with.

“Some people, especially the first two weeks after (the hurricane), didn’t really seem to have hope,” she said.

The scope of the disaster is unprecedented: of the 300 families LFBS helps, 250 of them lost their homes. Even some of the charity’s staff lost their homes.

Still, she is surprised by the resilience showed by some of those most affected by the storm.

A few days after the hurricane, a family she thought was dead because the lived in one of the worst hit areas outside the city, showed up to LFBS’s safehouse.

Before the hurricane they would give her pineapples and coffee knowing those were two of her favourite things.

But the family had to leave all their belongings behind, carrying the younger children on their shoulders on the long hike to Les Cayes.

They still managed to bring her a jar of coffee.

“I don’t think I’ve received any gift more valuable than that,” she said. “I just almost started to cry.”

There are the children who fled their flooded homes, taking only school books. There’s the 16-year-old boy who walked through a river carrying his sibling, feet gashed by metal debris, to the nearest city.

Wienberg wants Yukoners to donate to help Haitians get their lives back.

But aid relief has to be done the right way. In Les Cayes, she saw, first-hand, disorganized NGOs failing to deliver supplies in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.

In many cases, those organizations had no local connections.

“If you don’t involve the locals, it’s probably not going to be a sustainable solution,” she said.

Haitians know what they need, she said, and cautioned against the cycle of dependency some aid relief organizations create by flooding the country with goods.

“After the earthquake, there was such a dependency created, instead of helping them plant rice, we sent them rice,” she said. “We need to start thinking that support isn’t going to be there forever.”

That’s why her organization wasn’t just delivering food, but also seeds for people to replant their gardens.

Recent years saw the rise of so-called “voluntourism,” where tourists pair vacation and volunteer work. But those people are often unskilled in aid work, and don’t consult the local population.

“There are people in Haiti, they know how to build houses, and they know how to build houses they like,” she said. “If they had the means, they would have already built the houses.”

It’s also important for Haitians to be part of the reconstruction effort, Wienberg said.

“If they are able to be active in rebuilding, that gives them hope and feel empower to can make changes in their lives,” she said.

Wienberg, who speaks Creole and has been living in Les Cayes for five years, is a good example of a charity done right.

LFBS employs 12 Haitians, and seems to use donations quite efficiently.

According to information filed with Revenue Canada, 88 per cent of the money LFBS spent went to charitable work.

It’s a stark contrast with even well-established aid relief organizations. In 2015, Pro Publica revealed mismanagements at the Red Cross, which led the charity to spend $500 million dollars to build six homes.

The culprits: the Red Cross’ over-reliance on other groups and the lack of local connections.

Wienberg heads back to Haiti in a few days. Her trip home to the Yukon allowed her to catch up on sleep. During the aftermath of the hurricane, she was sleeping at most four hours a night and barely eating.

“I’m definitely getting stronger and able to think more clearly and strategize,” she said.

She hopes people’s generosity will continue. “Haiti will need a lot of support in the months to come.”

To make a donation to LFBS go to littlefootprintsbigsteps.com/donate.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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