The catastrophic human toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti—an estimated 230,000 dead, 300,000 injured, and one million homeless—was the harshest of blows to the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Six months later, Haiti still faces tremendous challenges, even though the response from the international relief community and governments throughout the world has been immense. So much suffering has been relieved through these efforts.
HSUS and Humane Society International members and supporters generously donated more than $1 million to our Haiti relief efforts. We knew our immediate deployment in the wake of the quake and then our long-term animal protection efforts would be an enormous challenge, since there were no humane societies or SPCAs operating in the country, no veterinary hospitals, and almost nothing in the way of a humane infrastructure. Along with other “outside” animal welfare charities, we’d have to build humane programs almost from scratch.
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
Chris, left, leads our efforts in Haiti.
Chris Broughton, one of our tremendously dedicated staff members, has actually uprooted himself from the United States and indefinitely relocated to Haiti to oversee our ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts. He’s been on the ground for months, and he’s still there—with no plans to return to the United States. I thought it would be a good time not only to say thanks to Chris, but to get an update from him on his progress and programs. He sent me this dispatch from his base in Port-au-Prince.
In the third week of January, I deployed with the first teams HSI sent to Haiti to assess the animal-related needs in the country after the earthquake. I had never in my life seen the level of abject poverty and desperation that I observed on my first trips to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding communities. And when it came to the needs of animals, the situation was also pitiful. With so many human needs unmet, you can imagine that there was not much there for animals, even though you could find lots of people who cared about them and wanted to do better by them.
After several additional deployments to participate in immediate relief work, I accepted HSI’s offer to move to Haiti and work full time on developing and managing a set of animal welfare based projects there.
We had an advantage in being able to build upon our relationship with veterinarians of the Christian Veterinary Mission, who had been living in Haiti for a long time and have been a phenomenal asset and base of support for our efforts. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and with Best Friends Animal Society, our partner in several initiatives here, we have begun to implement several projects, including veterinary training and continuing education opportunities for Haitian responders, street dog sterilization and vaccination operations, working equine care and owner education, veterinary animal disaster response training, and most importantly perhaps, the development of the first humane animal care and veterinary training center in Haiti.
During a recent disaster preparedness training for approximately 60 Haitian veterinarians, I started to get the feeling that in listening to information about disaster preparedness and response, the participants were not fully grasping their potentially invaluable role as responders. As we tailored our approach in the training to foster more audience dialogue, the excitement of the attendees rapidly increased. To see, in the span of a few moments, the dynamic transition from students receiving a lecture to a community response team in development was a wonderfully inspiring experience. It reflected the best aspects of many of our global initiatives: empowering a local network to increase its capacity for the animals within its reach.
We have been fortunate to have both the support of the local communities in which we work but also to have the cooperation of many of the veterinarians in the country. Our primary goal in these efforts is to facilitate a lasting humane infrastructure and to do so in a way that will benefit the Haitian people as a whole. We are laying a solid foundation, the future prospects for our work and our values here are promising, and the potential growth and impact of these programs is tremendous. I’m excited to play a role in improving the lives of animals in Haiti, and in helping the world to see how crucial our work is to the near- and long-term public health and economic interests of the Haitian people.