Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

On the Ground in Haiti After Earthquake with Mercy Corps

About This Episode

After a 7.2 earthquake struck the western part of Haiti last week, it’s been all hands on deck to help the country get back on their feet. This week, we’re talking to Christy Delafield, Managing Director of Communications at Mercy Corps, about the devastating effect the earthquake has had on Haiti and how Mercy Corps has been helping Haitians through this tragedy. Almost two weeks after the earthquake, Haiti is in need of treatment for the injured, access to food and shelter, COVID responses, help to rebuild infrastructure — and more.

Mercy Corps is a global team of humanitarians who work together on the front lines of crisis, disaster, poverty and climate change. Their team in Haiti — made up primarily of local Haitians — has been working in Haiti for years prior to the earthquake, and is currently working to procure thousands of kits with essential supplies and solar lanterns, plus providing cash assistance to 5,00 families — and working to support Haitians long-term with climate change efforts and farming needs. Simply put, Mercy Corps is doing the good that’s desperately needed after tragedy.

Guest: Christy Delafield, Managing Director of Communications at Mercy Corps

Visit the Mercy Corps’ website and donate to support Haiti. You can also contact your elected officials in support of aiding Haiti using our guide.

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Transcript

Branden Harvey

On Saturday, August 14, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck the Western part of Haiti. As of this recording, the death toll is over 2200 with another 6000 injured. Haiti's hospitals are overwhelmed. People do not have homes. COVID is still a significant risk, but there are people who are responding. First responders and medical teams immediately began search efforts through the rubble. They've made significant progress. And now, almost two weeks after the earthquake Haiti has some new needs, mainly treatment for those who are injured, access to food and shelter, COVID responses, rebuilding infrastructure and more.


This is Sounds Good, I'm Branden Harvey. Today's episode takes us inside of Haiti. It's a bit run and done, it's recorded quickly but I'm so glad we get to have this conversation and get to have it so quickly. I got to speak with Christy Delafield. Christy serves as Mercy Corps' Managing Editor of Communications. She often deploys during an emergency to assist Mercy Corps teams on the ground. She's usually based in Washington, DC, but traveled around the world in her role from Syria to Yemen to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.


And for those who don't know, Mercy Corps is a global team of humanitarians working together on the front lines of crisis, disaster, poverty, climate change to create a world where everyone can prosper. Mercy Corps has been working in Haiti for years prior to the earthquake and right with another team which is made up of local Haitians, are working to procure and deliver thousands of kids with essential supplies, including water purification tabs, soap, diapers, mosquito nets, sheets and tarps, as well as thousands more solar lanterns. They're also providing cash assistance to 5000 families so that they can purchase what they need the most.


And lastly, they are working to support Haitians long term with farming and climate change efforts, among other things. In this conversation, we talked about what's happening on the ground in Haiti, what the immediate needs are, the inspiring stories of the helpers who are beautifully responding and how we can all make a meaningful difference for Haiti. As I'm sure you can expect it is not easy to get a quiet space in Haiti right now so you may hear some background noises. This was a great episode. It was a really important episode.


Branden Harvey

I'm so glad we got to have it, and I cannot wait for you to hear it. So without any further ado, let's jump straight into my conversation.


Christie, welcome to Sounds Good. Why don't we just start off by having you tell me where you are right now?


Christy Delafield

Branden, I am in Nippes of Haiti. It is the Southern Peninsula of the country, about maybe an hour and a half from the epicenter of the 7.2 earthquake that struck the country almost a week ago.


Branden Harvey

It struck a week ago, and I'm curious on -- tell me about the context of what's happening on the ground and what the problems that Haitians were seeing on day one were versus what they're seeing today.


Christy Delafield

A week later, the best way to start is to describe to you what it looks like when you drive through these areas. Mercy Corps already had a team on the ground. We have 70 team members, the majority of whom are Haitians. There's just a handful of expats. I'm a very rare international staff member. We have 19 team members here in the Nippes office, all of whom are Haitian. And straight away the day of the earthquake, they immediately reached out to their local government and local community contacts and started trying to figure out what had happened, who was hardest hit, how people were doing.


I arrived the day after, no, two days after, and they started driving me around. And this was just as Hurricane Gra-- oh sorry, it was a tropical depression at that point. Tropical Depression Grace went through the exact same area. So first you had an earthquake, then you had this tropical storm. We saw flooding. We're driving through foot-high water. There's rock full of the road, landslides, mudslides, homes are destroyed in L'Asile, the community where we are working, which is very close to the epicenter of the earthquake 90% of buildings were affected and 50% destroyed completely.


So those first days and hours, they're all about mobilization. It's about getting information. It's about search and rescue. It's about clearing roads, trying to make a way to get to people, trying to understand who was hardest hit. And certainly the question that is still is going to carry through is still a question for us. And it's always going to be a question for us is what is the right help? Because what we Mercy Corps have in our core is we want to listen to the community. We believe that global change starts with local actions, and you don't get to the right solution if you're not listening to the people who are most affected to the emergency because they are -- the ones closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. So we want to be sure that the help that we are bringing is help that the community wants and needs, that it is what people need most urgently.


Branden Harvey

I think one thing that I've kind of noticed in the conversations happening online around Haiti is this wariness to support relief efforts, because after the 2010 earthquake, like $13.5 billion in aid was raised, but not all of that money -- in fact, maybe a small amount of it actually made it into Haitian hands. And my question is, what happened then back in 2010, and how have things changed over the last decade, if at all, in regards to where that aid is going, in supporting directions on the ground?


Christy Delafield

I can speak to Mercy Corps' specific work. We arrived in Haiti after the 2010 earthquakes. I was not heard of that response. So what I'm going to tell you is a little bit more about changes that I am aware of, but my knowledge is far from comprehensive. One of the big things that I think has changed, and what I've heard from colleagues who participated in both the 2010 response and this response is that what we saw in 2010 was just not always as community-led as you would want.


A lot of people really wanted to get support into Haiti, Mercy Corps brought support into Haiti, and we were able to deliver a large amount of programs reaching more than a million people. But we were just one small player in a broader system. I was talking to a colleague who said that in 2010, for example, the coordination meetings, which are a really essential part for organizing how we respond and make sure that nobody is missed, make sure that we're not duplicating or overlapping. You see this feature in every single emergency.


They are always coordination meetings. In 2010, those meetings were held in English, and he should, of course, speak Creole and speak French. That would never happen today. Those coordination meetings are happening in French. All the documents are being translated to both English and French that come out of the United Nations, for example. And I think that this principle of looking to the community to lead is so vitally important because imagine if a disaster hit your own community, wherever that may be. You know, we all know a little bit about what resources are available in our community.


We know who has what tools. We know who has what skills. We know the landscape. We know how to get from one place to another. And also those immediate response efforts are always, they always start as neighbor helping neighbor because you can't predict an earthquake. So the second that an earthquake happens, what you see is neighbors reaching out to each other, seeing who -- are you okay, are you all right? Do you need help? And they immediately start to kind of do those initial search and rescue efforts.


Local authorities, my colleagues who are here in need, they called up the local authorities that they were already in contact with because they were doing work here prior and said, okay, where do we need to go? Who can we reach out to? Do you know who's been hardest hit and have being able to have those immediate conversations is what is going to put you on the right path to getting help to people? Maybe specialized expertise is needed. Certainly specialized equipment, specialized search and rescue teams in those first early days.


And then in this stage of the response, organizations like Mercy Corps, having a way to procure and bring in large amounts of supplies or being able to bring in additional experts. But it all starts and needs to be continued to be led by the knowledge of the community that's been affected.


Branden Harvey

I just think it's really encouraging to hear that there has been that evolution. It's heartbreaking that that wasn't addressed back in 2010, but the progress actually leaves me feeling a little bit more encouraged. And you spoke to this idea of the beauty of neighbors helping neighbors and people showing up and leaving these locally-led efforts. And I'm curious, where are you seeing signs of hope on the ground? Like, what are the moments that are leaving you feeling hopeful in spite of the absolutely heartbreaking situation?


Christy Delafield

So I would say that the first, like, 19 sources of hope for me are our team members. My colleagues are here seven in the morning until way into the night. People are working incredibly long hours and with just tremendous levels of energy, tremendous level of dedication, people are so solution-oriented, so kind of thinking about. All right. If this is the problem here is, like, three different ways we could approach this problem. In addition, this neighbor's neighbor outreach, it is across the country of Haiti. Of course, the earthquake was felt in Port-au-Prince but this earthquake did not affect Port-au-Prince.


It affected this rural area in the south. And so we have people in Port-au-Prince who are sending donations, sending supplies. Family members are reaching out to help family members. And I think it's really important for people to know, even down one street, not every house is affected equally. An earthquake is so random. It's so callous in that way. One house might just be cracked and another house might be leveled. And so having that community come together and having people support each other, it is a huge sign of hope, because those helpers, those like Mr. Rogers' helpers that you want to look to.


They're right next to you. They're beside you. They're you. And so that's really inspiring.


Branden Harvey

That's really inspiring. I love this. And then tell me about what Mercy Corps' role is right now. I know that you are focused in on the particular things that Mercy Corps is skilled at. What does that look like right now? And how might that change in the coming days and weeks?

Christy Delafield

An emergency response. And I've been doing this for seven and a half years, so I have some knowledge on not the most knowledgeable, but I've been doing it for a while. And it really resembles a very elaborate dance or like a chess board. Everybody has different roles that they can play. So for example, we don't do medical, but Doctors WithoutBorders does medical. And we work right alongside them. And we share information. And we say, like, okay, what are you seeing here? We do sometimes water sanitation, hygiene.


And they say, look, people are going to be healthier and we can control disease with better water sanitation and hygiene. So it's this continuous partnership even before, right? So even before we had kind of people extra people coming in on the ground, even before the earthquake, after the 2010 earthquake, we set up -- Mercy Corps set up an SMS early warning system. So anytime there's a hurricane on its way, we are able to text message people. And say, for people who don't have cell phones, there's a person in the community who has a phone who's assigned to spread the word.


So we'll be texting out to that network so they can go say, okay, a very serious storm is on the way. Here's what you need to do. So immediately following the earthquake, we activated that system to provide advice for people on how to avoid objects. Don't forget there's going to be aftershocks. Here's some information about how you can tell people who's hurt in your area, here's who you can contact. And then when we saw Tropical Storm Grace coming, activated that SMS system again texting people because you can imagine an earthquake followed by a storm.


It's just emergency on top of emergency. So giving people information is just one key step after that. Our next position is let us find ways to bring in if there are universally needed supplies. We want to bring those in as quickly as possible. We've got 3000 kits with emergency supplies, including tarps, so, laundry, so, diapers, water purification tablets, things that we know that everyone who is affected will need. And then the next way of coming after that is emergency cash assistance. And the idea, Branden, there is that people's needs are different, which is such a basic and seemingly obvious thing.


But someone may have lost a wheelchair and they need to replace it. Someone may have lost livestock and that's their income. And that's how they provide for their family and they'd rather spend money on that. So we can get cash to people so quickly and that means that they can purchase what they need most urgently. So that's another huge sign of hope that I see in the entire humanitarian community. Honestly, because 20 years ago, that's not really the way that we did emergency as a sector humanitarian brought in goods and on an island nation like this, what you're talking about is good getting stuck in the port.


That's what's happening now. Most supplies come to Haiti by ship, not by air. So the airports aren't really equipped to take in large supplies of goods. But that's what we need to do an emergency. We need things to be here fast. So when we check the local stores, we make sure, alright are things available? Are things getting resupplied? Are the prices reasonable? What are the prices? How much money do people need? We can get people cash so that they can purchase what they need specifically and they support the local economy.


This is a revolution in the way that humanitarian aid is working. That is more dignified, it's more empowering. And we know that local economies are the engine of a strong recovery. So instead of undermining the person who lives and works in Haiti and makes tarps or sell shoes, we are restoring their livelihood by approaching the response in this way.


Branden Harvey

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Branden Harvey

That's another example of the local community getting to be the decision makers rather than somebody in a boardroom or an office in the United States or France or the UK being the one deciding what a Haitian on the ground needs. That's huge. And I'm glad that we've seen that transition in the nonprofit world and it seems like it has such a positive ripple effect that ultimately will also support people long term to keeping that money in the economy is going to pay dividends after the recovery as well.


Christy Delafield

Absolutely. I mean, I think that it's key to be looking at the long-term even from the early days, because you can set up a strong response in these initial weeks. And we know that people here are in it for the long haul. We know that it takes time to rebuild and we want to ensure that patients are the decision makers from the beginning because that's what's going to ensure that they're decision makers throughout. So everything from our head of office here whose patients sitting down with our team and saying, what do we think needs to be in the kits based on what we're hearing from the people that we work with?


She was saying to me, and I'll tell you a little bit about what Mercy Corps was doing here before the earthquake, because that's very interesting. Also for her to tell me, alright, here's the parts of our program that we were doing before that we kind of want to pause because we want to refocus our energy on this emergency that is immediate in your face needs to be dealt with. So I want to come back to them and I want to adapt and adjust based on what I'm hearing from people about what's changed.


So L'Asile is this area that we're talking about again in the Southern Peninsula of Haiti. It is mountainous. It is rural. Branden, it is one of the most devastated parts of the world by climate change. I mean, there's certainly there are many, many regions of the world that are being affected by climate change. Haiti is absolutely among them. And the reason is it is right in this hurricane zone. So the storms are getting more severe, the droughts are getting more severe, so that dry period of the year is getting more intense.


They're experiencing a lot of deforestation. They're experiencing a lot of soil erosion. So the Mercy Corps team in July was working on, how do we do some training with people to improve land management and soil management techniques to boost harvest? So hear me out. What climate change looks like here. A climate change looks like in Haiti is hunger, because when you have those unpredictable weather patterns, when you have drought, it means you're not able to grow as much. It means that your seed gets washed away in a storm or it doesn't sprout or it doesn't produce as well as it should, because they're reliant on rain-fed agriculture right at the whims of the wind and the rain and the sun.


And there are techniques or modern farming techniques that can boost harvest. And so we can address hunger by addressing food production. We can get right to the source of it and help farmers grow more and grow it right at home, like right there so that it can spread in the community. People can get their food locally. This region is famous for its bananas. It's famous for its pineapples. Very delicious, very delicious, highly recommend. And these are people who know how to get goods to market in that set of circumstances.


We just were looking to boost that harvest. So there was more food to go around and address hunger and address the climate crisis in that way. I think most people are really familiar with the idea of reducing emissions. Or there's this other side of the coin. We've gone too far. The climate crisis is impacting people. It is affecting people, and it's affecting the most vulnerable people. But we don't have to let it stay that way. We can change it. We can help them adapt and adjust and find ways to survive better.


Branden Harvey

Obviously, the world is facing another crisis. On top of this earthquake. COVID-19 is still really, really challenging. I know that Haiti only started rolling out vaccines, I believe, a month ago. And there's still so many people who are unvaccinated. And now people are sheltering together. They don't have homes to distance. How is COVID-19 compounding this issue and how is it being addressed?


Christy Delafield

It is intense, and it is scary. Like you say, vaccines only just barely just started to get to Haiti. Only one tenth of 1%, a fraction of a percent of the population has had a chance to get even one dose of the vaccine. I mean, I think it's -- while we in the United States are talking about booster shots, people around the world are waiting at the back of the line. And that is really important to know in particular, because that's where we get variants. What we're looking at in Haiti right now is a situation where the Delta variant has already arrived.


As you say, people are seeking shelter collectively in groups because there aren't that many buildings that are still standing that can provide shelter. Earlier this week, I visited a school that's sheltering about 200 people, and they said that more were coming all the time. They'd taken all the desks out of the classroom, and they just laid blankets down on the floor, and people are sleeping side by side and head to toe because there's just not enough room. Social distancing is an impossibility in this sort of situation.


And what needs to be done is we need to see vaccines arrive. And honestly, Branden, what I'm thinking is, do we need to go through the entire Greek Alphabet before we learn that lesson? And I'm really hopeful the answer is no.


Branden Harvey

You and I were talking before we hit the record button about this idea, that my goal for this conversation is that listeners would hear that there are despite these heartbreaking problems, there are people working to create solutions, and that that would leave listeners and myself, frankly, more hopeful, and that that hope would ultimately drive us to join an intake action, because when you believe that something is possible, you can create that change. And what I'm hearing from you is a lot of examples of progress being made.


I feel I do feel hopeful that we're addressing some of these problems, that we are going to be able to create a better solution for the Haitian people.


Christy Delafield

Absolutely. You don't have to take my word for it. I mean, we're hearing it directly from Haitians themselves. I think that one of the most powerful things that I have heard about that notion of wanting to take action because you believe a solution as possible is that a teacher of mine told me that motivation is the multiplication problem, that you multiply the amount that you want something to happen by the amount that you believe that you know how to get it done. And if you don't believe that there is a solution, or if you don't know the path to the solution, if that's a zero, it doesn't matter how much you want it to be done.


That end result, a multiplication problem is zero. So I mean, that's the thing that I love about the work that you're doing and the work that we're doing is that we're showing people what the solutions are. And I think that that is what changes the hope and transform the hope into the possibility. And it takes you from wanting something to happen to believing that it can happen. And it takes you from wishing that something could happen to making it happen.


Branden Harvey

Christy, for people who are listening, they are feeling more hopeful. What is the best way that people can support the work that Mercy Corps is doing right now?


Christy Delafield

The number one type of support that we need right now is your visit to our website and your donations. You can send messages to your political leaders, tell them that you care about international issues. Tell them that you want to see participation on the global stage that is so important as well. People hear a lot about domestic issues in government. They don't always hear about a passion for the global community and the fact that we're all connected. But it is so easy to go to Mercy Corps dot org (mercycorps.org) and learn more about Haiti.


Learn more about the work that we are doing in Haiti and around the world and to make a gift and support the amazing team here. And I'm just so grateful and know that the team here is super appreciative of whatever people are able to do.


Branden Harvey

Christy, thank you so much for the work that your team is doing. Please say thank you on our behalf and thank you so much for being here to talk about all of this. It's so appreciated and it's so great to get to hear directly from the ground.


Christy Delafield

It's a real pleasure. Branden, thank you so much. Keep up the good work.


Branden Harvey

That's Christy Delafield of Mercy Corps. You can learn more about the impactful work Mercy Corps doing in Haiti by visiting mercycorps.org. As of right now, I'm scrolling on their website right now. They have a big button pointing you to their work in Haiti on the homepage. I highly encourage you to check it out, make a donation, and then if you can't go a step further and sign a petition or contact your elected officials and support of Haitians, it really makes a difference. To be frank, I'm concerned that people are losing focus on the impact it can be made in Haiti.


Time is of the essence, and so if you feel moved, please go and find a way to support. You can also visit goodgoodgood.co/take action and you can read our coverage of Haiti, including where we found even more helpers. This podcast was created by Good Good Good. At Good Good Good, we help you feel more hopeful and do more good. You can find more good news and ways to make a difference in our weekly email newsletter, our beautiful print newspaper, or online at our all new website, goodgoodgood.co.


This episode was created by Sarah Lee, Megan Burns and me, Branden Harvey. It was edited and sound designed by the team at Sound On Studios. You could find out more about their work at soundonsoundoff.com. Please make sure you hit the follow button wherever you listen to podcasts. Share this episode with a friend and with that, that is a wrap for this week's episode. Go out and keep the conversation about Haiti alive, and we'll be back next week with more good news and good action. Sounds good?


Episode Details

August 30, 2021

About Sounds Good

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Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

Every week, Good Good Good founder Branden Harvey sits down with the people driving positive change against the world's greatest problems. Each episode will leave you with a sense of hope about the good in the world — and a sense of direction on how we can all be a part of that good. Episodes are released every Monday.

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