First Person

Many hands help to bring aid to those who need it

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Photo: Kenny Rae / Oxfam America
Photo: Kenny Rae / Oxfam America

Oxfam America’s Coco McCabe is one of several Boston-based colleagues in Haiti to help with the relief effort. Here’s her latest update, dated January 25.

This is the story of Belinda’s Boxes.

That’s my nickname for a load of cargo that was shipped from Canada to help with Oxfam’s relief effort in the battered capital of Port-au-Prince. Some of it, about 70 tons’ worth, arrived courtesy of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, an organization that works with humanitarian groups like Oxfam to deliver medical and other essential supplies.

It’s a story of dedication and urgency, and of the inevitable challenges that arise during an emergency when everything needs to happen at once—and can’t.

When the foundation’s shipment of bottled water, sacks of rice, disinfectant, and first-aid supplies arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport a few days after the disaster, it was turned away because there was no room for the plane to land. The cargo wound up at the Santo Domingo airport in the Dominican Republic instead, and a few days later, as soon as a warehouse could be located, Oxfam hauled it back—in three truckloads—across the length of Haiti to Port-au-Prince.

But how do you distribute tons of goods to small camps scattered across a city snarled by traffic, earthquake debris, and roads more pothole than pavement?  With human sweat. Lots of it.

That’s the awesome thing about all of this: The flood of good will, pouring in from round the world for the people of Haiti, stacked next to the tangle of challenges in making sure the help gets where it needs to go—as fast as possible.

For Belinda’s Boxes and other supplies, it’s been a breathless game of hopscotch, from airport to warehouse to office to over-night camp storage—and finally into the hands of a long line of people at Delmas 62 now living under tarps and bed sheets strung between the trees.

At the warehouse near the airport, it took 18 men to unload the overland haul. And the next day, about 12 more formed themselves into a high-powered human conveyor belt, passing boxes and sacks from the warehouse and cramming a transport truck to its gills.

Next stop was the Oxfam office, where another crew of men—some of them young leaders from the nearby camp who had organized themselves to lobby for help—transferred the goods to a smaller truck, its treadless rear tires spread almost flat under the weight. With the clock ticking—the office was set to close at 5 p.m. to give people a chance to get home safely before dark fell and people settled into the streets for sleeping —the team worked fast. They needed to get the boxes and sacks of rice to a secure storage site at a spontaneous camp where the crowd of residents swells to nearly 1,000 each night.

Down a rubble-strewn path, beneath a concrete deck, and into a house perched on a steep slope above a sea of others that had tumbled away: This was where the goods—including pots and pans—would rest for the night. People streamed from the camp to help with the transfer, and soon a string of boys and men were carting boxes across the rough terrain.

The next day—at last—the distribution would start: some of Belinda’s Boxes had made it.

But in a city of hard-to-reach sites and tremendous human need—for food, for water, for shelter—this is a story that will be repeated again and again.

 Save lives now by donating to Oxfam’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund.

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