Healing Haiti's Wounded
The Gingerbread House stands on a crowded street, a towering, mustard-colored structure that housed U.S. troops during the military intervention of 1994. Today, Doctors without Borders (MSF) runs the space as a rehabilitation clinic.
Opened in December 2004, the clinic has become a lifeline of hope to Haitians. As violence has continued relatively unabated in the post-Aristide Haiti, the number of gunshot victims has steadily risen. Since opening, MSF says its personnel have treated nearly 2,500 people for violence-related injuries, including 1,500 gunshot victims and 500 stabbing victims. In the last month alone, there were 47 gunshot victims from Cite Soleil.
As Haiti continues to implode, havens of medical care have become beyond necessary for survival. Walking through the wards of the Gingerbread House, as locals call the clinic, victims as young as 10 years old lay on beds being cared for by their mothers. Jean Michelit turns to his mother and winces. A six-inch bullet wound, bound by Frankenstein-like stitches, starts on the top of his forehead and reaches just above his right eye. Jean's story is similar to those of the many other gunshot victims strewn about the ward's two floors.
Nearly two weeks ago, 10-year-old Jean was walking home from school and had just entered his home in the Grand Ravine neighborhood when he suddenly fell to the ground -- struck in the head by a gunshot that no one heard and no one expected. The area had been peaceful until that time. Jean and his family's lives were changed instantly. Jocelyn, his mother, is no longer able to care for her other two children. Jean is paralyzed from the waist down and requires full-time care.
In the next bed lies Jean Paul, a blanket stretched to his neck and a towel cooling his forehead. His story has a twist to it. Running gun battles between rival gangs (and sometimes with U.N. troops) have been an almost daily occurrence lately. Jean Paul happened to be driving in exactly the wrong place during one of these battles. As the gangs fired, he and his friends shot back with 9mm handguns, hitting two of them. After about five minutes, Jean Paul was bleeding.
"I got shot in my neck," Jean Paul said. "My cousin went to the U.N. troops to ask for help. They asked if he was American and since he wasn't, they couldn't help."
The U.N. thought he was dead. So did the ambulance workers who came and took him away. Still alive, doctors told him he would be dead in six hours. Then, "The doctor who did the surgery told me if I don't die, I would never have the chance to walk again," Jean Paul said. "The bullet is still inside me."
As more and more patients are brought in from a wider area of Port-au-Prince, MSF's actions will help for now. But what of the future? One MSF worker spoke of a desire to cure not only the physical, but also the social breakdowns caused by these injuries. Watching Haiti die from the inside -- an exercise in futility.
"I don't know how many days, how many weeks, how many months I will have to stay here," said Jean Paul.
Award-winning photojournalist Ron Haviv is on the ground in Port-au-Prince documenting the run-up to Haiti's presidential and legislative elections. >>About This Blog
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