The congested facility was already filled with individuals in need of help. Many found a measure of relief with the augmentation of American doctors and nurses to the existing staff, who brought much-needed drugs and supplies to the facility.
The Port-au-Prince area was hit the hardest by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010. The earthquake left one-third of Haiti’s 9 million inhabitants in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. In addition to the tremendous death toll and countless injuries suffered by the Haitian people, the United Nations peacekeepers suffered a grievous loss of facilities and personnel as well.
The UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) plays a major role in Haiti, providing both troops and police officers for the country. And despite MINUSTAH’s own losses, it has geared up to continue its important mission.
In January, shortly after the disaster, the UN Security Council backed a call to increase the overall force levels of the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction, and stabilization efforts that followed the earthquake.
The council was asked for an additional 1,500 police officers and 2,000 troops to reinforce MINUSTAH, augmenting the UN group’s 9,000 uniformed personnel already on the ground.
The council, in unanimously adopting Resolution 1908, decided that MINUSTAH would consist of 8,940 troops of all ranks and a police component of up to 3,711 police, and it would keep these new levels under review.
UN Police and Haitian National Police were both present at the Fort Liberte Hospital. And while my primary responsibility with the medical mission was to offer spiritual care and psychological support for our team, patients, and hospital staff, my concern extended to the already overworked UN and Haitian law enforcement officials.
Despite their presence, our team elected to hire our own security and translators because existing resources were stretched so thinly.
We met with the mayor of Fort Liberte, Charles Pierre. He told us that many of the police officers had suffered their own losses-—family members and friends—in the earthquake. The effects of stress weighed heavily on the officers. Pierre also noted that police officers had died both on and off duty and it added to the grief and suffering of the law enforcement contingent.
Additionally, according to Pierre, "when there was a death at the hospital, especially that of a child, or when there was equipment or other shortages," it had a detrimental effect on the officers.
It was common for the Haitian hospital staff to leave the hospital around 9:00 p.m. and to not return until the next morning, leaving the patients in the hands of family members and friends who chose to stay with them.
Additionally, the electricity generators were turned off at night because gasoline is very expensive. Since no surgeries or procedures were performed at night and the staff had gone home for the night, there was no reason for the expensive generators to continue running. We found this practice throughout Haiti. At night, nearly all generators were shut down; people functioned through the use of fires, candles, or other means.
In Quanamithe, Haiti, we visited the orphanages for children who had lost their parents in the earthquake. They too were left in the dark after the generators were shut down at 6 p.m.
I noted that the concerns of Haitian police officers were not unlike the concerns of our fellow peace officers at home—we are severely affected by the deaths of children and equipment shortages or equipment failures that make doing our jobs difficult.
People are people. And within the law enforcement and military communities, we are brothers and sisters. I recall a bus ride back to the Dominican Republic upon which I encountered a uniformed Dominican soldier. While we didn’t speak each other’s language, we shook hands and locked arms as a show of unity and determination to help the Haitians. The Dominican Republic has already committed 800 soldiers to the Haitian recovery effort.
At the Fort Liberte Hospital, we were frequently visited by UN police officers. Those I met were from Romania and the United States. A female Romanian officer, who had previously served two years in Haiti, took a year off and returned for another two years. The American officer from Florida had served at the nearby UN compound since late 2009.
I learned from speaking with the Haitian national police officers and Mayor Charles Pierre that they have no concept of police chaplaincy like we have in the US to support their officers. The idea was completely foreign to them. We did, however, settle on the term "police pastors," and that helped clarify the role.
Because my background includes both serving as a law enforcement officer and as a police chaplain, I discussed with the mayor and his cousin, a local pastor, the possibility of training local Fort Liberte ministers to become police pastors on a future trip. They were very open to the idea.
In my opinion, the media has given the Haitian people a bad rap. We found them to be loving, compassionate, and very appreciative of the services we offered.
Our team made a commitment to return to Haiti and its people soon to continue to help and empower them to help each other.
We felt our mission was a tremendous success. We treated all types of injuries and ills and dispensed more than 200 pairs of glasses, allowing some Haitians to see clearly for the first time in their lives.
On the last Friday we were in the country it was a national day of prayer. We joined Haitians in their prayers for their country and its people. One of the popular songs written for that day declared that God remembers Haiti and that Haitians remember God.
Long after the news media and superstars leave, Haiti will continue to have needs for many more years to come. Each of us can do our part. Everyone may not able to go to Haiti, but everyone can do something.
As we ask God to remember Haiti, we ask you, too, to remember the country and its wonderful people.
Chaplain Fair will present "Homeland Security Chaplaincy" on Thursday, September 23rd at the ABCHS National Conference in Orlando, Florida.
David J. Fair, PhD, CHS-IV, ACMC-III, CPT, SSI, CHSEMR, CDP-1, CRC
Chaplain David Fair is president of the Officer Down Foundation, CEO of the Homeland Crisis Institute, chair of the American Board for Certified Master Chaplains and serves on the curriculum committee and editorial advisory board of the American Board for Certification in Homeland SecuritySM. Chaplain Fair holds a PhD in pastoral counseling and psychology from Bethel Bible College and Seminary. He is a reserve deputy sheriff/chaplain for the Brownwood County Sheriff’s Department and a Chaplain Emeritus of the Brownwood Police Department. He retired from the Brownwood Regional Medical Center after serving as chaplain for 25 years and serves as a military chaplain (MAJ), where he received numerous awards for his service. Chaplain Fair has performed his noble duties at dozens of disasters, including Ground Zero following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the NASA space shuttle disaster, the Luby’s massacre, and the Fort Hood shootings. Fair serves on the scientific and professional advisory board for the National Center of Crisis Management/American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and is board certified in crisis chaplaincy, forensic traumatology, stress management, school crisis response, and emergency crisis response.