Since January 19th, 2010 SSIO volunteers have been working every day in Haiti to provide relief. With the Grace and Blessings of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, many physicians and volunteers from the SSIO are taking active part in the relief efforts for victims of the Haiti earthquake and are committed to provide disaster relief efficiently and compassionately from the acute phase to rehabilitation. Beginning with the very first team that went to Haiti, young adults (18-35 years of age) have been an integral part of these teams working enthusiastically under the guidance of experienced adult team members.
The Ministry of Social Services has given an award of excellence to the Sathya Sai Organisation in Haiti for doing selfless service to needy children since the massive earthquake in January of 2010. They declared the Sathya Sai Organisation to be one of the five best service organisations that did service in Haiti after the massive earthquake in 2010.
HAITI EARTHQUAKE OF JAN 2010
On 12 January 2010, a massive earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck Haiti with its epicenter at the most populated city of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. The earthquake devastated the country, killing about 250,000 people and rendering about 1.5 million Haitians homeless. Haiti is located on an island that it shares with the Dominican Republic, about 800 miles off the coast of Florida, USA and 300 miles from the island of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. It is one of the poorest nations in the Americas, with most of its inhabitants living in abject poverty. Yet, in spite of centuries of foreign rule, oppression, and neglect, the Haitians are a friendly, proud, and indomitable people, happy and full of spirit and "joi-de-vivre". Little did they know in early January 2010, that their faith and resilience would be tested as never before in the history of Haiti.
DAYS FOLLOWING THE QUAKE
Answering the cry of countless thousands in desperate need of water, food, shelter, and medical facilities, the SSIO mobilized quickly, as it had done many times before in response to disasters worldwide, such as in Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Guyana, Gulf Coast (USA), Mexico City, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The SSIO was amongst the first responders offering relief on the ground. As of January 2014, the Sai Organisation continues to serve meals to the poor and deprived Haitians at Port-au-Prince. Whereas many of the NGOs and government organisations that came to Haiti offered relief and aid for a limited period of time the SSIO has continued its aid to the present day.
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Estimated Value of Services & Supplies by Sai Organisation in Haiti:
- Amount Paid to Sai Organisation Doctors & Volunteers:
- Number of Patients Seen in Haiti:
- Number of Meals Served in Haiti:
- Time spent by doctors in Haiti
- Number of doctors who worked in Haiti:
- Time spent by volunteers in Haiti:
- Total time in Haiti after earthquake:
- Value of free medicines and medical supplies:
- Cash contribution for food, water,shelter etc:
- Over 2,000,000
- Over 8,000 volunteer hours
- 30,000 volunteer hours
- Over 1000 days
- Over $ 1.5 million
- Over $ 700,000
Shortly thereafter, a team of eleven medical doctors from the USA, led by Dr. Hari Conjeevaram, Director of the SSIO’s medical relief effort, was on the ground in Haiti to get a first-hand feel for the massive scope of the relief needs. The team included a neurosurgeon, Dr. Venkat Sadanand, and physicians well versed in all the major medical specialties. The following are excerpts from the reports filed by this medical team:
"God's guidance and presence were subtly felt, at every step of the way. Faced with this enormous medical task and a total lack of medical supplies, we asked the airlines if we could carry vitally needed medical supplies as "excess baggage". We were happy beyond words to hear that they would allow us to carry ten bags per passenger, free of charge! As word of our effort spread, some airlines allowed up to twenty bags per passenger - free of charge! Once we arrived in Santo Domingo, we were quickly escorted by SSIO volunteers to the local U.S. Embassy and the office for U.S. Aid. Faced with the massive damage to roads and the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation, this was the only agency that had a functional overland link with Haiti. We were told that due to the "urgent" nature of our work, there was a possibility that we would be allowed on a bus transporting "U.S. Aid" materials and personnel, purely at the discretion of the official in charge of loading. When we arrived at the bus loading point the following morning, we were told that the officer in charge was missing. With no supervision in place, we got on the bus with our "mountain" of supplies and left for Haiti in a convoy with U.S. Army soldiers providing armed escort to prevent looting. Secure in the knowledge that our Lord was firmly in charge, we relaxed and soaked in the beauty of this island paradise. At the outskirts of Santo Domingo, the convoy was stopped and an armed guard came on board to check paperwork."
FOOD FOR ALL
Spirituality and humanitarian aid always go hand-in-hand for SSIO volunteers because mind, body, and spirit are integral. All three contribute to the welfare of the human being as a whole. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has said that "Service to humans is service to God". The term "Narayan Seva" is commonly used in India to refer to the act of offering life-supporting essentials—food and water—to the hungry and to the thirsty.
To cope with the rampant problems of hunger, malnutrition, and starvation, a programme was initiated to serve breakfast and/or lunch to thousands of Tent City residents. Food and cooking supplies were brought in from the neighbouring Dominican Republic and stored locally. Volunteers from Santo Domingo, as well as North, South, and Central America arrived to clean, cook, pack, and distribute food for thousands of hungry men, women, and children in the Tent Cities. In addition volunteers served the children in the orphanage. Following the earthquake, the orphans at the Little Church facility were joined by many others who lost their parents in the disaster. They were all housed in the adjacent music school facility.
Hundreds of Haitians would line up early in the morning every day and enter the Big Church in small, manageable batches. They were hungry and during the long wait some would pass out. A Young Adult volunteer from the USA decided to alleviate their hunger by initiating a programme to serve packed lunches to all patients.
The SSIO took care of all necessary arrangements to keep the relief operations going, including the procurement of water, food, and medicines; the orderly arrival and departure of volunteers; and local construction and other support activities to assist the orphans and destitute families. Initially over 1,000 meals, both lunch and dinner, were served daily, along with family packs of uncooked food for about 200 to 300 families. Children at the local orphanages were served food daily with love and attention. This service began immediately after the disaster. Teams of SSIO volunteers from various countries visited Haiti on a tour for seven to nine days, participating daily in medical services and in the preparation and serving of food. A typical day would start early, before 5:00 am with prayers and devotional singing followed by cooking and preparation of meals. The meals—simple, wholesome, and vegetarian—were prepared in an industrial-scale kitchen, set up especially for that purpose.
Some problems with food supply were encountered in mid-2010 due to shortage of raw materials but 7,000 to 8,000 meals continued to be served every week. By early 2011, over 1,500 meals were served daily, with priority for the sick, the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and orphaned children. That number increased by mid-2011 to 2,000, and by 2012 to 3,000 meals per day. As of April 2013, the SSIO has served over 2,000,000 meals in Haiti since the earthquake of January 2010.
WATER, PTSD, EDUCATION AND SHELTER
To satiate the thirst of the local population which had no access to clean drinking water, the SSIO purchased water from local, deep-water wells. After testing for purity, SSIO volunteers supplied over 6,000 gallons of water every day, delivered in trucks carrying 3,000 gallons each. Drinking water was provided to about 300 families per day (from March 2010). An elaborate system of pipes was set up to distribute water to the Tent City dwellers, towards the latter part of 2010, by a SSIO volunteer from the USA who owned a water purification company.
The purchased water in the tanker trucks was distributed at highly subsidized rates to the local population by their own youth. This gave the youth an opportunity to earn money and it gave them a sense of pride in managing the distribution of this "elixir of life" equitably in their own communities.
At every step of the Haiti-earthquake relief effort, in the midst of chaos, divine grace was unmistakably present. Rapid and efficient mobilisation, safety in the midst of anarchy, and sustained service through the years, provide evidence of that divine grace. The SSIO was the first NGO on the ground in the most ravaged areas of Haiti. SSIO transport of thousands of dollars of essential medical and life-saving supplies were never plundered and the volunteers themselves never threatened, despite the fact that a state of chaos and anarchy ensued in the aftermath of the catastrophe. The SSIO set up a base of operations and outlying centers of distribution in the worst-affected areas, where essential resources were non-existent, transport was exceedingly difficult, and government protection was unreliable. For over five years the SSIO has sustained the relief effort, refusing to abandon the Haitians in their continuing need. Each of these achievements can be considered a miracle.
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has said that service to humans is service to God. All the houses of devotees in Port-au-Prince were devastated by the 12 January 2010 earthquake, with the sole exception of the house of Rony Joseph, which was then used as the base to start seva (service) activities. Narayan seva (feeding the hungry) and medical assistance, the twin arms of humanitarian aid, were immediately planned and implemented by the SSIO volunteers located in Haiti and in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, two countries sharing a single island. Priority was given initially to the procurement of food, water, medicine, and tents for the Haitians from the neighbouring Dominican Republic which was unaffected by the quake.
The SSIO served thousands of meals, keeping hundreds of families, individuals, and orphaned children from hunger, starvation, and disease. Thousands of meals were prepared and distributed under the most extreme conditions. Suitable water sources were found. The water was tested, transported, and distributed in the most challenging circumstances. Medicines were secured and brought into the country safely against all odds. SSIO volunteers made their way to ground zero under forbidding restrictions. Only divine grace made all of this possible.
SSIO VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCES
Many SSIO volunteers who participated in Haiti relief activities, described their days of service as blissful and satisfying. Despite the lack of modern conveniences and the enormous challenge of rough conditions they felt satisfied, comfortable and fulfilled. They considered the love and gratitude which they experienced from the Haitians they served an invaluable boon. They understood the true meaning of "work as worship".
Carlos Suárez of Mexico, came to Haiti in January 2012 and continued his service unrelentingly through the years after the quake. Little did he know many years prior when he received training in management and distribution of food on a large scale that his training would fill a dire need in the future, keeping thousands from starvation. He considers his years of service in Haiti to be a spiritual experience of love, inspired by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Nathalia, a Sai devotee from Venezuela, worked with the orphans and children in Haiti from April 2011 and reports a similar experience of joy and divine blessing. She helped to procure, prepare, and serve food to children at orphanages and camps and on the streets of Port-au-Prince. She reported that about 700 breakfasts and 2,300 evening meals were served daily. Children sometimes came with buckets and containers to carry back food for their siblings and themselves. Nathalia saw many children seek friendship and conversation from the volunteers in between the breakfast and evening meals. It touched her heart to see their lack of opportunity and the extreme challenges they faced. She participated in educational projects to give them a chance to change their lives for the better and to entertain them with games, a welcome diversion from their daily burdens. Nathalia said that accepting the divine will and offering herself in service to the Haitians was an experience given by God. It was the biggest gift of her life.