A helping hand for Haiti
This article is printed in the July edition of the Gazette, which is now available. You can get your copy at newsstands around campus.
By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor
It has been seven years since Tammy Babcock Aristilde first traveled to Haiti, hoping to improve the plight of the residents of Cite Soleil.
While change in the country may not be evident on the surface, the efforts of Helping Haiti, the charitable organization the security supervisor at Queen’s leads, has resulted in some definite signs of progress. Lives have been saved.
Leading a small group that arrived July 8 in the impoverished district in the capital Port-au-Prince, Ms. Babcock Aristilde says that one of the key elements to the effort has been bringing together rival gang members and teaching them first-aid.
The young men have been learning how to treat gunshot and stab wounds and have used the new skills to the benefit of their communities. One of the students has even saved the lives of two other members.
However, more important is that the rival gang members have formed bonds as they work through the First-Aid for Peace course.
“What's encouraging is that in one group of 10 we had two (gang) leaders. They were enemies when they started the course, but were able to find friendship in the time they spent together learning the life-saving skills of the FAFP program,” Ms. Babcock Aristilde says.
A small step, perhaps, but a step toward peace nonetheless.
The program also improved the participants’ reputations within their communities. No longer are they mere gang members, to be viewed only as a threat. These men are becoming role models for the younger generations.
“Many members of the team have used these skills to have a life. Having this knowledge puts them at a whole different level capacity and influence in the community,” Ms. Babcock Aristilde says.
“By working with these young men we are hoping to provide programming which will not only benefit them, but support the young men to inspire the young community to work together.”
The program currently includes 14 members and one has been trained to become an instructor within the community. The plan is to train instructors in neighbouring areas, expanding the program’s reach.
Ms. Babcock Aristilde and her group travel to Haiti twice a year – each January and July. This time she will be instructing young women rape self-defense, something she taught at Queen’s for nearly 10 years, while fellow director Aaron Sousa will teach their children on first-aid and hygiene.
Also making the trip is Queen’s student Amanda Oeggerli (Artsci’15), who will be assisting with the self-defense and first-aid programs as well as keeping track of records as Helping Haiti distributes water and helps sufferers of chikungunya, a debilitating mosquito-borne virus that results in fever and severe arthritic pain that is currently running rampant through Cite Soleil.
“They explain it like it feels like your bones are breaking and that pain lasts for a week and a half to two weeks,” Ms. Babcock Aristilde says. “Some people will continue to have that pain up to two years depending on how your system reacts to it.”
There will also be a focus on electrical safety as Cite Soleil residents often jury-rig their own connections to electricity sources, sometimes with dire consequences. There are burns, homes lost and even deaths from electrocution.
The instructor will be shown a site and while he can’t really change what they do he can provide safety knowledge as well as some equipment that could save lives. There will also be some first-aid instruction in treating burns.
The organization also has a branch at the university and Queen’s Helping Haiti, which was recently formed, has already helped support three young people with their small businesses.