Nearly six years after Haiti’s deadly earthquake, St. Louisans continue to offer aid

Sep 14, 2015

On a typical day in 2010, Joseph Volcy found himself sitting outside of his church after choir practice when he felt a great tremble, “like a bulldozer on the road.” He looked up, and from his seat on a bench, he saw half of a mountain come down behind his church. Then came the dust.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Volcy said. “No one could see where they were going. When I left the church to go home, I couldn’t. I saw a lot of people on the back of taxis and people being brought to the hospital, where some of them died. But I still couldn’t tell what was going on.”

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake had hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Over 100,000 Haitians were killed in the quake and more than 3 million people were adversely affected. In Volcy’s sphere, a flour factory in his hometown burned down and his sister’s house crumple on top of her. She came out alright, but her shoulder was badly broken.

Joseph Volcy and Les Prouty, of Haiti Orphan Project.
Credit Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Since that time, Volcy, an orphan himself, has worked with the Haiti Orphan project, a St. Louis non-profit that works to prevent children from being orphaned. In fact, there are several non-profits in the St. Louis area that have continuously worked in Haiti both before and after the earthquake.

On Monday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” host Don Marsh spoke with several of those non-profits about the work they’re still doing in Haiti, nearly six years after the earthquake, as well as the challenges aid organizations in the country face. Earlier this summer, revelations of the American Red Cross’ misuse of donations for relief in Haiti cast a shadow on work being done there. Les Prouty, the executive director of Haiti Orphan Project, said that he is sure the funds going to the three organizations on Monday’s show are getting to the people of Haiti.

“I’ve seen the news reports about other, larger organizations and honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “People ask me that all the time. Well, there have been some improvements. I remember the first time I drove from Port-Au-Prince to Gonaives, about 90 miles, and it took six hours. The road was horrible most of the way, paved a little bit here and there… now it is a three hour drive. The road’s been paved. So, there are some things that have improved throughout the country.”

Prouty also pointed to dysfunction in the government. The founder and executive director of Meds and Food For Kids, Dr. Patricia Wolff said that many consultants are used in Haiti, and they cost quite a bit of money. This had an unintended consequence: trickle-down of funds.

“Since the earthquake, there is a lot more affluence then there used to be,” Woolf said. “Almost everybody has shoes now. More kids are in school. More people have houses. More people have motorcycles. There was a lot of trickle-down actually--when you hired a chauffeur, or a car, or someone to do something for you. Even though you came and you took a lot of money, there was some trickle-down. People have wheelbarrows now, they have businesses. Roads have been built. That’s huge. There are more cell towers and more internet. There are a lot of improvements.”

Although things are different, Wolff said the development aid industry still needs reform.

“Aid is not perfect anywhere,” Wolff said. "Everyone knows that development aid mostly goes to the developers. It is not different in Haiti. It’s not really about corruption, it is about the dysfunction of aid. Somehow we need to figure out how to transfer more money directly to the people who are poor without all of these intermediaries.”

Here are the different ways these St. Louis organizations are working to help the Haitians. Listen to the full audio from Monday’s show to hear more on their work. 

Meds and Food for Kids

Dr. Wolff started Meds and Foods for Kids in 2003. She had been performed medical work in Haiti since 1988, to combat malnutrition in the country using Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Foods (RUTF), a peanut butter-based nutrition bar that helps children gain much-needed weight. Over time, the organization has evolved its mission to spur economic development in the country, opening a factory to produce the RUTF (known as “Medika Mamba” in the country), which has the capacity to treat 80,000 children a year.

A Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Foods bar.
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

There are many malnourished children in Haiti,” Wolff said. “We’ve been treating them, the number has been going down, actually. We’ve been treating them with this concoction that was created by Dr. Mark Manary from Washington University and André Briand from France.  It’s peanuts, powdered milk, sugar, oil, vitamins, minerals, all mixed together.”

Wolff said that children who are at death’s doorstep and begin treatment with this mixture can be completely normal within four to 12 weeks.

Haiti Orphan Project

The Haiti Orphan Project started in 2010 following the earthquake in Haiti, when John Keane, the president of the Keane Insurance Group in Kirkwood approached Les Prouty about going to Haiti to do aid work.  “At the time of the earthquake, I didn’t even know where Haiti was,” Prouty said. The two went to Haiti in April of 2010 and met Volcy. “It became apparent this is where we believed God wanted us to begin working,” Prouty said. So began the non-profit, of which Prouty is now the executive director. Through school sponsorships, medical care and economic development, the group strives to prevent the orphaning of children by families who cannot afford to take care of them. The group often partners with Haitian churches to achieve this goal.

Brace for Impact 46

In 2012, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kyle McClellan was looking for a way to give back to the community. “International [aid] kept coming up,” he said. “It wasn’t anything I had an interest in. I wanted to see something in St. Louis, to be a part of it, and watch it grow.” An invitation from his teammate Adam Wainwright to go to Haiti after the earthquake on a mission trip changed McClellan’s mind. Since 2013, McClellan has raised funds to support the IDADEE Children’s Home, an orphanage Wainwright helped to build. McClellan has a goal of raising $200,000, which will aid in helping the home’s medical center, school, provision of clean latrines and will help expand the orphanage.

What other aid efforts in St. Louis should we know about? Let us know in the comments below.  

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.