Population Services International

PSI in Conde Nast Traveler Blog - Five & Alive on the Ground in Haiti

For more than two years, Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with Population Services International, the world's largest social marketing health organization, to form the Condé Nast Traveler Five & Alive fund.

PSI and the fund provide clean water solutions, pneumonia medications, malaria bednets, and nutritional supplements at heavily subsidized rates to children around the world. According to many aid experts, PSI's commercial networks—though subsidized—provide a business incentive for distribution of such essential products, allowing them to reach even the smallest villages.

PSI has been working round the clock since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti; in addition to distributing mosquito nets and driving the country's health-related communications, the organization has teamed with Proctor & Gamble to distribute 1.1 million packets of PUR water purifier—enough for 61,000 people for three months.

Here is an on-scene report from Karl Hofmann, PSI President and CEO, who visited late last month.

Approaching Haiti, we fly over the USNS Comfort hospital ship, anchored in the bay and a Navy helicopter follows us in to land. Arriving in Port-au-Prince, the azure blue water and green hills are deceptive. But any repeat visitor to Haiti knows that. The airport tarmac has calmed from the chaotic post-earthquake days, but our American Airlines jet still competes with a Brazilian C-130 and a USAir Force jet. On the ramp are many U.S. servicemen, smiling and waving. They are happy in this mission, I think.

The arrivals hall is temporary, clean and orderly. Outside on the street it's less so—soldiers from various nationalities, crazy traffic, Haitian street peddlers who remind me that, no matter what disaster strikes, the market breathes, commerce continues.

Even after countless news reports and images, it’s still a shock to see downtown Port-au-Prince in ruins. We drive by the presidential palace, pancaked. The cathedral I recall visiting in 1984 is destroyed. Rubble litters the streets but traffic moves. There are tent cities in all the big public parks. The inhabitants are waiting; what are they to do?
It's not clear that anyone is telling them.

Meeting with the PSI/Haiti staff, I ask each one to say how long they've been with us, and then to talk about their experiences. An hour later, I am stunned. Tales of despair, drama, fear and courage. Frantic hunts for family members, children. Thankfully our staff is mainly intact, save Immacula Wagnac, who perished. Another staff member lost 17 members of her family. Another broke down in pain just before our meeting; she was having stomach trouble, but also she came from Leogane, the quake's epicenter. Leogane is no more. She is dealing with that disheartening reality.

Across from the PSI Haiti office, Place Boyer in Petionville is a tent city. We are doing communication work to promote safe drinking water. I'm told there may be an informal brothel in operation; the team plans for how they can organize some HIV prevention activities and distribute condoms.

The marketing infrastructure of the country has been badly mauled; our distribution network is in tatters. Traditional social marketing programming is largely on hold. But our funders don't want us to engage in free distribution - not clear we have the legs right now anyway. Yet the international relief organizations seem absent. It’s frustrating.

Staff tell stories of individual acts of grace, personal heroism of average Haitians who climbed into rubble to help save complete strangers. There have been thousands of such acts. I sense a morbid feeling of pride: Haitians helped Haitians deal with death, before the international community could even try. Our staff speaks glowingly of Jim Malster, PSI’s ‘first responder’, who arrived in Haiti within days to account for staff and assess the unimaginable damage. He soon began rallying Haitian staff to think about returning to work. They really needed that nudge, they say. They needed to have a task.

It will be a while before PSI/Haiti is operating at capacity again. But I am pleased to report that PSI/Haiti is very much still standing.

To learn more about PSI's work or make a contribution, visit www.psi.org. Tune in here for more on what Population Services International is achieving in Haiti.

Click here to view the article at Conde Nast Traveler's blog Do the Right Thing - Five & Alive on the Ground in Haiti

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