Still helping Haiti from Scarborough

Scarborough Physiotherapist Peter Skelton with Sebastian - one of the patients he treated in Haiti during 2010
Scarborough Physiotherapist Peter Skelton with Sebastian - one of the patients he treated in Haiti during 2010

ONE year ago yesterday the world was hit by the news that a devastating earthquake had struck the capital of Haiti, Port au Prince, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale and killing in total 230,000 people.

The quake was said to have levelled 200,000 buildings in the area, and left 300,000 people injured and 100,000 residents homeless.

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People across the globe responded to the news, with many travelling to the country to help administer aid, while others including many schools and organisations in Scarborough choosing to raise money for the Haiti Appeal.

In total £7 billion was donated to fund to help those hit in Haiti.

However twelve months on and the country is still struggling to cope with the aftermath, as experts this week revealed only five per cent of the rubble has been cleared away.

It is estimated there is still enough rubble to fill trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world.

However help is still out there for 1.2 million living in 1,200 tent cities, including help from a number of Scarborough volunteers.

Sustainable Aid Supporting Haiti (SASH) was established in the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake by Scarborough husband and wife team William Brown and Melanie Coull, who spent six weeks rapidly fundraising in the UK to provide support for the long term sustainability of those whose lives had been torn apart by the disaster.

Mrs Coull said: “We arrived in Haiti via the Dominican Republic in a truck with the key objective of providing aid in areas outside Port au Prince to those who were not being looked after by the other aid agencies on the ground.

“We found ourselves in the area around Leogane where little aid had saturated and yet a massive population had been torn apart at the very epicentre of the earthquake.”

International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox, partnered with SASH early on in their response and worked with the SASH team to develop a long-term support system for those left homeless.

Becky Maynard, ShelterBox Response Team member, said: “Initially SASH managed seventeen camps in the area but over the year they have managed to get many people back to their own land, utilizing ShelterBox tents as an incentive to repatriate families and also providing ongoing support services.

“We worked with Jonathan Smith and Emily McGill who are volunteers with the organization, also from Scarborough, who have given up their time to come out to Haiti and assist with camp management and distribution of essential aid. They continue to work in areas where no other aid agencies have reached. They really are an inspiring people to work with.”

The most recent distribution has been in the mountainous areas around Leogane where SASH were the first agency to provide aid.

Mrs Coull said: “The people living in this remote area had lost everything in the earthquake and had been living under the most basic of shelters made out of palm leaves, something that would have held out little hope against the harsh weather conditions.

“It has been hard work but it more than makes up for it knowing that our support will make such a huge difference to these people who leave a basic subsistence living as they attempt to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

Also helping in Haiti over the last year was Scarborough physiotherapist Peter Skelton.

Mr Skelton, who is a former pupil of Graham School and Scarborough Sixth Form College and now lives in Islington, spent a month on the Caribbean island following the earthquake.

He said: “It is difficult now, almost one year on, to reflect back on the month I spent in the devastated capital of Haiti, Port au Prince.

“Working in such devastated surroundings, with people who had in many cases lost everything, the most humbling memory I have is of the profound dignity with which the overwhelming majority carried on their lives.

“Haiti was a troubled country even before the earthquake, but local expatriates would talk of how the city somehow felt calmer and safer following the horrors of the January 12 than it had at times before.

“The streets were filled with troops of volunteers in brightly coloured T-shirts clearing rubble. Where people were able to, they quickly returned to work. They did not talk of their personal tragedies, but did their best to help out where they could, or simply to survive.

“In the sprawling tented hospital camp where I worked, Haitian volunteers tirelessly turned up each and every day from the very day of the earthquake to support the efforts of local and international medical teams. The global response to the disaster was overwhelming, with endless promises of funding and aid, and teams of well intentioned individuals arriving from all over the world to try to lend a hand.

“I left Haiti at the beginning of March with a feeling that out of such tragedy, there could be some small hope and optimism for the future.”