published Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Help for Haiti

by Allison Kwesell

Rita Devilus still bears the scars from the day the four-story apartment building collapsed on her.

Metal rods punch through her skin and are screwed into her bones to hold together her shattered femur and tibia.

Physically, she is recovering. But mentally, she knows she will never be the same.

“Sometimes I suffer from the pain of my injuries,” the 49-year-old said. “And sometimes I suffer in my heart because I left my daughter in a pile of bricks.”

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free - 4-year-old Savannah plays with water while filling a bucket for her family at the Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti's Stabilization Center in the Hopital St. Crois Field Annex in Leogane, Haiti.

Mrs. Devilus was trapped for three hours after the 7.0- magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti on Jan. 12. Three men broke apart a brick wall to free her leg. She remembers tugging at the arm of her 13-year-old daughter, Niana, who was buried under rubble. She said she knew her child was dead and that she could do nothing for her.

For the past six months, Mrs. Devilus has been healing at the Centre de Santé Lumiere Health Center in Les Cayes, receiving care from Advantage Haiti, a program started by a UTC professor.

Since the earthquake, a rehabilitation clinic run by Advantage Haiti has been flooded with patients requiring postoperative care. Dr. June Hanks, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who started Advantage Haiti in 2001, took a yearlong unpaid leave of absence from her job to help with the rush of patients.

“After the earthquake, I needed to go down there to provide direct service myself and also to figure out how we’re going to ramp up the services provided by the Advantage program,” she said.

In Haiti, Dr. Hanks sees both hope and hopelessness.

“I mean, you almost see a resiliency and a hope, but I saw more flat faces,” she said. “Not totally hopeless, but just a flatness that I had never seen before, like this is almost the straw that broke the camel’s back and we’re not sure we’re going to make it out of this.”

The organization runs the clinic along with a prosthetics/orthotics shop, a residential vocational training program for women with disabilities, and a training center for the blind or those with low vision. The organization also arranges school sponsorships for Haitians.

Several Chattanooga-area agencies have been serving Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, for years. Eighty percent of Haiti’s population lives below the poverty line, and more than half the people are in abject poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Erlanger cardiologist Mitch Mutter founded the Chattanooga-based Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti in 1998. Dr. Hanks first traveled to Haiti on a mission trip in 1998 and created Advantage Haiti three years later.

Officials with both agencies have stepped up services since the earthquake, but they remain committed to their long-term missions.


On a July day when the temperature hovers above 100 degrees, Ashley Aakesson of the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti glances back at intern Courtney Latta as they drive a dusty white Land Cruiser through bumpy, torn-up roads piled high with rubble in the town of Léogâne. The two women are en route to a training session for Haitian public health workers.

“I hope our day today is better than it was six months ago,” Mrs. Aakesson tells the intern.

For Mrs. Aakesson and Ms. Latta, who both survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, simply making it through the day is a very real hope.

Mrs. Aakesson is executive director of the Children’s Nutrition Program, a nondenominational faith-based agency that educates Haitian health workers on children’s nutritional needs, the importance of breast feeding and basic sanitation and health care.

Chronic malnutrition affects one in three children in Haiti, and severe acute malnutrition affects one in 10, according to a 2006 demographic and health survey by Macro, a Washington, D.C-based public health research firm.

The Children’s Nutrition Program operates in Léogâne, one of two towns nearest the earthquake’s epicenter. Eighty percent of the town’s buildings were destroyed or damaged past the point of being useable, according to the United Nations.

The Children’s Nutrition Program has ramped up its operations since the earthquake. Its Haitian staff has grown from 43 to about 100, and its budget is about three times bigger than it was before the quake because of donations and a partnership with Save the Children.

“And with that three-times-bigger budget, we’re reaching 10 times more children and their families,” Mrs. Aakesson said.

The program’s main priority is preventing malnutrition in children under 5. People who are malnourished before age 2 or 3 will be less productive for the rest of their lives, Mrs. Aakesson said.

“If you have one out of three kids who are suffering from this, it ends up affecting the economy of a whole country and that country’s ability to be part of the world’s economic system,” she said. “This is a long-term problem. We are fixing it with local resources ... but it’s going to take a generation for it to really show all of the effects that it’s going to have.”

Children in post-quake Léogâne are “getting pushed into malnutrition” for a number of reasons, said Kara Telesmanick, the Children’s Nutrition Program manager.

“Their own parents are traumatized, they might be separated, they might have been killed, and so their own health is suffering as a result of that,” she said. “Services are disrupted, so if they are sick, they cannot get treated as quickly and that pushes them towards malnutrition.”

Teaching proper nutrition to Haitians deals with the issue “in a preventative way rather than a reactive way, and those of us who are professors like that because you are not putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” said Tom Streit, a Catholic priest and Notre Dame professor who has been working in Léogâne for 17 years.


Six months after the earthquake, some Haitians still are clinging to a Band-Aid life.

Makeshift dwellings still smother the landscape. There are so many tents in Haiti that in some places entire neighborhoods are fashioned out of blue and white tarpaulins.

Some Haitians live inside corrugated metal walls covered by tarps and fastened together with ripped sheets and shredded clothing.

Others dwell in massive igloo-style white tents donated by aid organizations. In narrow lines on empty bulldozed lots, those tent neighborhoods look clean and sterile.

Jean Marc Brissau, president of the Rotary Club chapter in Léogâne, said the tents hardly are a quick fix, especially with hurricane season here.

“When it’s raining, people stay the whole night standing, because water is flowing under their feet and they have nothing to lie on,” he said.

Still others eat and live out of their houses but won’t sleep inside because they fear another earthquake.

And while many Haitians lost limbs in the earthquake, few amputees are seen in public.

Slideshow: Villa Olimpica church in Santiago, Chile after the earthquake

Blog: Winchester couple helping quake victims sends dispatch

Times Free Press journalist returns from Haiti, speaks with Channel 3

Slide Show: The Faces of Haiti

Slide Show: Haiti - January 22

Slide Show: Haiti - January 20

Slide Show: Haiti - January 20

Slide Show: Haiti - January 19

Slide Show: Haiti Refugees

Haiti Earthquake page

PDF: Email Account

Article: Donations mount for Haiti relief

Article: Local medical team at work in Haiti

Blog: Journalist's personal diary from quake scene

Article: UT doctor treating Haitian quake victims

Article: Prayers offered for devastated country

Slideshow: Haiti Refugees

Flash presentation: Recent high-resolution satellite image of Port-au-Prince

Article: U.S. official: Violence in Haiti hindering aid work

Article: Chattanoogans recount horror tales from Haiti

Article: Quake ignores class divisions of a poor land

Article: Haitians search desperately for missing relatives

Article: Haitian doctor takes 100 patients into his home

Article: As aid pours in, haiti struggles to distribute it

Article: Haitians hold out hope for relatives

Article: Haitians in country illegally can stay for a while

Article: U.S. could take larger security role in Haiti

Article: Enormous Haiti quake toll

Editorial Cartoon: Haiti

Article: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton asked for Haiti help

Article:Chattanooga: Haiti needs worldwide effort, ambassador says


* Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

* About 54 percent of its more than 9 million residents live in abject poverty.

* Haiti is slightly smaller than Maryland and shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

* The population is 95 percent black and 80 percent Roman Catholic.

* French and Creole are the official languages.

* About half the population practices voodoo.

* The nation has four airports with paved runways and is favored by Columbian drug dealers for routing cocaine shipments, in part because of widespread corruption.

Source: CIA World Factbook


Several local organizations are accepting donations or asking for volunteers to help with the relief effort:

*New Salem Baptist Church in Soddy Daisy, Tenn. is accepting donations of medical supplies through Saturday to be sent to a medical clinic operated by Global Outreach Haiti in the village of TiTanyen, 15 miles north of Port-au-Prince. The list of items needed include: bandages and surgical tape of all types; antibiotic creams; Sulfadene or Silvadene burn cremes; supplies to assist open reduction of broken bones; surgical instruments of any type; slings; ace bandages; IV fluids; IV supplies (needles, tubing, etc); non-absorbent and absorbent sutures 3/0 and 4/0; gloves (sterile and non-sterile); splints; casting materials; portable x-ray machine (digital if possible); surgical lights, headlights, etc.; linens, blankets; disposable sheets, pads, etc. For more information, please contact Rev. Alan Rogers at New Salem Baptist Church, 423-842-3078.

* Signal Mountain Bible Church, 4872 Shackleford Ridge Road, Signal Mountain will hold a 1-mile walk and 5k run at 9 a.m. Saturday to raise money for Haiti. Race materials and late registration will be from 7:30 - 8:30 a.m. at the front of the church. Entry forms are available at or at the church. Entry must be postmarked no later than Sunday for pre-registration. Entry fee is $15.

*On Feb. 12, there will be a container at the SCORE office on Ringgold Rd to collect donations of canned goods, clothing, medicines, and other items to ship to Haiti. It will be sent directly to Haiti by Fed Ex. Anyone wishing to collect items to send to Haiti please take them to SCORE international, 5512 Ringgold Road, East Ridge, TN 37412 on Feb. 12. Items needed: Canned food, clothes (summer clothes for children), medicines and medical supplies, water, generators, personal hygiene items and school supplies.

* Haiti Gospel Mission, a faith-based organization that does education and medical missionary work in Haiti,

* The Greater Chattanooga Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is accepting contributions to the organization’s Disaster Relief Fund that will go to Haiti relief efforts. Donate online at or send them to the local Red Cross chapter office at 801 McCallie Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37403.

* Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti, call 495-1122 or visit

* Score International, call 423-894-7111 or visit Specify Help Haitians Rapid Response.

* American Haitian Foundation, checks can be mailed to: 3602 Anderson Pike, Signal Mountain, TN 37377 or visit

* The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations via, 1-800-SAL-ARMY and postal mail at: The Salvation Army World Service Office, International Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 630728, Baltimore, MD 21263-0728; or donors can text the word “HAITI” to 52000 to automatically give $10 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts. Note that the money will go directly to the Salvation Army's World Service Office.

*The Center for Rural Development of Milot Foundation (CRUDEM) is accepting support for the Hospital Sacre Coeur, a hospital in the north of Haiti. The foundation, based in Ludlow, Maine, was set up in 1968. For more information or to donate, go to

* The Samaritan Center will host a matching gift campaign for the disaster relief efforts in Haiti. Since Hurricane Katrina, that account has grown to $8,000, and the Samaritan Center is going to use that money to match any gifts that come in for Haitian disaster relief. Visit or call 423-238-7777.

* Habitat for Humanity International is gathering funds for rebuilding efforts. Area residents can give through or send donations to: HFH of Greater Chattanooga, 1201 E. Main St., Chattanooga, TN 37408. Please note that the donations are for Haiti.

* Bright School students will decorate wooden bells which will be sold for $5, proceeds going to the Children’s Nutrition Program in Haiti.

* Vision Ministries of Chattanooga, a local church with a multicultural congregation, including Haitians, is accepting donations to coordinate with other organizations. To donate, visit or call 423-475-5563.

* Bi-Lo Charities launched a donation program where shoppers can donate to the American Red Cross to assist those in Haiti and, in turn, they will match customer donations up to $25,000. The in-store donation program continues through Feb. 9 at stores in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

* AMG International, visit

* The Jean Cadet Restavek Foundation provides direct relief and education opportunities for children in restavek (children who work as household servants because their parents can’t afford to support them). It also funds advocates for these children throughout Haiti and raises global awareness of the system, which takes advantage of the poorest of the poor. Donations can be made at or individuals can help raise relief funds by forming a group and inviting friends and family to help:

* Rotary International has set up a fund that anyone can donate to. The fund will be directed by Rotarians who will work with local Rotary Clubs and districts, as well as emergency relief agencies, to meet the most pressing needs of people in affected areas. Anyone can make a $5 donation by texting ROTARY to 90999. Or visit to make larger donations.

* Local artist Larry Swetman will donate all the proceeds from his art sales to the relief effort in Haiti. Visit his Web site at


Volunteers may travel to Haiti with Score International for $1,200, which includes airfare, meals, lodging, supplies and ground transportation overseas.

Dates include: Jan. 30-Feb. 4 and every Saturday through Thursday for the following six weeks.

For more information, contact Trey Bailey at or call 423-894-7111.


* Research charities before you contribute. Use sources such as the Better Business Bureau ( and GuideStar (

* Be wary of telephone solicitors asking for contributions.

* Never give your credit card, debit card or bank account information to a telephone solicitor.

* If a tax deduction is important to you, make sure the organization has a tax deductible 501(c)3 status with the IRS.

* Watch out for organizations that use questionable techniques such as sending unordered merchandise or invoices after you have turned them down for a donation.

* Citizens can file a complaint against a charitable organization at

* For more information, call Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities and Business Regulation Division at 404-656-3920.

Source: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp


* The Department of Homeland Security set up a system to document all offers of aid for Haiti from local and state governments so they can be properly utilized as the disaster response effort progresses.

* Civic groups, businesses and individuals are being asked to submit their offers of donations to the Center for International Disaster Information at

Amputees are afraid to leave their homes because of the stigma of their injuries, and many simply have not had follow-up medical care after their surgeries, said Evans Cheridor, a nursing student in Léogâne. Some have not learned how to get around outside their homes, he said.

Dr. Hanks of Advantage Haiti hopes that will change. She believes it is possible to use the earthquake as an “opportunity to change the mindset of Haitian people” toward those with disabilities.

“Because at no other point in time would there be so many people who had an acquired disability due to a natural disaster,” she said.

In Haiti, there simply is no escaping what happened on Jan. 12.

The quake’s devastation is never far from anyone’s thoughts.

Jerry Joseph, an information technology specialist for the Children’s Nutrition Program, said every sound can be ominous.

“Each noise, I pay attention to each noise,” he said. “My biggest fear for Haiti is an earthquake again.”

Continue reading by following this link to the Times Free Press Haiti earthquake page.

about Allison Kwesell...

Times Free Press staff photographer Allison Kwesell arrived in the Caribbean island nation of Haiti four days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the impoverished country on Jan. 12, killing thousands and severely injuring many more. In photographs and words, she has captured the destruction in Haiti and the relief efforts under way there and at hospitals in its neighboring country, the Dominican Republic. Through Ms. Kwesell’s photos and stories, Times Free Press readers have an ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
please login to post a comment

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.