Haiti Quake Tragedy Spurs Pakistani Americans into Action
By Laila Karamally
From left: Providing the much needed food supply, Todd Shea carries an injured girl, Dr Ayesha Mian treats a child
Irvine , CA: When the 7.0 earthquake struck the Caribbean island of Haiti on January 12th 2010, the “aftershocks” were felt thousands of miles away, in the hearts and minds of Pakistani volunteers and agencies involved in the massive relief effort staged back in 2005. In a rather grim way, this was the day many had been waiting for; the day when they would hear the call once more.
Within hours of the news break, one man was already packing his bags to board a flight to Florida, en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Todd Shea, executive director of Pakistan-based Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) is a 43 year-old Maryland native who earned his stripes while volunteering in the rescue efforts after Sep 11, 2001, and then again after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, and Hurricane Katrina. In October 2005, Shea found himself part of a Pakistani-American effort to deliver medical assistance to victims of the earthquake that hit the northern areas. Four years on and the agency that Shea registered in Muzzafarabad currently supports eight healthcare facilities in the most remote earthquake affected areas and has delivered care to over 350,000 patients.
Shea, now back in Pakistan, looks back to his strategy in the early days of his six-week stint in Haiti: “I knew the airport was affected and so were all communications. I figured that the best way into the country would be through the border with the Dominican Republic.” Upon landing in Santo Domingo, Shea rented a truck, enlisted a driver and translator and loaded up with medical supplies.
On January 14th, he crossed the border, and established a presence in a small town by the name of Croix de Bouquet, 45 minutes outside Port-au-Prince. Bypassing the log jam in Port-au-Prince allowed Shea to begin moving doctors and available relief supplies into and out of the country almost immediately and began assisting other near-by medical facilities. Over the course of the next few days, CDRS played a key role in establishing a multi-agency field hospital in Bojeaux Parc, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince which it successfully operated with the help of its partners including the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), International Development and Relief Foundation (IDRF), Global Giving, Destiny World Outreach and AIMER Haiti.
Shea recalls those early days in Haiti as one of the most “tragic, toxic, difficult" environments he's ever encountered. The desperation he witnessed was captured in a report Shea filed a week into his deployment: “Everyone needs to accelerate and better coordinate relief efforts to avoid conflict and a potentially dangerous escalation of tensions being felt by Haitians throughout the country, some of whom I found waiting and suffering without any outside help whatsoever so far.”
For help to support and fund the effort, Shea turned to a captive group of friends and supporters who have worked alongside him over the past nine years of responding to disasters. Many of these were Pakistani-Americans who had directly volunteered after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and chose to remained involved in his on-going projects in Kashmir. SHINE (a California-registered public benefit corporation) spearheaded the effort by raising the financial resources, and coordinating volunteers and much-needed medical supplies, which were then funneled through ground operations run by CDRS. In the days that followed, SHINE also sent three of its own board members to volunteer. Among them, Newport Beach physician Dr. Salman Naqvi. "We could feel their helplessness. We've gone through it over there (in Pakistan)," says Naqvi, who is a pulmonary critical care doctor, and has served in Pakistan after the quake there.
The joint SHINE/CDRS Haiti mission came to a close on March 15th, at which point the group had successfully raised over $200,000, of which 97 per cent was spent on program expenses. This paid for the procurement and distribution of food, water and medical supplies as well as transport, communications and logistical support (security, food, lodging, etc.) for doctors deploying from the US. The joint agency effort facilitated close to 250 volunteers, and helped ensure that 14,000 patients received care while thousands more received much-needed food and water.
“Our challenge was getting donors to understand the importance of the intangibles. While there are always dollars available to buy food, water and medicine, we can’t do anything with these supplies unless we hire local personnel, pay their salaries, put gasoline in the ambulance and provide for the safety and well-being of the volunteers who are here,” says Laila Karamally, SHINE CEO. Karamally says the agency is now working on a model which encapsulates its unique approach to disaster management, with the hope that this is the building block to a fully-funded large-scale program being in place before the next disaster strikes, where ever that may be.
For more information or to support SHINE/CDRS, please visit www.shinehumanity.org.