Sheffield woman, a Haiti native, stresses need for hurricane relief

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SHEFFIELD — If you want to help Haiti as it recovers from Hurricane Matthew, support small organizations that target specific parts of the country.

That's the message from Nalise Dobson, a Sheffield woman who is originally from the Caribbean nation. She has watched from afar as her rural community has suffered from the aftermath of the storm.

"It's all destroyed," she said. "Ninety percent of the houses in my hometown are destroyed; crops are gone; there are no shelters. People are in the streets."

Dobson, who grew up in the southwest region of Duchity, moved to the United States in July 2007 with her husband, Ben.

Duchity is mountainous and very rural, Dobson said. That makes disasters like Hurricane Matthew extremely dangerous.

Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti's west on Oct. 4 before making its way toward the Bahamas and Florida. The devastation in the island nation was catastrophic — so far at least 546 people are dead in the country, with some estimates rising as high as 1,300. The United States has the second highest death toll from the storm, at 46.

Due to Haiti's poverty and the country's continuing struggle to rebuild after an earthquake devastated the country in January 2010, many homes were destroyed and clean water has become scarce in the west.

"The people on the top of the mountains did not have good homes," Dobson said. "After the storm, they were washed away."

Dobson said her family has told her that there is little food, water or shelter in Duchity. Her father opened his three-bedroom home to the community after the storm. But that's a rarity — Dobson pointed to a recent New York Times article that reported people in the mountains of Duchity have retreated into caves for shelter.

Compounding the problem is a general lack of aid to the region for geographic and political reasons. Dobson said that aid doesn't always make it out of the capital city of Port au Prince, which is east of Duchity.

"When disasters come, the government is happy because they can make money," Dobson said. "When things are sent to help, the government keeps them and sells them."

Most of the aid for the west comes in from the nearest city, Jeremie, approximately 21 miles to the northwest of Duchity. But even then, not much comes to Duchity — at least not from large organizations.

Luckily, there are smaller organizations working to help Duchity. Dobson's brother, Pievy Polyte, works with the Vermont Haiti Project, based in Burlington. The organization helps to provide essentials and education for the Duchity region.

The project provided assistance as quickly as possible, said Director Kimball Butler. Immediately, they managed to get food, water, bleach and soap to the region.

"Since then we have been focusing on setting up a clean water distribution center at the vocational school, and have recently proved metal roofing to 100 families," Butler wrote in an email. "We will continue these efforts as funding allows."

Butler is going to the country on Nov. 8. The trip was planned before the storm, she said, and now it has greater importance.

"It's not going to be a fun trip," she said. "But showing support is important."

Dobson had a similar view. She said that she and a number of other people from the region who live in the United States send money home to help. That money is helpful, she said, but there's always more to do.

"You just have to go there and make it happen," she said.

How to help ...

To learn how to support the people of Haiti, visit www.vermonthaitiproject.org


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