Finding Partners and a Home

While Building Relationships in Haiti, Direct Relief Seeks a Warehouse to Store Supplies

Wednesday was a good day for Direct Relief International in Haiti. It appears the trio representing the Santa Barbara-based non-profit have not only enlisted two new partners in Haiti, but also potentially secured a warehouse, despite worries late into the day that this wouldn’t be happening in time for the $16 million shipment that arrives on Friday.

Following leads they’d built over the last three days, Direct Relief’s Andrew MacCalla, Gordon Willcock, and emergency response coordinator Brett Williams headed to two hospitals to see if a partnership was possible. Though Direct Relief isn’t hampered by a laundry list of rules when it comes to doling out supplies, they must proceed with caution in a disaster situation, and it takes time to build a working relationship and understand the groups they intend to work with. They do this to insure that medication being sent overseas is both being provided to the people in need and at no charge to the patients.

Normally Direct Relief doesn’t keep a team in natural disaster areas long-term, but the organization has committed to having staff in Haiti for at least six months, with MacCalla and Willcock staying for three weeks. This commitment comes as a result of Williams’ first fact-finding trip to Haiti three days after the quake, when he saw hospitals and clinics completely overwhelmed by the workload and unable to take the time to liaison back-and-forth with resource providers like Direct Relief. So rather than just send in supplies as they usually do, Direct Relief is taking an even further step to reach out to the hospitals in their time of need, find out what they need, bring that to Haiti, and assure that it gets delivered properly.

The first stop on Wednesday was the Centre Hospitalier du Sacre-Coeur. After being tossed to a couple different people, the trio was led to Vincent Nivenson, a pharmacist who had a handle on what supplies and medicine the hospital already had and what it needed. In short, it needs a lot — Sacre-Coeur has treated 3,625 patients since the start of the earthquake, operating on more than half of those. Nivenson shuffled through the shipment list of items arriving from Direct Relief’s Santa Barbara headquarters into Haiti on Friday, and then Willcock and MacCalla worked through Nivenson’s broken English to determine what hospital needed, which included such basics as IV drips and surgical scrubbing soap. Upon leaving the hospital, Williams seemed satisfied with the meeting, explaining, “He understands drugs and what they need.”

From there, the group traveled to the Haitian Community Hospital, yet another facility inundated with patients but equipped with dozens of volunteers, many of them American. Walking through hallways that were piled to the ceilings with boxes, Williams explained that many non-profits just send whatever they have to hospitals in disaster zones, which winds up crowding supply rooms oftentimes with more resources than the facilities need. “It ends up slowing everything down,” Williams explained. Direct Relief, however, develops the in-country relationships to find out exactly what clinics want before arranging a delivery. As he was explaining this, a very stressed out Rob Werner, the hospital’s director of clinic operations, came to the front desk, telling them that people just back their trucks up to the hospital, unannounced, and drop off supplies. “There’s some things we need badly,” he said. “We need those things, just not the things people bring us.”

Neither hospital was optimistic they could provide trucks to pick up the supplies, but Williams had already solved that problem. During his first trip to Haiti right after the quake, he connected with a man named Junior, who works for the United Nations and had access to drivers, who Direct Relief will use to deliver the supplies to the hospitals. But Junior is also turning out to be Williams’ connection for most everything, or at least he’s trying to be.

That includes the search for the warehouse. Junior located one quickly, but after a site visit by Willcock and MacCalla, the two decided it wasn’t what was needed — too many different levels and a difficult set-up would make it impossible to move pallets of goods around easily. So as the crew continued to search, Williams told Junior they needed other options. With help from the World Health Organization a little more iffy than it seemed just a few days ago, the three were beginning to get a little on-edge as the day came to a close. A safe and secure warehouse was needed in less than 48 hours, so there would actually be a place prepared to receive the Direct Relief $16 million shipment of 60 pallets that’s scheduled to arrive via a FedEx flight sometime Friday.

Later that day, as the Direct Relief team left the UN compound following a couple meetings, they found Junior and his father-in-law waiting outside with a lead on another warehouse. One 25-minute car ride later, they found themselves approaching a massive complex operated by a major water and ice company in Haiti. They had extra warehouse space available, round-the-clock security, loading and unloading docks, two large trucks, forklifts, and pallet jacks — all of which DRI could have access to. The only question was the price. The building’s owner was out-of-town on Wednesday, but was due to return Thursday morning, so a meeting was arranged to talk specifics. If the price is right, Direct Relief may have just the Haitian home they need for the coming months.

In the meantime, the group is plotting to visit more hospitals and contact more local aid groups as well as grow the new relationships they’ve just established. But the need for exactly what Direct Relief does continues to be high, as hospitals are just too overwhelmed to coordinate the securing of medicine and supplies, even as they are inundated with the people who need them. “The whole reason we were saying we needed to be down here has been proven over and over again,” Williams said.

See more of Chris Meagher’s reports from Haiti at independent.com/haiti

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