In the Dominican Republic, ‘we have to imagine ourselves in Haitians’ shoes’

تم النشر: 23 فبراير 2010 0:00 CET

José Manuel Jiménez, IFRC, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

“I felt the quake at my home in San Cristobal but I never imagined it would be as disastrous as this,” says Elizabeth Payamo, a 17-year-old volunteer with the Dominican Red Cross.

“When I saw on TV how bad it was, I went straight to the Red Cross headquarters in Santo Domingo [the capital of the Dominican Republic] to see what I could do to help.”

“The whole thing really touched me deeply.”

Payamo, who has been a volunteer for just a year, now divides her time between her secondary-school studies in the evening and volunteer work during the day.

Since the beginning of the emergency response operation, Payamo has been embedded with the British Red Cross logistics Emergency Response Unit (ERU) that’s been based in the Dominican Republic since the start.

The British ERU receives incoming international aid and organizes it to be trucked to Haiti. “She’s totally committed to the work,” says British ERU worker Peter Glasper of Payamo.

“She hasn’t had a day off in nearly a month,” says Glasper. “She’s young, but she’s a model volunteer. And it’s done with love.”

‘Brothers not neighbours’

In the early days of the operation, Red Cross Red Crescent relief supplies built up in the Dominican Republic. But now that the roads to Haiti are clear and there are fewer delays at the border, things are flowing more smoothly, ERU workers say.

Today about a quarter of all Movement aid for Haiti transits Santo Domingo – a city whose own inhabitants, like all Dominicans, have responded very generously to the plight of the people with whom they share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

“It’s time to look at Haitians as brothers and not just neighbours,” says Adalberto Suazo, a Dominican Red Cross staffer for the past six years.

“Since 12 January many, many people have come forward to volunteer,” he adds, “completely forgetting the historical differences between the two countries."

“We have to imagine ourselves in Haitians’ shoes and do everything we can. The earthquake has entered the conscience of all Dominicans – you hear it talked about constantly in the streets of Santo Domingo. Everyone here is completely focused on the plight of the people of Haiti.”

Disciplined but warm

Dominican Red Cross workers say they’re also very glad of having had the experience of working with the British ERU.

“We always thought the British were rather cold people,” said one. “But we see that they actually manage to be both warm and disciplined at the same time.”

Every day the British ERU sends at least eight trucks to Haiti, loaded with medicines, tarpaulins, tents and even vehicles, bound for the operation headquartered at the International Federation’s base camp in Port-au-Prince.

A British Red Cross psychosocial support team was also sent to Port-au-Prince with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to provide practical help and emotional support to Britons affected by the earthquake.