By Myriam Annette
The scale of the devastation in Haiti continues to shock me. One million people are homeless and food and water remain scarce. As we drive through Port-au-Prince, we see temporary camps covering every public square, park, soccer field and garden. Thousands of kids under the age of 5 are living in those camps. According to one report, more than 1 million children are now orphans.
Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) continues to work hard to reach isolated survivors and assist aid workers as relief and recovery efforts in Haiti enter the next phase. Since the earthquake, our humanitarian calling operations have reconnected more than 5,000 families by providing them with free 3-minute international phone calls. With support from the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation, we now have four teams serving four temporary camps– three in Port-au-Prince and one in the region of Jacmel.
In the last three days, nearly 1,000 survivors used TSF’s satellite-based telephones to reach their family in other countries. For the most part, these families come from two major camps: “Delmas 42,” which is now home to 12,000 families, and “Carrefour Aviation” in Port-au-Prince.
These calls continue to remind us how something as simple as a phone call can offer help and hope amid the suffering. As Shirley Lafleur, a 24-year-old mother told me: “My mother, my baby and I are still alive and we need help. We need money to buy food and water and continue to survive. Thanks to TSF’s calling operations, I was able to get in touch with my sister in Orlando, in the USA, to tell her about our situation in Haiti and ask for financial aid. This call was essential to me.”
But humanitarian calling operations are only half of our work. TSF experts are also providing tech support for the humanitarian community and local authorities through the United Nations coordination base and the Haitian governmental offices. Beyond setting up satellite phones and internet connections at UN coordination centers, TSF teams also have been providing technical and telecommunications support for the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency (OCHA) and children’s agency (UNICEF) and for the Organization for Migration (IOM) as they manage the many temporary camps throughout the region.
I expect that Haiti will continue to face numerous, incredible challenges in the next months in the effort to rebuild Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions. However, I cannot help but be confident about the future after seeing the courage of Haitians as life progressively resumes its course.
Telecommunications will continue to play a major role in the medium-term and long-term recovery in Haiti. TSF plans to stay in the country until the technical and telecommunications needs of survivors and aid workers are completely fulfilled.
Myriam Annette is communications coordinator for Telecoms Sans Frontieres. Support for TSF’s mission in Haiti is provided by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership. UN Dispatch is supported by the UN Foundation.