Israeli relief workers were some of the first to arrive in Haiti in the wake of the disaster, setting up an extremely well stocked temporary hospital with an alacrity and skill that gained it worldwide credit and recognition. When the headlines stopped, however, Israel was one of the countries that remained behind in an effort to help the Haitians pick up the pieces.

 Working for change in Haiti


Children in Haiti benefit from aid given by Israel's organization, IsraAID

By Sue Galant

If you ask Israeli trauma expert Dr. Ruvie Rogel, to describe the biggest problem in Haiti today, he tells you that despite the abundance of aid, on the surface very little has changed.

It’s been eight months since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people, injuring 300,000, and leaving 1 million homeless. The earthquake destroyed vast areas of the Caribbean island nation, and leveled significant portions of the country’s cities, including capital, Port-au-Prince.

Israeli relief workers were some of the first to arrive in Haiti in the wake of the disaster, setting up an extremely well stocked temporary hospital with an alacrity and skill that gained it worldwide credit and recognition.

When the headlines stopped, however, Israel was one of the countries that remained behind in an effort to help the Haitians pick up the pieces. Israeli NGOs, government bodies, and specialists in education, medicine and health, have all been visiting the country on a regular basis in an effort to help restore the country, already known as one of the poorest in the world even before the earthquake.

Rogel, deputy director of Israel’s Community Stress Prevention Center (CSPC), an organization set up in Kiryat Shmona, a northern town once battered by constant katyusha rocket attacks, has been to Haiti twice since the earthquake working with the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), an organization that unites leading NGOs and government organizations specializing in psychotrauma services.

In Haiti, CSPC personnel worked under police protection in the country’s worst slum, the Cite de Soleil. They taught emotional resilience techniques to religious leaders, school principals, teachers, psychologists, social workers, leaders of women’s groups, nurses and doctors. The plan is that each of the participants will pass on the knowledge that he or she acquires, thus positively impacting hundreds of Haitians.

Teaching and improvising, the Israeli way

Rogel recalls that on his first visit, while he was leading a workshop, there was an aftershock from the earthquake and terrible panic ensued. No evacuation procedures were in place. That’s when he realized that he could also teach the Haitians the techniques developed for the population of northern Israel, who had to learn fast, efficient evacuation drills as well as the best way to cope with the reality of having to be prepared. "On the spot, we found ourselves improvising and saw how much of the Israeli experience is relevant and how much we have to give," he recounts.

Today, eight months after the quake, ITC member organizations have secured funding for three main projects: Organizing the community to improve sanitation in the makeshift camps and finding donors for sanitation equipment; bringing back to school the many children who haven’t rejoined an educational framework; and helping to establish a restaurant for the numerous injured people who are physically unable to wait in the long queues for food.

The CSPC and ITC are not the only organizations working today in Haiti. MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been working in Haiti for at least five years, long before the earthquake hit.

The organization, which tries to give developing nations aid in the areas in which Israel has a comparative advantage and/or accumulated experience, flew to Haiti to help in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and has remained there ever since.

According to Ambassador Haim Divon, head of MASHAV, the organization is helping to oversee and establish a badly-needed ICU/trauma unit in the hospital in Port-au-Prince. This aid includes equipment, on-site training and ongoing supervision.

In addition, MASHAV plans to fund and implement a long-term agricultural project in collaboration with Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture. "In the developing world, agriculture is the engine of the economy," says Divon, explaining MASHAV’S priorities.

From search and rescue to microfinancing

Israeli NGO IsraAID is also busy in Haiti. The organization, which is a 17-member coalition of Israeli and Jewish NGOs, organizes volunteers from professional Israeli and Jewish aid organizations. Through its members it offers everything from development and relief work, to search and rescue, rebuilding communities and schools, aid packages, medical assistance and post-psychotrauma care.

Immediately following the disaster, IsraAID sent two missions to Haiti, comprising military and civilian search and rescue and medical teams and humanitarian aid workers, who remained for six weeks. Now IsraAID, founded by Shachar Zehavi in 2001, is mixing and matching the expertise of many of its members to try to find solutions to Haiti’s ongoing problems. For example, the Negev Institute is providing training in microfinancing and helping to re-establish small business enterprises. The institute has a three-pronged program in Haiti, introducing Israeli agricultural knowledge, innovative technologies and cooperative marketing frameworks.

Zehavi estimates that he has secured funding that will enable the organizations that sprang into action quickly in Haiti to continue operating for at least the next two years.

A unique feature of this non-profit which receives almost all of its funding (about 95 percent according to Zehavi) from North America, is that it mixes Israeli and North American volunteers on its teams.

Also in Haiti under the auspices of IsraAID is the Jerusalem-based Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma (ICTP) that extends psychotrauma assistance in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events, as well as for the long-term. Founded in 1989 by Prof. Danny Brom, in addition to its work in Israel, ICTP collaborates with specialists around the world to share its unique expertise.

Building the resilience to go on

ICTP representatives flew to Haiti in February with an IsraAid delegation and since then have been laying the groundwork there for ICTP’s flagship School Based Intervention Program, which has been adopted by the local partners. The program trains local professionals to identify and treat youth suffering from psychotrauma.

Jerusalem’s premiere comprehensive rehabilitation center for physically disabled children, adolescents and young adults, Alyn Hospital has sent rehabilitation teams of occupational and physical therapists to Haiti under the IsraAID umbrella.

Specializing in the rehabilitation of amputees, they worked tirelessly over a five-month period. Two therapists from Alyn will be flying back in January next year for follow-up.

Another impressive IsraAID member committed to remaining in Haiti is Tevel b’Tzedek (The Earth – In Justice), founded by rabbi and writer Micha Odenheimer.

 Working for change in Haiti

Israeli aid organization Tevel b’Tzedek has founded schools and community tents in some
of the larger camps.

Dedicated to Jewish social justice in the developing world and at home, it describes itself as the first Israeli NGO to bring together Israeli and Diaspora Jews "to study and work in developing countries and at home in order to eliminate poverty and develop a Jewish approach to justice in a global world." Its volunteers provide both psychosocial and logistic support.

A few weeks after the quake, Tevel b’Tzedek sent its first delegation to Haiti to found schools and ‘community tents’ in some of the larger camps. The organization continues to operate and develop these programs, which range from a kindergarten to courses in pottery, hygiene, first aid and sport.

A dream team

One of its most noteworthy projects is the Dream Team, comprised of local teenagers who received leadership training and are taught skills such as mending tents and providing first aid. Other groups were established for adult education, community action, and empowerment for the vulnerable female teenage population.

Future plans include bringing together volunteers from Israel and the Diaspora in Haiti; increasing food production; combining Israeli and Haitian agricultural expertise using organic, sustainable methods; and combining new agriculture methods, techniques and crops.

Tevel b’Tzedek volunteers work in teams, in line with Odenheimer’s belief that Israelis and Jews know how to create community and how to draw strength from what ‘community’ has to offer.

The aid continues. This month, the charity Save a Child’s Heart, located in Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, brought over three Haitian children to Israel for life-saving heart surgery. Earlier this year, the charity brought over another child, six-year-old Woodley Elsyee, for heart surgery. He is now healthy and well and flew back to Haiti in April.

 Working for change in Haiti

Two of the children flown over to Israel for vital life-saving heart surgery by Israeli charity,
Save a Child’s Heart.

Two months earlier, the Israeli Cabinet voted to respond affirmatively to a United Nations request to send police to assist its Stabilization Mission. The gesture will cost the country an estimated $520,000 beyond the costs covered by the UN for a six-month period. The Israeli police officers, all volunteers, will be part of a combined Italian-Israeli-Jordanian force to maintain public order.

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "This is a Jewish and humanistic action and it follows up on the rapidly-organized activity that preceded it after the Haitian earthquake."

An ongoing commitment

The 14 member Israeli delegation flew out to Haiti at the end of August. Among the crew were two police officers who had postponed their weddings so they could take part in the mission. A third officer, Golan De-Leon, took part in the mission despite the fact his first child was due to be born while he was away. "Even though this will be my first child, I am personally committed to this mission and have the full support of my wife," he told reporters just before he flew.

At a sendoff breakfast, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon said he wasn’t surprised by the commitment shown by the police crew. He told reporters it was just another example of Israel’s ongoing commitment to sharing its vast experience in disaster response with the world, demonstrating "to friends and foes alike that Israel is always willing to contribute and volunteer anywhere, and at any time."

Micha Odenheimer agrees. "We are, we hope, going to remain in Haiti for at least the next two years… We have some idea of what we can do for them – although I am certain that the challenges will be formidable. But what we will receive from the opportunity of service will almost surely be even more than what we can give."

Haitian-Israeli Rehabilitation Center in Port au Prince run by the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer

An Israeli team, headed by Dr. Tsaki (Itzhak) Siev-Ner, chief of orthopedic rehabilitation and chief orthopedic rehabilitation surgeon at the Sheba Medical Center, which was sent to Haiti to assess the rehabilitation needs of the population as result of the January earthquake has returned with an estimate of over 4,000 new amputees who need artificial limbs. The delegation proposed the establishment of a joint Haitian-Israeli Rehabilitation Center in Port au Prince based on rotating Israeli medical teams that will both treat patients and train local personnel – at an annual cost of approximately $1.5 million.

For the last several months, teams of four Sheba doctors have been operating there monthly, manufacturing and fitting prosthetic arms and legs to the more than 4,000 Haitian amputees of the earthquake.

 Working for change in Haiti

Sheba physical therapist Anat Kristal teaches local Haitian personnel how to take care of amputee stumps

Sheba Medical Center CEO Prof. Zeev Rotstein commented that "Sheba has a long and proud tradition of delivering medical assistance beyond our national boundaries. Sheba doctors have provided international relief and medical training in Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Mauritania, Myanmar, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and more. These activities stem from the hospital’s commitment for the ailing and needy; from the State of Israel’s long-time tradition of contributing to humanitarian relief efforts abroad; and out of an abiding concern for healing and compassion that is ingrained in Jewish history and tradition."