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Tent/tarp drive to help during rainy season

A trip to Haiti following January’s earthquake may be over for Rockford Police officer Derek “Duke” Haan, but his changed perspective will stay with him for a lifetime. So will his determination to help Haitians, which he shares with Rockford in a tarp and tent drive he hopes residents will use to offer their help to people of the struggling country.

Before joining the Rockford Police Department 18 years ago, Haan was a Rockford Ambulance paramedic. He is cousins with Tim Ryan, who founded Haitineedsyou years ago, a Haitian relief organization. With regular trips to Haiti to improve the conditions of natives of that impoverished country, Ryan had a team in place bound to leave when the earthquake hit that devastated the nation. “He did a complete turnaround and switched out the people who were scheduled to go with medical trauma people,” Haan reported.

Knowing Haan’s background in the medical field, Ryan asked if he would be interested in joining the crew. Haan had never been on a mission trip and was nervous about the prospect.

“I didn’t know if I was the right person to go. As a paramedic, we take people to the doctor and to the care they need. We don’t provide that level of medical care that doctors do,” he said. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he should go and do what he could. “Who else is there? Who else is going to do it?”

He talked to his wife about going, knowing that the country is still far from safe. The prison system is in total collapse and the Haitian police have a shoot-on-sight policy for suspected prisoners. Stories of looting, rampant illness and other unsafe conditions are still very much a reality.

Haan’s medical trauma team saw patients of all ages, an estimated 7,000 during their week-long stay in Haiti.

“If she was afraid for my safety, I don’t know if she would admit it,” Haan said of his wife. She said he should go and offer whatever aid was possible. If it weren’t for university exams she was finishing up, she would have gone too. Like Haan, she also has a background as paramedic and is in fact just finishing her nursing degree.

Next Haan approached his bosses at Rockford City Hall and was told he could go, and the department would cover his hours while he was gone. He packed up his camping gear, jumped onto a donated Amway jet flight and in less than four hours was on the ground in Haiti treating patients.

“It’s life-changing,” Haan said of the experience. Treated like a medical doctor by earthquake victims who had yet to be seen by any medical care provider, he was performing medical procedures he never expected to undertake. The worst victims were referred to the doctors in the few hospitals. Everyone else, Haan and the team treated. In six days he estimates his team evaluated or treated 7,000 individuals.

“Some of them just wanted reassurance. They were worried because they were experiencing headaches or couldn’t sleep. When you aren’t eating much, aren’t drinking water and are sleeping outdoors, how could you feel very good?” Haan speculated. Others had more urgent medical needs, too graphic for print in a community newspaper. He was impressed by the patience, kindness and resilience of the people there. “They said they don’t count on their government for anything, they count on each other,” he said.

Each morning Haan and the others set up clinics on-site at the huge tent cities that have been erected in Port au Prince. Entire families, from infants to the elderly, are camped out. Even before the earthquake the country had been unable to establish a sewer and water system. The need is great for both services and Haan said raw sewage is a fact of life for Haitians.

Haan said he doesn’t think he will ever again be able to take for granted the living conditions that are considered normal here. As bad as the medical issues he addressed is the lack of everyday comforts for Haitians. He said it was hard to leave, but the trip was also emotionally, intellectually and physically exhausting. He and others on the team came down with illnesses themselves. The trip back was a long, two-day ordeal.

On his return, Haan said he was hungry and physically spent. His wife suggested they eat out, and it sounded like a good idea. “When we walked into the restaurant, that’s when it hit me,” Haan said. All the people in the room were eating food, wasting food, had beverages and plenty of water.

“I thought, here I’m going to spend $60, $70 on a meal for four. How far would that go for those people in Haiti?” He decided not to let his efforts to help Haitians end because his trip had ended.

People in Rockford have the chance to help Haitians easily and provide a bare minimum need that so many families are without.  Now the rainy season is coming to the Haiti—and the likely hurricanes that are the norm for that season—and getting under cover with tents or tarps is a dire need.

Haan challenges readers to step up with donations to Tents, Tarps, and Rope for Haiti, a drive offered by Haitineedsyou. As more teams from that organizaition continue to offer care and supplies to the 500,000 people who are still homeless, they will bring with them donated tents and tarps. The Rockford Fire Department is the first of, hopefully, several drop-off locations for the drive.

Used tents would need to last 6 months or longer and keep the rain out. New or gentle used tarps should be larger then 12 x 12. Eight dollar donations for the cost of shipping are also appreciated. Don’t have a tent or time to buy one? Haitineedsyou will use donations to purchase tents and ship to Haiti. The organization has access to large tents in the Dominican Republic for $400. These tents will sleep a family of ten. You can purchase all or a portion of the tent. go to this link for infomation: http://www.haitineedsyou.com/get_involved.

“I want to go back. I’d like to bring my kids there. They think they need so much stuff. You see what those people have and you realize you don’t need all the things we want and have here,” Haan said. “It’s hard for me not to think about it every day.”

To see pictures of Haan’s trip, visit Haitineedsyou.com. Find Haan’s account of his trip under Medical Team Blog and see photos under Medical Team Photographs.

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