Victims of Haiti earthquake help each other - Today's Top Stories

PETIONVILLE -- In the hillside suburb of Pétionville, the sports bar Muncheez is best known for its pizza and pool tables.

But in post-quake Haiti, it's become a homegrown help center, feeding survivors every day despite dwindling supplies and no money to pay employees.

``We don't believe in sitting around and waiting for outside help. We can help ourselves,'' said Clifford Rouzeau, 43, one of three owners.

Rouzeau is one of many Haitians who, while victims themselves, have organized relief efforts for fellow citizens, trumping the notion that all aid arrives from outsiders.

In clinics, young volunteers change bedpans and clean wounds. A philanthropist is delivering diapers. Haitian medical students returned from Cuba to assist, administering care at night by the light of their cellphones.

When the General Hospital ran out of alcohol for surgeries, Maryse Kedar was the one who sent vodka to the hospital for doctors to do surgeries. She also distributed water from her home.

``For sure, Haitians have been helping Haitians,'' said Dr. Margaret Degand, one of Haiti's top plastic surgeons who usually performs cosmetic surgery for the well-heeled in Pétionville. ``We waited at least three days before the international community came down to help. At the beginning, it was Haitians helping Haitians.''


Within moments of the Jan. 12 quake that rocked this Caribbean capital, Degand was treating patients for free. Her doors have yet to close to victims who arrive needing everything from minor wound care to trauma surgery. All four operating rooms are full.

``Some patients have gone in and out of the operating theater eight times'' to save their limbs, Degand said, dressed in scrubs on the front steps where recuperating patients sleep on mattresses underneath a tent in the middle of the street.

Two large buildings not far from her clinic collapsed, including Petits Freres et Soeurs, which had a number of American volunteers in it, and Total Communications, a four-story building. Patients ran to her front door with scalp wounds, broken limbs and other injuries.

``They were really badly wounded because they were big buildings with lots of cement. Really, I have never seen so many traumatized patients,'' she said. ``They had scalp wounds. They were bleeding. One patient had four or five lesions.''

Within hours, other Haitian physicians came by offering to help, she said.

During the first 24 hours, ``we were one anesthesiologist, one orthopedist, me and one nurse to do the whole job,'' she said, estimating she may have treated about 120 patients. ``Non-stop.''

In total, she figures she has treated about 1,500 patients since the catastrophe, more than 350 of whom required serious surgery. She had few supplies, but her daughter showed up from France with more provisions -- and doctors.

Another Haitian, Sophia Martelly, 44, parlayed her role as the wife of celebrated konpa singer Sweet Mickey to arrange water shipments to the country.

Her husband raised money at a Miami concert called ``H2O for Haiti.'' She's been handing out clothes, too, items she had collected during the holidays but never got around to donating.

``Right now, there is no high class, middle class or lower class. We're all Haitians,'' said Martelly, who spoke via cellphone as she accompanied a hired truck to deliver diapers, water and tissues to Port-au-Prince's General Hospital.


At the Muncheez sports bar, owners Rouzeau, Gilbert Bailly, 43, and Klaus Eberwin, 43, plan to keep cooking meals as long as they can scrape together food.

The first day after the quake they emptied their freezer, handing out sports bar staples: pizza and chicken wings. Since then, their cooks have whipped up spaghetti, cornmeal, rice and beans.

``It's a lot of work. Our kitchen is not designed for this,'' Rouzeau said.

Supplies have been tough to come by; in some cases, strangers have simply dropped off USAID food bags. Rouzeau estimates they're serving 800 to 1,500 people a day.

At the restaurant Tuesday, the line snaked around the block but was orderly, in contrast to the unruliness of many food distribution lines. The restaurant hands out paper ID bracelets to keep people from cutting.

``I'm happy,'' said patron Silaine Regis, 23, who was sharing her hot meal of rice and beans with her sister and 2-year-old niece. ``It's never enough, but at least it's something to eat.''

The restaurant's efforts also provide hope for its 100 employees, who had worked in two other locations that are shuttered now. They have flocked to the main eatery. But with no paying customers, the owners may not be able to pay them.

``We're going to hold on as long as we can,'' Rouzeau said.

Miami Herald staff writer Daniel Chang contributed to this report.

Miami Times report on Haitians helping Haitians. The report includes a major photo slide show.