Michael Wnek and team member Cenovio Villa delivered medicine and antibiotics to clinics that are fighting an explosion of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the wake of the storm. Wnek had originally planned to purchase and deliver supplies by seaplane, but transportation conditions were better than he expected, allowing passage by road.
By Christopher Guinn
Editor’s note: Michael Wnek of Auburndale has been active in Haiti since the 1980s. His charity’s work immediately after the devastating 2010 earthquake and the following years has been documented in The Ledger. Wnek arrived in Haiti on Friday in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew to purchase and distribute supplies in partnership with the United Aid Foundation.
Arriving in Jeremie on the northern coast of Haiti’s southern peninsula was like peeking “into the gates of hell,” Michael Wnek said. “Entire stretches of coastline were obliterated.”
Wnek of Auburndale and team member Cenovio Villa delivered medicine and antibiotics to clinics that are fighting an explosion of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the wake of the storm. Wnek had originally planned to purchase and deliver supplies by seaplane, but transportation conditions were better than he expected allowing passage by road. His work is done through Hope for Haiti Healing and the United Aid Foundation.
One of Wnek’s biggest concerns before arriving was persistent rumors of price gouging for basic supplies. To contribute to the Haitian economy and to expedite distribution without having to wait for shipping and customs, he said he prefers to purchase supplies in Haiti.
To help the victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti you can contact United Aid Foundation at www.unitedaidfoundation.org
Two long-term contacts in the country helped secure “Haitian prices,” he said.
“We ended up driving to Jeremie in two trucks with about 2,000 pounds of rice, cooking oil, bread and water,” he told The Ledger by email. “While Jeremie is clearly a disaster scene of monumental proportions, there were many, many agencies that have gotten there and delivered food.
“What we discovered was that on the roads up the mountainside between (Les) Cayes and Jeremie were families everywhere whose homes had been destroyed or roofs blown off and have gotten no aid at all,” he said. “These are the poorest of the poor in the region.”
Among them was 90-year-old Ramone Francois, “whose ramshackle house was patched back together. We gave her a new tarp to cover the entire dwelling and enough rice and oil to tide her over till we come back in November.”
She kept saying “Bondye bon, Bondye beniw,” Wnek said. “God is good, God bless you” in Haitian Creole.
Wnek, a homebuilder, plans to return to Haiti with a team of seven other general contractors to start putting roofs back on the “thousands and thousands” of homes that lost their coverings in the storm.
Daniel Thelusmar, a Plant City resident, is the founder of the Caribbean American Civic Movement, with the aims of economic independence for Haiti through strengthening political and civic institutions.
Volunteers with the Caribbean American Civic Movement began working to clear roads in an area southwest of Les Cayes on the southern coast of Haiti over the weekend, Daniel Thelusmar reported.
With the team of 10, “we cleaned up the area, we pulled up three houses,” he said. Thelusmar had planned to fly to Haiti over the weekend, driving for Uber to earn plane fare, but decided instead to send the money to his team there. He plans to go to Haiti on Oct. 29 and is trying to raise $25,000 for the mission.
His main goal is to take seed, equipment, fertilizer and agricultural chemicals to Chardonnières to help jump-start farming. The area was in the direct path of Hurricane Matthew and suffered from its most powerful forces with winds up to 145 mph. The storm wiped out crops during one of Haiti’s harvest seasons.
“We cannot rely on Port-au-Prince (the country’s capital) or NGOs (non-governmental organizations) for food. I know people are going to get tired of this very soon. My goal is to get them to grow food for themselves,” he said. “I love the international help, but we need to start empowering local Haitians.”
The storm’s impact on Chardonnières is worse than he expected, he said, evidenced by the pictures his team members in Haiti have sent him.
Reuters reported more than 1,000 were killed in Haiti. Thousands upon thousands were left homeless.
“It’s horrible. When I tell you it’s horrible — it’s worse than I thought. … It reminded me of crossing the border in 2010” after the earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 160,000 people.
He also wants to scour the mountainous areas outside the cities for Haitians in need of supplies and shelter, he said. He is skeptical that large international aid organizations will make it into the more remote regions.
“My main goal will be to clean up the road, the debris and continue on the rescue mission and make sure everyone is accounted for,” Thelusmar said.
— Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@theledger.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.