Richard Simon has worked for the American Red Cross as a Construction Manager since January 2015. Like many of his colleagues, he doubles as an emergency responder when disasters strike. He and nearly 200 other American Red Cross staff members based in Haiti—more than 90 percent of whom are Haitian nationals—manage an array of earthquake recovery programs focusing on health, infrastructure, economic sustainability, disaster preparedness systems and housing.
Where are you from?
I was born in Port-au-Prince.
How are you helping people affected by Hurricane Matthew?
I was asked to step in as Hurricane Matthew approached, so a few days before the storm made landfall, I traveled to the Nord-Ouest Department. During and immediately after the hurricane, I was in the field meeting and planning with local authorities and partners (Directorate of Civil Protection, the Haitian Red Cross, Action Against Hunger, and representatives from different Haitian ministries). Then I helped measure damage, with a focus on water/sanitation and infrastructure. I also helped distribute cooking, hygiene, and cholera kits in various localities in the Nord-Ouest Department.
Can you talk about the damage?
It’s difficult to describe what I have observed. Hurricane Matthew has destroyed all aspects of life: houses are damaged or destroyed, roads blocked, crops devastated and fishermen’s equipment destroyed. When you consider how precarious living conditions were here before the storm—especially for the residents of the Nord-Ouest Department—you realize that Haiti will suffer the effects of this disaster for years.
What are the biggest needs right now?
We’re seeing a situation where so many have lost everything. The biggest needs here are food, cooking supplies, drinking water, blankets, and stemming the spread of cholera. The American Red Cross is reaching out to some of the most remote communities affected by the hurricane in the Nord-Ouest Department, to meet many of these and other needs. It is important to note that the Red Cross always ensures that the most vulnerable be the first people to benefit from relief supplies.
How is the American Red Cross working with the Haitian Red Cross?
We are all working together in support of the Haitian Red Cross. On the ground, the Red Cross operates as the Red Cross. There is no distinction between volunteers from the different national societies. We organize activities jointly and have very good cooperation.
Can you talk about the people that you are helping?
One of the residents I met, who I will never forget, was an elderly woman in Marre Rouge (a locality of Mole Saint-Nicolas). While receiving relief supplies, she shed tears. As I approached her, I could understand she was crying tears of joy because she was grateful for the assistance—as well as tears of sadness because her son had been missing since the hurricane. In general, I can say that most of the people we meet are in need—and many of them don’t know where to turn. It is also important to note that the majority of the victims of this storm were living in very complicated, difficult situations even before the hurricane.
Since before Hurricane Matthew made landfall, the American Red Cross has been working with local and global partners in Haiti, including the Haitian Red Cross, to mobilize and deliver critical relief. That work continues today.
Hurricane Matthew, the largest disaster in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and the largest storm to hit the country in 50 years, has left widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure (water systems, electricity and roads) and major crop and livestock loss. According to the United Nations 1.4 million people in affected areas are in need of humanitarian assistance.
To learn more about our work in Haiti visit http://www.redcross.org/haiti.