Martine Cauthen blacked out while she was on the street in Port-au-Prince during the 7.1 magnitude apocalyptic earthquake that hit Haiti. While she sustained no injuries, the 23-year-old Brooklyn native, who is a teacher on the Caribbean island, is now to helping rebuilding the torn nation.
Living in Haiti since August of 2009, Cauthen took a job to educate students in the sixth through 10th grades. The recent college graduate is half Haitian and half African-American.
“I always wanted to move to Haiti,” she said. “I knew as soon as I graduated I was going to go.”
She signed a two-year contract to teach at a small school and planned to return to the States to obtain her master’s degree. But on the evening of January 12, her life would change dramatically.
Cauthen walked to her aunt’s clinic. Shortly after she got there, she said the clinic began rocking back and fourth and ground began to move in a wave-like motion. She ran outside and saw everything moving. She described the earthquake as a bomb.
“I honestly thought God was coming,” she said. “I thought it was the end of the world. I blacked out and I was on the ground with my arms around my stomach. I was in shock. I remembered that my aunt was still in the clinic and I went back into the building. I didn’t care if the building was going to collapse, I had to find my aunt.”
Luckily, Cauthen’s aunt, who is a doctor, was safe and sound outside and was not injured during the quake. Her clinic, which is made of wood, didn’t collapse.
Within minutes after the quake, Cauthen said she heard sounds of screaming and chaos. She soon found her self serving as a medical assistant to her aunt, who was flooded with patients with injuries from the quake. Injuries ranged from severe gashes to broken limbs.
Cauthen helped her aunt by calming down patients who required medical care. She describes conditions over the next several days as horrifying.
She said, “It was horrible. I didn’t know the extent of the earthquake until I got the hospital.”
During the week she stayed in Haiti after the quake, Cauthen continued to volunteer for medical relief efforts. She witnessed as people who required stitches to sew back on body parts screamed in agony from the pain with little or no anesthesia. Procedures typically done while patients are put in a state of sedation were being done while patients were awake and suffering unimaginable pain just in order to save their lives. Cauthen described everything from a woman with a severely injured foot to a man who had to have his ears sewn back on.
Because of the lack of ambulances in Haiti, many of the injured had to travel from long distances on foot the equivalent of going from Brooklyn to the Bronx.
However, witnessing the struggles of the people in Haitian, Cauthen said the tragedy is showing the strength of the people of the island nation often called “third-world.”
“It just shows that the Haitian people are strong,” she said. “People are still digging out loved ones, and some are still alive. That just shows the strength of the Haitian people.”
The earthquake damaged the school Cauthen taught at in Haiti. She reports that while over 70 children attend the school, she has only heard from eight of the students. After seeing her workplace in shambles, she decided it would be best to come back to New York for a while.
“After I saw the school, I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said. “I can’t do this to myself. Living out there, there is not much you can do. I’ve done more here than I have there.”
Being in Haiti and seeing the disaster firsthand, Cauthen said that the relief effort is slow. She said what people need most are shelter, food and clean water. Sickness and disease is spreading due to many people bathing in sewer water.
She advises that if people do send items, they send them to the Dominican Republic. Items delivered there can be taken to Haiti much faster. As people continue the massive monetary donations, Cauthen said people should commit to giving more than once.
“Don’t believe what you see on TV. Don’t think everybody is being fed and has a place to sleep,” she said. “People are still hungry and people are still sleeping outside. The aid is there, but it’s not easy to get to.”
Cauthen is collecting items to fill with barrels to send back to Haiti and plans on going back to the island on February 8. She said that she is still taking donations and can be contacted at email@example.com. Cauthen advises that the best charity to donate to is the Baptist Haiti Mission (www.bhn.org).