A Cayman Airways plane packed with 20,000 pounds of goods donated by the people of Cayman arrived Sunday in hurricane-ravaged Haiti.
More than $500,000 of food, medical supplies, baby items, hygiene and sanitation goods were donated for the emergency relief effort, said Matthew Leslie, who led the initiative to collect and get the supplies to Haiti.
The plane was filled to capacity. Another 40,000 pounds of goods are being sent to the country by container ship, organizers said.
Speaking at the airport before the plane took off, Mr. Leslie said, “This is coming from the people of the Cayman Islands. It’s our way of sharing the ‘Cayman kind.’”
Mr. Leslie compared the situation in Haiti to Cayman’s plight after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. “They live in that every day. We need to look at our neighbors just two hours away by flight. They live in conditions we could never imagine.”
The flight was delayed several times last week as Mr. Leslie and government negotiated with authorities and nongovernmental organizations in Haiti. “We could have gone in like cavalry and shot in on Tuesday, but the supplies could have ended up in the hands of the wrong people,” said Mr. Leslie. “We want to make sure these supplies get into the right hands.”
“This is coming from the people of the Cayman Islands. It’s our way of sharing the ‘Cayman kind.’”
Mr. Leslie said it took almost a week to make sure the goods would go to Operation Blessing International instead of the central government in Haiti. “We are confident that handing it over to a reputable organization will ensure that the assistance reaches the people most in need,” he said.
Eight Haitian children and 10 adults also joined the flight to return home after the children underwent heart surgery at Health City Cayman Islands.
“The living conditions in Haiti are often heartbreaking, so now in the wake of Hurricane Matthew we are even more acutely aware of how difficult their lives might be,” said Jennifer McCarthy, manager of Have a Heart Cayman Islands. “The comfort comes in knowing they are now infinitely stronger than when they arrived, and we will continue to follow up with them in the weeks and months, even years ahead, as they start new lives with healthier hearts.”
Health City performs charitable surgeries for children and adults with heart problems and brain tumors. Have a Heart Cayman Islands partners with local and international organizations to subsidize and provide life-saving heart surgeries to children from the Caribbean and around the world based on financial need.
After Haiti took a direct hit from Category 4 Hurricane Matthew last week, destroying entire towns and cutting off parts of the south of the country, there have been reports of as many as 1,000 deaths. Haiti is still reeling from a massive earthquake in 2010 and a cholera epidemic.
Operation Blessing, which helped lead relief efforts in Cayman after Hurricane Ivan in 2004, has a large staff in Haiti helping with on-the-ground recovery across the country.
David Andrews, a staff member with the nonprofit, sent a dispatch from Jérémie, Haiti, last week, one of the area’s hardest by Hurricane Matthew. He said that getting clean water to help stop cholera is the most important short-term need.
“Food security will certainly be the biggest long-term problem. United Nations airdrops of food have begun and are desperately needed, but with desperation comes an increased risk to physical security. Distributions will have to be managed well, but without real solutions, problems will compound,” Mr. Andrews writes.
Speaking to reporters last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made an emergency appeal for $120 million for the U.N. aid effort in Haiti.
“Hundreds have died. At least 1.4 million people need assistance at this time. Some towns and villages have been almost wiped off the map. Crops an food reserves have been destroyed. At least 300 schools have been damaged,” Mr. Ban said.
Top photo: Ramping agents work overtime Saturday evening to load 20,000 pounds of goods onto a Cayman Airways plane bound for Haiti. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay
This story has been amended from the original to correct the number of Haitian children and their guardians who returned to their home country after the children had heart surgery at Health City.