UF part of Haiti's recovery
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 12:53 a.m.
GRESSIER, Haiti - Despite Haiti's difficult recovery, a year after a major earthquake, University of Florida staff member Edsel Redden remains optimistic that an opportunity exists to bring lasting progress to the impoverished nation.
Redden founded FISH Ministries a decade ago to raise animals and feed schoolchildren with a needed source of protein. As the group continues its work and expands into economic development projects, Redden also is working with UF groups on efforts to improve public health and address infectious diseases in the region.
Progress won't happen in Haiti without working in concert on the issues of improving the health, nutrition and economic well-being of people living there, he said.
"We've got to get away from this thing where we give them a bag of rice and go away a week later," he said. "Haiti's a marathon and not a sprint."
Haitian businesses and schools closed Wednesday on the first anniversary of the quake to allow public remembrances of the disaster. In this area about 18 miles west of Port-au-Prince, near the 7.0 magnitude quake's epicenter, many people attended religious services where they remembered the dead and gave thanks that their own lives were spared.
They gathered in churches that show cracks and other damage, tents and other makeshift structures that fill the region, and on the streets of their damaged towns. As Haitian native Herald Guillume drove through one of those towns, Leogane, he expressed frustration with a lack of progress shown by the collapsed roofs and toppled walls that fill the city.
"There is progress — but expectations were not met," he said. "One year later, people are still living in tents. … By now everyone should have a normal life."
Guillume works with UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute on a project to study the sources of malaria and mosquito-borne diseases in Leogane. He suffered from malaria as a child and hopes the project will educate people on avoiding practices that allow mosquitoes to breed.
Redden said the fact that his group is established in the region helps build confidence from the local population in such projects.
"We're here long term — they know we're not leaving," he said.
FISH Ministries leases land from Christianville, an established mission in the city of Gressier with a school and nearby clinics. In exchange for the lease, the group provides food for the school's children from the chicken, goats and tilapia raised on the farm.
The group now is expanding into economic development, with small loans from the KORE Foundation being used to help people buy and raise their own chickens.
"Basically, what we're providing is not a handout, we're providing an opportunity for them to become self-sufficient," Redden said.
He also is working with UF's College of Public Health and Health Professions on building an infectious disease laboratory, which will allow samples to be properly stored before being sent to UF.
The college also has worked on vaccination projects and also might establish a public health center in an area school.
UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute has been studying both malaria and a cholera outbreak that has killed about 3,500 people since the earthquake. The institute helped peg the outbreak's source as a single cholera strain, possibly brought by United Nations peacekeepers, and developed a model for dealing with the disease.
Redden praised the involvement of various UF faculty in the region. While he acknowledged that some might look at the big picture of Haiti and see disappointment, he said he hopes small successes will contribute to a greater good.
"It can't go anywhere but up, the way I see it," he said.
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