A volunteer’s diary: “As long as there is life, there’s hope”

Micheline Lagrenade has been volunteering at the Haitian Red Cross branch in the town of Jérémie for the past 24 years.
Her house was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew, and she’s been staying with her four children at a friend’s house.

by Micheline Lagrenade, Haiti Red Cross Society

Life is not easy in Haiti, and this was already the case before Hurricane Matthew. In 2010, I was in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck our country. By miracle I managed to escape the house I was in before it collapsed. I spent a few days sleeping in the street with my brother and his wife, before going back home.

But despite the challenges, I truly enjoy serving others, offering them my time, and that’s why I am volunteering with the Red Cross.

Hurricane Matthew has been a unique and very special experience for me. Four days before the hurricane made landfall, I was already helping to prepare and inform the communities, talking to my neighbours and friends about the evacuation procedures and the measures they should take to protect themselves. Later, I distributed blankets and buckets and started to help the people who were most at risk to get to safety.

On Monday 3 October, after the local police gave us new information about the strength of the hurricane that was about to hit our region, we all decided to go back to base and brace. At 11pm we were asked to give our support again, to distribute buckets to prisoners who were being evacuated to a safer place.

At midnight, the police chief brought me back home so I could be with my children and prepare for the arrival of the hurricane. It was a short but intense trip with the wind almost blowing at full force.

In the middle of the night, as the wind was blowing at its strongest, I watched the roof of my house disappear into the darkness.

Terrified, I quickly took refuge with the children in our closest neighbour’s house. But her house was soon flooded — water was coming in from everywhere, we were all totally drenched. One of my cousins managed to take the children out to bring them to a safer place. I couldn’t move, I was exhausted and suffering from a fever.

The following morning, the sky was clear. I went out to go back to my home, only to find that it had disappeared. All I could see was the space where my house had been. I lost everything that night.

I was shocked, but I knew that there was nothing I could do at that moment. I decided to put my Red Cross vest back on and join the teams that were responding on the ground already.

We helped hundreds of people in those first hours, trying to help injured survivors and bring assistance to the most vulnerable people. We also spent a lot of time talking, getting the terror that we had just experienced off our chests.

Since the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has come in to support the Haitian Red Cross, Micheline has been involved in the logistics of making relief distributions happen.

Since the hurricane, we live off what people and friends gave us, a few clothes and the basic necessities. Friends have hosted us temporarily. The issue now is that I have no means to reconstruct our house. I don’t work. I have been promised a job several times but nothing turned into any concrete offer.

Since the first hours after the disaster, I have not stopped my work at the Red Cross. It has been almost every day since then. The needs are immense and everyone is needed.

I hope that soon I will find a solution for my house so my children can have a roof over their heads again. It’s important to me. I have just turned 50 this year and I have four children — two with my late husband, and I adopted two. I love children and I can’t bear to see them suffering.

My story is not very different from that of many women in Haiti — fighting alone to educate our children, doing all sorts of little jobs to generate some income and make a living.

My eldest son is 28: he is unemployed despite the fact that he has graduated from university. But I am hopeful and as we say here: ‘’Toutotan tèt poko koupe nou gen espwa met chapo” (As long as there is life, there is hope)

I am happy to give a little bit of hope to people. I have Henry Dunant’s blood running in my veins.

Mrs Micheline Lagrenade joined the Red Cross in 1992. She is currently in charge of logistics at the Jérémie branch of the Haiti Red Cross Society.