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Diary: Aiding Gonaives I
14 October 2004

Gonaives, Haiti: 4 October 2004

0530 - I wake up early and get ready for work, I have a long day ahead of me.

0615 - We have a meeting planned with three members of the civil protection department and the interior ministry, based in the same building as WFP.

0730 - I get some breakfast with my colleagues Elie and Dulaurier.

0830 - We arrive at the offices of the US non-governmental organisation Care. We are working very closely with them as they are active in Gonaives. They have sent a team of specialists to Haiti in response to the crisis. James Jean, in charge of distribution, shows us the four food distribution points. We'll be heading to Sarazin, some 13km (8 miles) from Gonaives.

0900 - I call a colleague and let him know the food distribution figures. So far, as of 2 October, WFP has distributed 32.4 tons of rice, 7.2 tons of rice and 5.93 tons of oil.

0930 - Our convoy of aid trucks leaves for Sarazin. For the first time, I am witnessing the effects of the floods for myself. When I see the devastation, I have trouble holding back the tears.

We drive past people bathing in water seeping with sewage and a foul fetid smell hangs over the streets. I realize that none of the images I have seen on the television can ever convey what I am seeing with my own eyes.

1030 - The Uruguayan UN peacekeepers in Haiti are at the distribution point when we arrive.

People are already queuing up, waiting to be told that they can enter the collection area.

There are so many people. I see women, old people and children who look very weak.

An old woman almost faints in front of me. I have to sit her down and give her some juice and a bottle of water until she feels better.

1430 - The distribution of the food aid is over. We were able to give a sack of beans weighing almost 3kg (6.5lb) to each person. We managed to help almost 1,300 people and for four hours I felt very useful, able to really help people in need.

1500 - During a break for lunch, I get a call from a friend in Port-au-Prince who tells me that the situation is pretty tense in the capital. Immediately I think of my family - they haven't heard from me all day. As soon as I put the phone down, I ring them, but the phone lines are busy and I can't get through.

1600 - I attend a meeting organised by the Gonaives emergency co-ordination group. This is when we find out what all the different groups and organisations on the ground are doing. It takes about an hour.

1930 - I get back to where I am staying and discuss the day with my colleagues. It has been a full and satisfying day.

5 October 2004

0530 - I am up, but there is no water to wash with. There is not enough fuel for the generator that powers the water pump. Although the floods hit this city at the end of September, there is still no electricity in Gonaives.

0730 - I had breakfast before leaving for the UN peacekeepers base to get internet access.

0930 - I speak to the WFP head office in Port-au-Prince to find out where the food distribution points will be today.

1015 - We arrive at the centre and get everything ready to distribute the food aid.

The queues are already here and UN peacekeepers and Haitian policemen are here too to provide security. We start handing out the food aid at about 1030, I'm in charge of handing out sacks of beans. The women and children seem very tired - they are exhausted by the pushing and shoving in the lines and the sheer heat of the sun. At the barrier, my colleagues are handing out water to help them keep going. Elie managed to get to a young girl of 12 before she fainted.

We simply can't help everyone who comes. There are always more people than rations. We gave food to almost 2,000 people.

1500 - During lunch, I hear that the situation in Port-au-Prince has not improved.

1730 - After a brief coordination meeting, I get to go home early. This is rare. I spend my free evening having a long talk with my colleagues. They have spent the day working out exactly what people have lost. I realise now how vital it is to live every second of life to the full and to try and help others every single day.

1930 - I call Port-au-Prince to get news from my family. I manage to get through to my older sister who tells me that everyone is fine, I'm relieved.