March 18 2013 12:00 AM

A local psychologist discusses her impressions of the Caribbean country that was ravaged by an earthquake 18 months ago

Linda Brundage (left, holding book) in Haiti. Courtesy photo.

Tuesday, May 31 — It’s been nearly 18 months since Haiti was fiercely rocked by an earthquake. As the country and its people still struggle to fit the pieces of their lives back together, one East Lansing woman is helping complete the puzzle.

Returning from her visit to Haiti a month ago, the island torn by natural disaster still remains a pressing thought for Linda Brundage, a Lansing psychologist who traveled to Haiti as a member of the first medical team of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

“I got the invitation from the UUSC and I felt called,” she said. “I felt compelled to go, I don’t know why.”

Giving her a chance to exercise some of her personal founding principles, Brundage worked in three camps, where she taught women and children stress management reduction through art, song and dance therapy.

One of the camps — Camp Oasis — is an orphanage of 36 girls ranging from 4 to 18 years old that was created out of need after the earthquake, Brundage said.

“(Camp Oasis) has a wall (protecting the camp), a shower, two toilets and six girls to a room, but it’s good,” she said. “There are 600,000 people still living in camps and this is 18 months after the earthquake.”

Many are still without shelter, employment and basic living necessities, Brundage said.

“Every piece of camp has a tent or lean-to on it,” she said. “Most are 10 feet by 12 feet, housing 10 to 12 people and there is one (portable toilet) for every 400 people.”

Access to clean water and sanitation are extremely important as Haiti’s rainy season approaches. With it comes the risk of spreading the infectious Cholera, which breeds in places of poor sanitation and crowding, said Kyle Martin, a Michigan State University osteopathy medical student who has worked at medical clinics in Haiti.

Although Cholera has been eradicated from Haiti for at least 100 years, its reappearance and risk of spreading could not have come at a worse time, Brundage said.

“When people began to (become) sick from Cholera it was shocking because people didn’t recognize it,” she said.

With cleanliness instilled in Haitian culture, an effort to be cleaner than usual was pounced upon — so much so that people didn’t want to touch one another, Brundage said.

“Simple techniques (of stress reduction are) to massage one’s hands,” she said. “(The women and children) didn’t even want to do that because they were scared of the Cholera.”

To rebuild its infrastructure, Haiti also needs to rebuild its agricultural production. That can’t be achieved without outside assistance, said Soji Adeleja, a John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in land policy at MSU.

“With Haiti being one of the poorest countries in the world, their access to technology is quite limited,” he said. “Quite frankly, Haiti will suffer more than any other country in the absence of intervention.”

Brundage knows first-hand of the crisis that Haitians face. In one camp called KoKovic, she saw two 12-year-old girls prostituting themselves for food.

With the instillation of Michael Martelly, a former pop star known as “Sweet Micky,” as president and the recent passing of the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act by the U.S. House of Representatives — a bill that will monitor progress of recovery and developmental reconstruction efforts — Haiti seems to be creating itself anew from the disintegrated pieces of its past.

Although Brundage placed her piece of the puzzle in helping Haiti, it left a piece with her as well, she said.
“Ever since I’ve gotten back, that’s what I’ve really focused on,” she said. “There are thousands of people living in those camps — I have a home in East Lansing. The women are immaculately clean, they got that way by washing their clothes in a dish pan. Those contrasts have been really tough.”