MAPOU, Haiti -- Haitian villagers gathered around the makeshift, landing zone surrounded by cornfields, nestled between two large hills.
The sound of the rotor blades echoed through the nearby village as the large CH-47 Chinook touched down.
Blown back by the tremendous gusts of wind, the villagers knelt down to keep their balance and watched as U.S. Marines, soldiers and Chilean troops leapt from the aircraft. The troops quickly setup a perimeter around the helicopter amidst the whirling dirt and cornhusks blowing through the air. While they swiftly expanded their security perimeter around the landing zone, civil affairs soldiers greeted UNICEF and Doctors without Borders personnel, nearly screaming to be heard over the sound -- thwop, thwop, thwop -- of the helicopter’s giant rotor blades.
“What’s the situation?” one of the soldiers asked.
“We’ve setup a clinic in the village on the other side of those trees, but we have a lot of people to see and many of the women and children are malnourished,” one of the UNICEF workers replied.
Moments later another CH-47 dropped the large cargo net full of rice and flour suspended from its underbelly with a thud.
Immediately the troops began pulling the netting from the food before stacking it in neat piles for distribution to the local populace, who were left without food or potable water by the recent floods.
Local villagers pitched in, stacking the large bags of flour and rice into more neat piles, placing a large jug of cooking oil on top of each.
Troops cordoned off the perimeter with rope as the villagers, directed by translators with bullhorns, began forming orderly lines.
Multinational Interim Force -Haiti personnel helped aid workers transport and distribute more than three tons of food and water to the villagers June 10.
Weeks after the flooding of southeastern portions of this Caribbean nation, MIF-Haiti personnel and international aid organizations continued to distribute food and water as they treated the malnourished and injured villagers in the area.
“I’m so glad the Marines were able to bring this aid into our village,” said Virgile Chery, a villager who barely made it out of her house with her two children before it was destroyed. “We were trying to survive on mangos before this food arrived,” she explained, carrying a large bag of rice from the distribution site.
Chery wasn’t the only one in her village who was left with nothing and several children to care for, according to UNICEF aid worker Shannon G. Strother.
“Many of the people we have come into contact with lost a spouse in the flood and are now single parents of multiple children.”
The villagers who are unable to care for themselves or who are now single parents taking care of small children are the flood victims that the aid agencies are trying to help first.
“It’s the older people, pregnant women and single parent families who traditionally do not survive a disaster like this,” Strother explained.
The service members watched throngs of people formed around the rope perimeter while still more villagers, buckets and steel pots in hand, trickled in as word of the food distribution spread throughout the area.
“I see these people living in these shanties and all this devastation, and I feel like it’s the least I can do,” said Lance Cpl. Brian P. Mullen, a landing support specialist with Combat Service Support Detachment-20. “When I came out here, I had no idea we would be affecting this many people. I expected to help only maybe a small village,” Mullen continued.
Since the Marines and soldiers from the MIF-Haiti have handed out food and water at this location in the past few weeks, the distribution site has become known as a gathering site for other flood victims from neighboring villages seeking aid.
“I walked two hours to get some food and water for my family,” said Maxi Luc, a villager from Bodrie, a neighboring village. “The food I received here, I will take back to my village and share with another family,” Luc said.
The MIF-Haiti and the non-governmental organizations like UNICEF, International Crescent of the Red Cross, and Doctors without Borders, have been diligently working to help the residents most affected by the floods. The aid organizations have established small clinics to treat the sick and malnourished with the food and medical supplies that have been flown into the village.
“We have done a lot of assessments to determine who is in the most need of these supplies,” said Capt. Fernando Montoya, MIF-Haiti’s Civil Affairs Team A’s team leader. “We are trying to provide as much relief as possible to these people.”
Working together, the MIF-Haiti and the NGOs have also distributed shelters and provided medical care for the flood’s victims.
“We’ve been able to work very well with the NGOs,” Montoya said. We both understand what each other’s capabilities are and have been able to coordinate our efforts to achieve a common goal, which is to help these people.” he explained.
As the last of the food, cooking oil and water was distributed, the troops shook hands with the NGO personnel, thanking each other for their mutual cooperation. The MIF-Haiti troops then boarded their helicopter, lifted off the ground and waved to the villagers as they made their journey across the mountains, back to their base camp.