PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- In recent weeks, the Multinational Interim Force has assisted in restarting much needed humanitarian aid programs here that had temporarily stopped due to civil unrest.
Once members of the MIF secured key sites within the city and began conducting day and night presence patrols, Non-Governmental Organizations once again found themselves able to move about the city and surrounding communities to provide aid to those in need.
“The NGOs already have a system in place to provide various types of aid to the local communities,” explained Army Capt. Fernando Montoya, Civil Affairs Team A’s team leader, “but they have not conducted these programs in a while due to security reasons.
They asked us to help reinstate the programs by providing security in the communities they are taking aid to.”
This was accomplished by coordinating patrols already scheduled in the communities by the MIF forces.
“Having Marines present brings security and stability during the aid distribution process,” Montoya stated. “The gangs and criminals in the area try to behave themselves and don’t antagonize the NGOs for fear of the response from the Marines,” he continued.
Among the programs reinstated were the distribution of food and water as well as school supplies.
Helping to promote this aid adds legitimacy to the MIF’s presence in the area, according to the Miami, Fla. native.
“It highlights that we are not only here to provide security, that we are also here to help the kids in the learning process by providing as much aid as possible,” Montoya explained. “This helps the kids continue to go to school with the resources they need on a daily basis.”
Not only did the MIF provide security for the aid programs, its personnel have often helped in the distribution of the aid itself.
While at a middle/high school in Cite Soleil, Marines, soldiers and sailors with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and Combined Joint Task Force – Haiti handed out 390 school kits containing chalk, note pads and other school supplies.
“It was identified during a meeting with the Minister of Education that the kids didn’t have enough school supplies,” Montoya explained. “This school provides service to the largest number of students in Cite Soleil and is both a middle and a high school.”
Once the need was assessed and confirmed, coordination was made with the NGOs to provide the resources for the aid.
“The hardest part is finding the resources,” the team leader stated. “There are resources out there, but you have to build a relationship with the NGOs first.”
About a week prior to the distribution of school supplies, the Marines from India Company provided security for the delivery of food for approximately 350 families to be distributed from the Food For The Poor School in Cite Soleil.
While at the school, personnel from CJTF-Haiti unloaded the food and handed out hygiene kits as the food was being served. A contingent of Marines from Combat Service Support Detachment – 20 also distributed water in support of the food aid.
“I like handing out the stuff,” Marine Cpl. Joshua L. Becher explained. “I get to see the people smile when I do.”
“You can really see the impact we are making on their lives,” the Meyerstown, Pa. native continued.
This sentiment is shared by many of the service members here supporting Operation Secure Tomorrow.
“The best part of this is helping the locals, helping the kids and seeing the smiles on their faces,” Montoya said. “Making a difference after all the suffering is tough to do but it is worth it.”
As the MIF continues in its mission to contribute to the stability and security of Haiti, many NGO programs in the country are now back up and going strong.
“Since that first day, Food For The Poor has continued running its food aid program in Cite Soleil,” Montoya stated. “They have been able to feed 350 to 400 families a day, and they haven’t reported any security problems.
“Our intent is to ensure that when we leave, the NGOs will be able to do these operations on their own,” he continued.