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(en) US, anarchist journal, Nor'easter #8 page 7 - National & International - An Interview with Jeff Fidget, Earthquake Medic

Date Wed, 14 Apr 2010 08:13:44 +0300


On Jan. 12, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti just outside Port au Prince,
collapsing buildings across much of the city and killing an estimated 200,000 people.
Countless more were injured. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief in Haiti (MADRIH), a group of
skilled volunteers, formed to provide emergency medical care in Haiti in the weeks
following the earthquake. The Norâeaster spoke with Jeff Fidget, a medic who spent two
weeks in Haiti with MADRIHâs Team One. More information about MADRIH can be found at
www.mutualaiddisasterrelief.org. ---- Norâeaster: Tell me a little about your background
as a medic and how you got started. ---- Jeff Fidget: Iâve been working as a street medic
for over three years now. I got trained as a medic while I was in high school in Seattle,
later became an EMT, and have since had the privilege of working with an amazing network
and community of medics to support and participate in local actions in Boston, several
national mobilizations and a few long-term campaigns. Right now Iâm working on finding
ways of using my medical skills to contribute to the communities I live in, all
year round.

NE: How did MADRIH come together?
JF: After the earthquake hit Haiti, informal networks based on friendship, shared
experience and trust were the initial influences in putting together MADRIH. Phone calls,
e-mails and yes, Facebook, were used to get interested folks on nightly national
conference calls that began the day after the quake. After a couple of days, information
on the calls was sent out to a national anarchist-medic organizing listserv. Initially,
the folks on those calls mainly came from one or both of two heavily overlapping networks:
the national anarchist medic community and radicals who worked in New Orleans after
Hurricane Katrina. After several frantic days of preparation and plan changes, my team
(our first of four) landed in Port au Prince one week to the day after the earthquake. As
we worked in Haiti, an amazing and quickly growing network supported us, raised funds,
launched a Web site and organized subsequent teams. Folks that have been involved
with MADRIH in Haiti and in the States are a diverse bunch. Weâre street medics, community
organizers, healthcare professionals and more. Many of us are the same dirty (and clean)
kids that have flushed the eyes of our comrades from Seattle to Gaza to Pittsburgh.

NE: What kinds of injuries did you run into in Haiti?
JF: The majority of wounds were about what could be expected from huge, heavy objects
falling on people. Weâre talking broken bones, crush wounds, people missing huge chunks
out of legs and arms, and deep cuts. We also saw a surprising number of burns. In Haiti,
most cooking is done with charcoal, so the earthquake knocked around a lot of open flames.
In addition, we saw lots of patients with preexisting minor and chronic health conditions.
Healthcare in Haiti was in terrible shape before the quake, and the remaining resources
are diverted to help with the traumatic aftermath of the disaster. Folks with chronic
medical issues really donât have much available.

One of the more unexpected sources of injuries or lasting problems was shoddy prior
medical care. Lots of American doctors who rushed in from the States werenât prepared to
improvise, didnât stay long enough and treated their patients as objects and numbers. This
resulted in tons of unnecessary amputations and other procedures, shitty suturing jobs,
casts over infections (a potentially deadly mistake), and other medical errors and
shortcuts that likely would have lost doctors their licenses in the United States. I have
a hard time believing that those doctors would have treated U.S. citizens in a disaster
zone anything close to the way they treated Haitians.

NE: What were your biggest logistical problems?
JF: In my opinion, lack of information was far and away our biggest problem. The rushed
nature of planning our trip meant that we didnât have time before leaving to gather
information and resources to help us in Haiti. The situation there was sufficiently
chaotic; there were times we wanted to move to other parts of Haiti to work but didnât
have the information on the area to make that decision. We had a team member that grew up
in Port au Prince that did an amazing job of finding all the resources we needed in the
city, but information was very difficult to come by.

NE: Tell me about the U.N. response on the ground.
JF: I canât speak to the overall U.N. and affiliated response, only to my observations.
Itâs important to remember that the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti and several other
top officials were killed in the quake. For a highly bureaucratic and hierarchical
organization, that was a huge blow. In some ways, the U.N. was very useful. We were able
to get medical supplies and information from U.N. subgroups and warehouses, and U.N.
meetings facilitated coordination, cooperation and information sharing between groups. On
the other hand, the majority of medical personnel affiliated and working with the U.N.
didnât start treating folks in the tent cities and slums until two weeks after the
earthquake due to âsecurity concerns.â This was the all too common âweâre afraid
the hungry people will kill us if [we] donât have guns pointed at themâ mentality that
demonized survivors of Hurricane Katrina as well. And the United Nations World Food
Program didnât start distributing food until almost three weeks after the quake because
they claimed to need to plan an appropriate and safe way to distribute food.

I really donât know enough or have a broad enough perspective to know about the entire
U.N. response, but my general impression was that the U.N. provided useful and essential
aid and services, but also fucked up in a big, big way.

NE: What other groups are doing good work in Haiti?
JF: Being Able to Move Heaven and Earth for Haiti (BAM) is a daughter organization of
MADRIH that is setting up an orphanage outside Port au Prince. There is information and a
link from the MADRIH Web site. BAM is run by Suncere Shakur, an experienced community
organizer who worked in New Orleans after Katrina. Herbs for Orphans is a non-profit
herbalism group that provides nutritional solutions for underprivileged youth in Haiti.
Thomas Easley, the founder, was a member of my team in Haiti and is a great individual.
Otherwise, Partners in Health is a large group but generally does good work with a radical
basis and outlook. The INCITE Collective also has a great listing of worthy groups
(http://www.incite-national.org/index.php?s=63&n=16).

NE: Do you think MADRIHâs experience in Haiti can be a start toward some kind of radical
healthcare network in the United States?
JF: MADRIH has continued in the strong tradition of anarchist medics using skills outside
of action situations. The tradition is a long one and has been reaffirmed recently by the
work of medics in New Orleans founding the Common Ground Clinic, but also by the hundreds
of radical healthcare providers that work in and have founded free and sliding scale
clinics and health centers all across the United States. I would hope that this continues
and that we build our connections with each other and, as a whole, better provide care
outside of our immediate action and anarchist communities. MADRIH is winding down our work
as a network (several daughter projects have spawned that will continue future work in
Haiti). Many of us who have been involved in MADRIH hope to formulate a structure for
preparation and training to facilitate future disaster [relief] work by anarchist medics
in the United States and abroad. I see a lot of potential (and need) in the people and
networks that have formed around the radical medical community for more permanent and
comprehensive medical care here. The recent healthcare crisis/fiasco/debate highlights a
need for healthcare to return to our communities. The following quote is from Doc Rosen,
one of the people who trained me as a medic and helped found the radical medical movement
in this country. I think it sums up this question nicely, and [I think] that Doc spoke for
a lot us: âTraditionally, in every tribal society, medicine sprang from and was the
property of the tribe and the people as a whole. In the Middle Ages, the church-based
medical establishment deliberately and methodically substituted a patriarchal,
hierarchical medical paradigm. It is my goal with the projects Iâve been helping to set up
around the world to return medicine to the hands of the people from which it sprang.â

NE: What can people do to help from here?
JF: As much as I hate to say it, all of those groups need money. If you are interested in
doing disaster [relief] or community health work in the future, Iâd look into getting
training as a street medic, WEMT [Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician] and/or
[getting] search-and-rescue training. Study up on the history of colonialism and
imperialism in Haiti and in disaster zones.

The book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in the
Aftermath of Disasters by Rebecca Solnit also comes highly recommended. There is contact
information on our Web site about future disaster relief efforts in this country and
abroad. If youâre interested in getting involved in a direct or supporting role in the
future, get in touch. Weâll be sponsoring trainings soon in the Northeast on a variety of
relevant topics. Finally, support your local radical medics in our drive to make
healthcare accessible and acceptable to all.


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