Yukoner Morgan Wienberg on Haiti's devastation and trauma

The founder of Haiti-based charity Little Footprints, Big Steps is back home in Yukon and talking about her experience of Hurricane Matthew and its aftermath. 'It's the most overwhelmed and discouraged I've ever felt.'

Founder of Little Footprints, Big Steps back home in Yukon after Hurricane Matthew

Morgan Wienberg with a family in Haiti's Grand'Anse department, after Hurricane Matthew. 'It took a while to even know how to describe [the devastation],' she said. (Little Footprints Big Steps)

Morgan Wienberg has worked in difficult conditions, in impoverished communities in Haiti, but nothing could have prepared her for what she witnessed and experienced this month in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

"It's the most overwhelmed and discouraged I've ever felt," she said, of the days following the devastating Oct. 4 storm. "In one night, everything was destroyed."

Wienberg was in Les Cayes, Haiti, where she founded the charity Little Footprints Big Steps (LFBS) in 2010. It has worked to house and provide education to vulnerable children, but since Hurricane Matthew hit, it's been focussed on disaster relief and recovery.

Last house standing in an area near Les Cayes. 'It felt like walking in a war zone, you couldn't even recognize where you were,' Wienberg said of the devastation. (Little Footprints Big Steps)

"The first week was really about checking on all the kids and families, and my staff as well, to see, you know, if they were alive," Wienberg said, back home in Yukon this week for a visit.

She says so far, everybody connected to LFBS is safe and accounted for, but many have experienced terrible ordeals and the crisis is far from over. 

"We have so many kids who stepped on nails, or were cut by metal roofing, or their house fell on them as it was being blown away. So people are incredibly traumatized." 

The hurricane was followed by massive flooding in the Les Cayes area. Wienberg says more buildings were destroyed than left standing, so it felt "like walking in a war zone."

"You don't see any houses, you don't see any life, except mud and dead trees ... people are literally living on the plot where their house used to be. Just living on the side of the road."

People walk on the road as rain falls during Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, on Oct. 4. (Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters)

International aid 'wasn't there'

Wienberg was frustrated by the work of other non-governmental organizations in the area, immediately after the hurricane. She says LFBS staff helped some NGOs do some strategic planning by providing statistics of people in need — children, pregnant women, people living in temporary shelters.

"I thought that once they had those statistics, and they had evaluation of the needs, then they would take action.
And unfortunately, the strategic planning was there, but the execution was incredibly disappointing," she said.

The aid, she said, "wasn't there."

On Tuesday, Wienberg was to speak with Canadian government officials to describe her experiences, and try to help direct relief to where it's most needed.

Disease and famine

She expects the death toll in Haiti — now believed to be well over 1,000 — will continue to grow with the spread of cholera and typhoid, as well as famine. Many agricultural areas around Les Cayes have been destroyed, and food prices have skyrocketed.

Wienberg, back home in Whitehorse for a visit, will give a public talk on Thursday evening about her experiences in Haiti. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

"Whatever people have on hand to eat, once that's gone, I really don't know what everyone in that entire region are going to be eating," she said.

Wienberg will also be giving a public talk in Whitehorse on Thursday evening. She's hosting a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Porter Creek Secondary School, beginning at 5 p.m.

Admission to her talk, which follows the dinner at 7 p.m., is free.

"I think it's going to be a bit therapeutic for me to just get off my chest some of what I've seen, and what the people I care about are going through," she said.

With files from Sandi Coleman