Boys at training, L’Athlétique d’Haiti, Port-au-Prince. (Photo courtesy L’Athlétique d’Haiti)
We interviewed Laura Anduze, international liaison for L’Athlétique d’Haiti, the youth soccer club and NGO founded in Cité Soleil, Port-au-Prince, in 1996 by Robert Duval. A native of Puerto Rico, Anduze was in San Juan securing assistance for L’Athlétique as well as longer-term sponsorship from Puerto Rico Islanders. Duval was in Washington, DC, when the earthquake hit Jan 12, meeting with the Inter-American Development Bank about regional sport development.
Interview with Laura Anduze, 22 January 2010
GG: What happened at the training center on the day of the earthquake and shortly after?
LA: [Duval] made sure his nuclear family was fine, then obviously he went looking for the children. The children had not been in the program since the day of the earthquake. They were there when the earthquake struck. It was at the end of the practice. The practice is an after-school program, so it’s from 2 to 5. The majority of them were still on the site in Port-au-Prince. They were with their coaches who tried to retain them, and they couldn’t. … So as much as the coaches pleaded with them to stay, the kids just wanted to go find their parents. So they left. Maybe a few of them stayed but the vast majority went back to their homes or wherever they live. Some sleep in the little slum houses, some live in the street, but they went back.
Then it took Bobby a couple of days to figure out where the kids were. It wasn’t until [Jan 21] that 150 of them started coming back. They came with their families. There are currently 50 families living in the soccer field in tents. … Also we will have the kids who lost their parents or whose parents are displaced somewhere else in the country that cannot make it back. Some of the parents work in the countryside during the week and come back during the weekends. Maybe now they’re separated from their kids and have no means of communicating or of coming back. So it’s a very big responsibility because now we have to take care of the families.
GG: These families are located in Cité Soleil?
LA: They are in the training facility in Port-au-Prince where we have a big soccer field that accommodates on a regular day 700 kids playing in little groups. So imagine how big it is. It’s huge. You could build a stadium there. It’s one of the few flat, open spaces in Port-au-Prince. It’s two miles from the airport, which is ideal for when they reopened the airport to get donations. Bobby can just hop on a truck and go pick them up. It’s also an ideal site for an enormous number of people to be in a refugee camp, because there’s a lot of space.
The soccer program is going to be back on track when this situation subsides. The priority is to have families sheltered from this terrible circumstance.
GG: You are anticipating a long-term process of recovery.
LA: The country went back to zero. Whatever had been built until this point has been destroyed. So they’re back to square one. For L’Athlétique, for every organization, for every family in Haiti it has to be long-term. This is not going to be fixed in the next couple of weeks or years. It’s going to take a long time.
Bobby commented that of the people working on the ground, the people that have been most available in helping at L’Athlétique are Doctors without Borders. They donated the tents. They have donated a lot of medications, foot supplies. So [Duval] is already set to accommodate a few more families, but we still need more donations. Right now I’m in Puerto Rico asking my fellow countrymen to help Haiti, because we are used to helping Haiti. We are both Caribbean nations, and people here have a culture of giving. We are sending things on boats that left today to the Dominican Republic.
GG: How has the existence of L’Athlétique helped you organize in the aftermath of a disaster?
LA: Bobby’s program is extremely structured. The children know they can come back. They know they will get food. Bobby is a person who—just like he trains kids to be great players—he has a mind that works quickly. So when he realized the kids weren’t on the site he went to the airport. He said, “I need to help somebody.” He started helping international organizations. … He was helping people move around [Port-au-Prince] because all the streets are blocked. He knows the back roads, he knows the side roads, so he became instrumental for a lot of outsiders who came to help.
GG: Have these connections facilitated aid for L’Athlétique and Cité Soleil that might have been more difficult otherwise?
LA: I guess it’s the club connection and [Duval's] personal connections. He builds relations with anybody that he needs. I am basically the face of L’Athlétique right now because Bobby is unreachable, people in Haiti are unreachable. I’m the contact in the US. I’m getting e-mails and calls from people all over the world—people that met Bobby in a tournament, who met him at the airport, who met him in school. In Puerto Rico, he lived here three years when his family was in exile because of the Duvalier dictatorship. The people who went to high school with him 30 years ago who have never seen him again are giving me $40,000, just for him, for L’Athlétique.
GG: How will the psychological needs of people at L’Athlétique be assessed?
LA: As soon as the kids come in, they will assess their state of well-being psychologically. Obviously these are children. It has affected everybody’s psyche. Definitely the kids will need some psychological support.
GG: When requesting support, how do you balance the needs of L’Athlétique against those of Cité Soleil and Haiti as a whole?
LA: I think people are giving, and people are saturated now with everybody asking for donations. Most people gave right away when this happened. But some people don’t even know where their funds went. What is the Red Cross doing with the five dollars I gave? Is it for overhead or will this translate to the children or to the people affected right away?
What I say is this man has been doing this for 15 years. There is a system that works, and this will translate directly to the children. … In my case it’s a one-on-one effort and convincing [donors] that the money is going straight to the people, that Bobby doesn’t have a salary, that I don’t have a salary, that we only pay the coaches and that the rest is for food, structure and institutional support.
GG: What was the extent of the damage to L’Athlétique and surroundings?
LA: The wall that’s around the field, that’s the main thing. We need to rebuild the wall because the field is exposed right now. For safety reasons, especially inside feeding people, [people] are going to come in and out, because they’re hungry. What Bobby was doing yesterday was asking the kids and coaches to pick up cement blocks that were in good condition so they can make a little fort around the kitchen. We can make sure that we feed one person at a time, so they have to make a line and not storm into the kitchen. So they’re reusing the broken-down wall to re-create the structure and protect the kitchen and be able to feed people without any trouble.
GG: What is the situation with supplies: food, water, medicine?
LA: They have enough for a couple of days for the amount of people there right now. If the amount of people increases … we’re going to need more food and more medical supplies and more tents.
Anduze said that L’Athlétique was seeking expedited nonprofit status in the United States. Information about donations is available here.