Extended RTÉ news programme to feature Gena Heraty

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Thursday, 21 January 2010 17:31
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There will be an extended Six One News on RTÉ One tomorrow evening (Friday, January 22). The programme will run until 7.30pm with an extra half-hour dedicated to the horrendous aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, with input from international contributors in the devastated country and panellists in Dublin.

And an RTÉ documentary about Haiti, first shown in 2008, will be re-broadcast on RTÉ Two at 8.05pm tomorrow evening. ‘A Hundred Dead People In My Truck’ features the work Westport own Gena Heraty, who has have been battling to save the lives of the some of the poorest people there.

Westport-born child care specialist, Gena Heraty, and Dr Louise Ivers, from Whitehall in Dublin, a world expert in infectious disease – have been working for years in Haiti’s slums working with people who live in near constant fear of death and starvation.

Gena Heraty has now worked six days a week for the past 17 years in an orphanage run by the international charity Nos Petits Freres et Soeurs (Our Little Brothers and Sisters) on the outskirts of Haiti’s capital city. It is home to over 450 orphaned, abandoned and disadvantaged children. Gena tells the documentary that the conditions people in Haiti have to live in are heart breaking and can only be solved with the expertise and the generosity of countries like Ireland.

“I don’t see myself as a kind of latter day martyr but I am convinced that there is no other place in the world I can do more to help those who are most in need of help right now. I came to Haiti 15 years ago and if I can improve the life of just one child each day I am here then my life will have been worthwhile”.

Gena scrambled to save the lives of colleagues trapped by the rubble in the hospital in Petionville after the recent quake and had to use her bare hands during the rescue where many of her friends and colleagues died.

The programme also features Dr Louise Ivers, from Whitehall in Dublin. At the time the earthquake hit, Dr Louise Ivers was in a UN building and in its immediate aftermath she found herself the only doctor for over 300 injured and dying people.

Louise, who lives with her husband in Boston and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, spends up to seven months of the year in Haiti. “I feel a profound sense of injustice at the way life is here and with all of the privileges my education and my early life in Ireland has given me I feel I have to show solidarity with the people of Haiti.”

Working alongside them as a doctor, hospital administrator, civil rights campaigner and frequent hostage negotiator is Fr Rick Frechette, a Passionist Priest, from Connecticut in the United States. To him life in Haiti has become ‘a nightmare which the entire world should be made aware of and should be trying to change’. He says a country that cannot even afford to bury its dead is ‘an affront to all of humanity’.

The documentary, produced by Caroline Bleahen and presented by Jim Fahy, takes its title from a remark by Fr Rick as he stacked his truck with the bodies—a tiny fraction of those which pile up each week in the morgue of the main hospital in the capital Port au Prince. Their families cannot afford to bury them but every Thursday Fr Rick and a team of volunteers take them to a plot of ground so they have a Christian burial rather than allow them to rot in dumps and or be eaten by wild animals. As the convoy moves off across the city he says:  “The reality of death is taken so much for granted here that you can drive all the way across the city; past countless police checkpoints, with stacks of coffins and tons of dead bodies and nobody will ever think to ask you ‘Why do you have a hundred dead people in your truck?'”

Two hundred years ago Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic after a bloody slave revolt which ended years of French occupation and exploitation.

The country gained its freedom in 1804 but was forced to pay its French plantation owners 150 million francs—the equivalent today of 21 billion dollars—to compensate them for their loss of property and their slaves.

Today this crowded, little known country—one third the size of Ireland—finds itself still overwhelmed by foreign debt, disease, political instability and corruption.

“We all have a deep sense of the profound injustice there is here, “says Louise, “but we feel very proud of the contribution Irish people are making to break the cycle of injustice, oppression and exploitation. Maybe it is something that comes from deep inside our own history but we are committed to walking the walk with the poorest and most despairing of Haiti’s people for as long as it takes.”

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