March 1, 2004 - Colombia Daily Tribune: Peace Corps Evacuee Nathan Beckett recalls work in Haiti

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Feb, 2004: Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers from Haiti: March 1, 2004 - Colombia Daily Tribune: Peace Corps Evacuee Nathan Beckett recalls work in Haiti

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Peace Corps Evacuee Nathan Beckett recalls work in Haiti

Peace Corps Evacuee Nathan Beckett recalls work in Haiti

Evacuee recalls work in Haiti
Poor suffer in strife, Columbia man says.

By JOHN SULLIVAN of the Tribuneís staff
Published Sunday, February 29, 2004

At times, Nathan Beckett wished for nothing other than to leave the little mountain town that Haitians themselves seemed willing to forget. He wanted to leave the poverty, unsanitary water and fear that at any moment the country would erupt into violence.

Some of the other Peace Corps workers had distanced themselves emotionally from their duties, Beckett said. But at some point during his 1½ years of service, the 26-year-old Columbia man allowed himself to care completely about Haiti.

Beckett and other members of the Peace Corps were evacuated from Haiti last week as rebels took over major cities and threatened to overthrow President Bertrand Aristide. Despite reports of chaos, Beckett yearns to return.

"Itís not even a matter of me wanting to go back," he said by phone Thursday from a hotel room in Washington, D.C. "Itís like a need. Itís something I have to do."

Beckett said heís had difficulty reconciling news images of Haiti with the people he came to know in the village of Ranquitte. The majority of Haitians are poor, rural farmers who can barely feed their families, he said.

They are not the armed rebels or loyalists portrayed in the news, either vowing to overthrow Aristide or defend him, Beckett said. "The only thing that is going to come of this is misery and suffering for the poor, which is about 95 percent of the country."

The son of Columbia orthopedic physician Wilson Beckett and his wife Jan, Beckett is a graduate of Hickman High School and a 2001 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

His mother said that joining the Peace Corps marked a departure from choices of service made by other men in his family, who chose the military. But she said the Peace Corps seemed a natural fit for her son, who formerly worked as an orderly at Boone Hospital Center.

Beckett said he began what was supposed to be a two-year tour of duty in Haiti on Nov. 7, 2002. He said he felt "reaffirmed" in his mission after learning that two-thirds of the work force in Haiti was unemployed and that there was so much political instability.

After 12 weeks of language training, he traveled to Ranquitte, a small mountain town of 17,000. Reaching the town required a five-hour ride on crowded buses or the run-down flatbed trucks that are used for public transportation, Beckett said.

His supplies included charcoal - a luxury in a region with few trees - and advice to boil drinking water. The brownish liquid drawn from aging wells was said to be contaminated with typhoid, giardiasis and other parasitic diseases. After boiling, Beckett said he also strained out solid impurities by pouring the water through a bandanna. "The amount of sediment I caught was appalling," he said.

Farmers in Ranquitte raised their families on rice, beans and sugar, which they bought with money earned from selling fruit in Cap-Haitien, about 30 miles north. Besides fearing drought and natural calamities, Beckett said, they constantly worried about government protests that threatened to ruin their business in Cap-Haitien.

"Most of the time, they had something to eat, but that doesnít mean they were well nourished or werenít hungry," he said. "It was not uncommon for families to eat at night, so the kids would not feel hungry during school the next day."

"There were moments of every month of service that I thought the country was about to combust," he said. However, "at some point it became clear that I had to just go on with" the work. "I would not have gotten anything done if I always thought about getting evacuated."

Beckett said that he was encouraged during his service period by learning about a water filtration process that would be an enormous help to Ranquitte residents.

On Feb. 8, Beckett left for a two-day conference in Port-au-Prince. At the time, he did not know he would be evacuated with other Peace Corps workers because of escalating instability. Beckett said that he and other Peace Corps workers reached Washington, D.C., on Feb. 17.

"I imagine that supplies are running very low, gas prices are very high, and the people are as hungry as theyíve ever been," Beckett said.

Reach John Sullivan at (573) 815-1731 or

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Story Source: Colombia Daily Tribune

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Haiti; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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