Prayer and bulletproof vest in Haiti

The article was part of Technical Sergeant Noel Añain‘s story during his stint in Haiti as part of the Philippine peace keeping force. The picture was taken at the UN Headquarters in Haiti during his deployment in 2005.

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Prayer and bulletproof vest were Technical Sergeant Noel Añain’s best weapon while he was deployed in the violent-stricken Haiti for six months as part of the 200-man peace keeping mission.

“Natatakot din ako kasi ang baril doon nagkalat…Nagiingat na lang tsaka suot ko parati ang bulletproof vest ko,” Añain said when asked how he felt about the street fighting and rampant kidnapping incidents in Haiti.

Añain, whose group arrived in Haiti last January, said that not less than 20 people are killed in crossfire between warring groups comprising mostly of young natives.

“Itong April (2006), election ng Presidente medyo natahimik kaya puro patrolling ang ginagawa namin. Nang hindi nila (natives) nagustuhan ang nanalo laganap na naman ang gulo at kidnapping. Matindi doon mga bata pa ang involved (gang members),” said the 43-year-old member of the Marine Security and Escort Group in Fort Bonifacio.

The kidnapping activities were reportedly manned by former military personnel who were booted out from their post when the provisional government took place.

“Ang dati nilang military na naabolish ang mga nangingidnap doon. Sila ang mga gangs ngayon doon. Puro gang war, street fighting. Kaya malas ka kapag inabot ka ng crossfire. Madami na ngang namamatay na locals,” Añain recalled.

He said about 20 people, including two Filipinos, have been kidnapped last May. The two men were released after a Filipino community paid the kidnappers $6,000 in exchange for their freedom.

Añain or Noel to family and friends was assigned to provide security to a United Nations diplomat billeted at the Christopher Hotel-turned-headquarters in Port-AU-Prince.

The other members of the Philippine Contingent are posted in other government facilities, some do clerical job, while others are assigned at the transport section of the UN headquarters.

The UN diplomats are providing security to a provisional government installed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile under international pressure.

The peace keeping team from the Philippines and other member countries of UN are helping curb the violence and restore stability in Haiti.

“Naka-assign ako as security at escort sa bahay ng representative ni Koffi Anan sa Christopher Hotel sa Port-AU-Prince. Ginawang headquarters ang hotel at dose kaming military ang naka-post doon,” said Añain who belongs to the third batch of contingent.

The native of Binangonan, Rizal has been serving the Philippine Marines for the last 20 years. His deployment in Haiti was an added experience as it improves his personal and professional growth.

Despite the danger his new assignment entails, Noel had accepted the job to augment his family income. He’s been receiving P19,000 or less monthly including allowances. His salary in Haiti is triple that amount.

“Number one ang kumita dahil puro loan ang marami dito sa amin,” Noel tells about his motivation to apply for the post.

“Maraming gustong mag-apply mahirap lang talagang pumasok marami kang dadaanan. Sa small unit magsisimulang maghanap…parang Grade 1 sa simula marami kayo, pabawas ng pabawas habang tumaas ang level of training. Lahat ng post for deliberation. Ang matitira at makakapasa sa training ‘yon ang ipapadala…,” he added.

Añain takes pride in how well Filipino contingents are appreciated by UN diplomats as well as their foreign counterparts from Brazil, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Argentina, U.S., Morocco and Hungary.

“Gustong-gusto ng UN ang mga Filipino sa headquarters kasi nga madali tayong mag-adapt ng mga wikang ginagamit doon gaya ng English, Spanish, French. Pero kung kinakapos ka naman ng English, senyas lang ay okay na. Ganun ang mga Filipino madaling mag-adapt,” he mused.

One experience that will be forever etched in Añain’s memory was how natives of Haiti beg for food to survive a day.

“Nakakaawa ang mga tao doon…tag-gutom sila…kapag makikita ka nila pagkain ang idinadaing nila sasabihin `no food’. Kaya kahit bawal na magbigay ng pagkain na supply ng UN binibigyan namin,” he said.

Many business establishments were forced to close because of the escalating violence in Haiti leaving thousands of people jobless. And joblessness drives many natives to resort to kidnapping and other illegal activities.

Añain is also saddened by the death of a fellow contingent from the Philippine Army who was killed by a sniper while performing his job.

“Dalawa silang naka-duty, sine-secure nila ang isang VIP nang barilin sila ng isang sniper. Namatay on the spot ‘yung isa samantalang nakaligtas naman ‘yung isa pa dahil sa vest niya tumama ‘yung bala,” he said.

More troops will be deployed in Haiti until the situation normalizes, Añain said.

When asked if he’s willing to go back to Haiti, he replies: “Willing naman akong bumalik, parang dito rin naman sa Pilipinas basta mag-ingat ka lang.”

For those who are willing to work as part of another peace keeping mission, the true-blue soldier has this advice: “Basta sumunod ka lang sa utos kung naka-duty ka. Gawin mo lang ang trabaho ng bukal sa puso mo para hindi ka mahirapan. Makakaraos din eh (smiles).”Miriam Torrecampo

This was originally posted in my other blog but have to transfer it here as the old blog has a different niche now.

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