Dagmar Duncan of Lennox Head.
Dagmar Duncan of Lennox Head. Jay Cronan

Dagmar fears for former students

FOR Dagmar Duncan it was just heartwrenching to see the devastation wreaked on Haiti’s capital following a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on Tuesday.

Mrs Duncan, now of Lennox Head, travelled to Haiti at age 20 to do volunteer work after finishing her physiotherapy training in Germany.

Her family are members of the Baha’i faith and with her parents part of a sponsorship program in the poverty-stricken country, Mrs Duncan went to work in a Baha’i school in Haiti.

She did office work and eventually taught English and French classes at the school in the country village of Lilavois, 40km away from Port-au-Prince.

“What was really outstanding was that even though the people were very poor, they really valued education,” Mrs Duncan said.

“They would go without food to have the children looking really neat for school, and there were no discipline problems whatsoever with the children.”

Mrs Duncan has kept in contact with other teachers at the school and said she ‘always took a bit of interest’ in the island nation.

“They’ve been through so much, so it’s heartwrenching that this natural disaster has happened to them,” she said.

“The families from the village sent their children to work in the capital when they finished school, so a lot of the children I taught would have been in Port-au-Prince.

“The family unit is very strong there, so I have just been thinking of all the people in the village who now don’t know where their relatives are.”

Mrs Duncan said when she was there in the 1980s, there was no running water and no phone connections, even to the capital.

“In the capital they lived so close together and the traffic was really disorganised so it must really be chaotic over there now,” she said.

For the Caribbean island nation that is so characterised by its poverty, Mrs Duncan said the capital had the extremes of the very rich with ‘servants, big gates and five cars’ living next to the very poor.

She also said disease was rife among the poorer citizens and politics in the region had been unstable in her time there.

“There was a lot of political corruption, with coups and murders,” she said.

“And there was a big AIDS problem, with whole families wiped out and orphans being cared for by others in the village.”

But despite the abject poverty, Mrs Duncan said the people were happy and friendly.

“They didn’t have clothes – they just had school uniforms and rags, and the children didn’t have toys. They didn’t own anything,” she said.

Mrs Duncan said the best way for Australians to help Haitians affected by the earthquake was to donate money to the Red Cross.

Visit www.redcross.org.au for more information.

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