Tag Archives: Haiti

I dream of Haiti

6 Oct

Although Haiti has faded from the news, the suffering I witnessed while helping with the earthquake relief effort earlier this year is still seared across my brain.  I can still remember the little girl I saw who lay dying in the dirt, and I can still feel the ground trembling beneath me in the aftershocks.  In one single moment, this tiny island nation lost over 200,000 lives.  Yet even before the quake, life in Haiti was difficult- over half the population (54%) lives in abject poverty, and 80% of the population lives below the poverty line.  Surviving in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere was hard before the quake, but the current state of affairs has made daily existence seem unbearable.

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Re-Entry and Reflections

27 May

Photos provided by HODR

So here I sit, at a coffee shop in small-town America.  It is 90 degrees outside, but I’m not sweating because the AC is on full-blast.  I am drinking an iced coffee and using a super fast internet connection.  If I wanted to, I could even spend some extra money and buy a pumpkin square.  When I walk out the door I will not have to worry about my safety or aftershocks or hurricane flooding or malaria or even where I will eat my next meal.  Welcome to America, the land of plenty. Welcome home?

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Cricket in Haiti

16 May

and we all piled into the UN convoy...

My life down here is a blur of bucket showers, rice and beans, and demanding work yielding a sledgehammer in the burning hot sun, so any distraction or break from the usual routine is more than welcome.  When I heard that one of the Australian volunteers was organizing a cricket match against some of the UN guys based nearby I jumped at the chance to join in the fun but I had no idea just what I was getting myself into.  As I piled into the back of a UN convoy truck with the help of several armed soldiers, however, I started to realize that this was not going to be your average Saturday afternoon in Haiti.

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Sick Children

15 May

What do you do when you see a child so sick she cannot walk, who lives in filth with flies crawling over her, who is malnourished and dirty and crying?  When I was walking around an IDP camp the other day I was approached by a woman who kept telling me her child was sick in the head, and waved me over to her tent to show me.  Lying on the ground inside was a very young girl with an enormously swollen head.  Not being able to communicate, I simply stared in shock and empathy and gave the woman a hug.  I later returned with a translator to figure out more details about the girl and see how I could help.

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Weeping in the rain

11 May

I worry about the rainy season.  What will happen when the camps flood?  What will happen when the drains and latrines overflow and the streets are full of human waste?  I feel as though most of the immediate needs have been taken care of –people have been rescued from the rubble, the streets have been cleared, tents are being provided and temporary camps have gone up—yet I also feel like a second disaster is brewing beneath the surface.  The risk for the spread of disease is huge here, especially for waterborne illnesses and parasites, and many of the NGO’s who came in earlier this year are pulling up and leaving when they may be needed most in the coming months.  I look out across rows of tents in flat fields, and I can easily imagine the camp being washed away in the first few heavy rains.  There is an IDP camp right near our base, and during the first big rain here, some of the volunteers could hear the people in the camp weeping.

Aftershock

8 May

There was an earthquake at 2am the first night I arrived.  I awoke to my bunk shaking and people screaming, and it took me a second to realize that I was, in fact, in Haiti, and this was an earthquake and not a nightmare.  It was a minor aftershock, and nobody was seriously hurt beyond sprained ankles from jumping out of their bunks, but it was certainly frightening.  It was enough to give me some sense of what they Haitians must have felt when their entire world turned upside-down in a span of seconds.  There is no warning when an earthquake comes- one minute the ground is still and the next it is shaking violently beneath you.

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Dispatches from Haiti

6 May

As we pushed our way through the shouting crowd at the Port Au Prince airport, it finally hit me that I had arrived in Haiti.  We threw our bags in the back of a dusty, beat-up shuttle, and started to weave our way through the throngs of motorbikes, people, and cars that choked up the streets.  I thought I had seen poverty, and I thought I had seen sadness, yet what I saw here was unlike anything I ever could have imagined.  As we passed row upon row upon row upon row of people, of human beings, living in such indescribable squalor, living, breathing, and sleeping in closet-sized makeshift hovels made of tarp and cardboard, my heart begun to break into a million pieces.  I could taste death in my mouth and smell sorrow in the air, and my whole body ached with grief and pity.  The city was in ruins, piles of garbage and rotting filth towered on every street corner, and across every wall that was still standing people had scrawled: Help us please.

Yet among the ruins, there were signs of resilience, signs that the human spirit was still alive amidst all this death and destruction.  There were markets set up within the camps, the women playfully arguing with each other over the price of fruit.  There was a man carrying his daughter across the road, tenderly clutching her as he weaved through the madness of the dusty traffic jam, her hair was all done up in beautiful pink bows.  I am humbled and grateful that among the rubble and squalor, there is hope and humanity, even if it may only be a flash of pink ribbon in a grimy sea of black and gray.

I served enough rich people wine and steak to afford to come to Haiti for a month, where I am volunteering with Hands on Disaster Response to clear rubble, rebuild homes and schools, relocate IDP camps, and do whatever they need me to do.  The internet connection is really slow and unreliable here, so I won’t be able to post any pictures until after I return, but I will try to write updates on a regular (weekly?) basis.