A Glimpse of Haiti

We pick up newspapers, turn on televisions, and click on computer screens seeking facts over fiction, images to help us see and stories to assist in our understanding of the devastation in Haiti. 

On February 3, 2010 Susan Demel, Director of Impact Ministries, traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Food for the Hungry. Here is a brief glimpse of Haiti from her perspective:

I remember wondering what was waiting on the other side of the border as we crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic by van. I anticipated the worst in my feeble attempts to prepare myself.  Observing painful scenes, hearing heartbreaking stories, smelling death in the air…could not be avoided. Even though I’ve traveled globally, this trip could not be compared to any other.

The estimates of the full devastation of the earthquake in Haiti keep changing daily.  On February 10 the Haitian government confirmed the death toll of 230,000, with the death toll still expected to rise. As many as 300,000 had been injured and an estimated one million Haitians are now homeless.  In addition, 250,000 residence and 30,000 commercial buildings have either collapsed or been severely damaged. Most hospitals and schools are gone.

The numbers are all staggering. The amount of people injured is overwhelming. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor until I was in Haiti wishing I had the ability to bring relief and healing. Many people survived but in a lot of cases limbs were crushed which has led to a lot of amputations. In the New York Times this week a doctor writes that she asked a little boy what he wanted her to bring back the next she came to help. He said toys…and a bicycle as he smiled big, until he looked down and realized one of his legs was no longer there.

The toll taken on the lives of survivors is immeasurable. The cameras will go away soon, the news coverage will wane, the statistics will stand in history as an immovable remembrance, the rubble representing homes and businesses will be cleared away. However, what won’t easily be removed are the memories of where each Haitian was on the day of the ‘event’ and the incurred. That’s what they call it, ‘the event’, not the earthquake.  Every person has a new reality, life as they’ve known it has shifted as dramatically as the earth did on January 12, 2010. The stories are all different from each other, but they are all relevant, important and significant.

Every statistic represents a life, a dream, a child, a family, a hope, a friend, a community. 

“I think with this earthquake many people realize that life is nothing. We are just sand and dust and mud. We are precious to the Lord, but houses, clothes, jewelry, furniture…all this is vanity. The most precious gift that we can appreciate now is the fact that we are alive. Personally I’m thankful to the Lord because my family is alive…I don’t know how.” Haitian aid worker who I met in Port-au-Prince.

In the midst of this calamity there exists a brilliant resilience in the people of Haiti.  Reports from individuals on the ground, share that following the earthquake, many people were praising God and hundreds were seen marching peacefully through the streets during the day, clapping and singing. Neighbors helped neighbors. It’s a picture for us to capture and remember. Many of the aid workers I met who are helping people through this are themselves Haitians dealing with their own personal heartaches and losses. Who better to know how to help than one who has experienced the same reality and tragedy?

I recently came across a quote made by a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, who was living and conducting research in Port-au-Prince. “I am telling you two things that seem contradictory: that people in Haiti are suffering horribly, and that Haitians are not sufferers in some preordained way. What I mean is that suffering is not some intrinsic aspect of Haitian existence; it is not something to get used to. The dead were once human beings with complex lives, and those in agony were not always victims.”



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