More than 16 years ago, my parents let me go on a week-long trip to Leogane, Haiti. Yesterday, as I watched the gut-wrenching earthquake footage on CNN, I couldn't help but wonder how a place I'd spent so little time in so long ago could still have such a hold on me.
At the time of the trip, Haiti was experiencing a period of particular political instability and uncertainty. Now that I have a kid of my own, I can't help but think that my parents must have been either very brave or very clueless when they let their teenage daughter venture into a potentially dangerous situation. But either way, they did, and I'll always be grateful for it. Being able to experience Haiti was a gift in that it ripped apart my limited worldview and reshaped it forever.
Yesterday afternoon, I felt compelled to remember my experiences there. My son and I dug through the stuffed upstairs closet and shuffled through several boxes of my old middle school and high school mementos. The Haiti pictures, taken with an ancient point-and-shoot, were attached to tabs labeled with my 14-year-old handwriting. The picture at the top was labeled "In Bord Mer" (though when I looked at a map this morning, I couldn't find a Bord Mer near Leogane - maybe I had the name wrong, or maybe the village is too small to find its way onto a Google map). The second picture, above, was labeled "Making the thatch."
This picture is labeled "At the clinic." It was taken at the New Missions clinic in Leogane. (The girl in the pink shirt and flowered dress is my best friend. She is now a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit. She's been back to Haiti numerous times since then, always bringing with her as many medical resources and first aid supplies as she can fit into her luggage.)
According to the New Missions website, the earthquake damaged the clinic "beyond repair."
I labeled the following image "Rich house." It was the nicest home in the area.
Many of the people we met lived in thatch huts. Some of them lived in smaller cement homes. Leogane isn't that far from Port-au-Prince, and I can't help but wonder what happened to these structures during the earthquake and aftershocks.
Or what happened to the people there.
Materially, they had nothing. Being young and optimistic and confident and sure in my beliefs, I thought I had something to give to them. Clearly it was the other way around. The people were so kind, so generous, and so genuine that they left an indelible impression on me.
The children we met are now adults. They probably have their own kids. I wonder where they were when the earthquake struck. I wonder where they are sleeping and what they are eating and if they have water. I wonder if they made it through.
Haiti's current challenges seem almost insurmountable. The people there need to know that the rest of the world is ready to support them, to lend a hand, to provide the resources they need even more desperately than they did before this disaster occurred.
We have chosen to donate money to Haiti's Partners in Health organization, which is already on the ground and established in Haiti. The Red Cross is, of course, taking donations as well, as is Doctors Without Borders and numerous other humanitarian organizations. Additionally, some organizations such as the California Nurses Association are asking for medical professional volunteers to aid with disaster relief.
Right now, Haiti is everywhere you look online and on television. That will probably be the case for the next few weeks. But I hope you will remember Haiti in a month, six months, a year, because the need will be great then, too.
If you can help, help.