2 minute readDisaster, International, Volunteers

Haiti On My Mind

A lot of people ask will I return to Haiti. This morning, pangs of wanting to be there washed over me when Red Crosser Mat Morgan rang up while en route to Cite Soleil.

I miss Haiti. I miss the people. I miss feeling inspired, in awe, in the thick of it, alive amidst nearly a quarter of a million dead. I miss the sun beating down on my hair and the dust in my mouth. I miss holding the survivors’ hands, listening intensely to their words, the photos they pressed into my hand. I miss closing my eyes to voices singing into the night and awakening to sounds of the city coming back to life. I miss every minute meaning so much.

I bandaged wounds, knowing their open sores would heal long before their broken hearts or homes. I tossed boxes of life-saving supplies down the lines of people wearing the same red and white symbols of hope from Haiti, Colombia, Iran, Italy, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Israel, Spain, Korea, Croatia, Belgium, France, Japan, Turkey, Canada, China, the US and so many places. I led a fragile grandmother to a chair in the shade, gated away from the crowded lines of humanity waiting for supplies. Then I retrieved her relief supplies which a youthful Haitian Red Cross volunteer carried up the hill to the old woman’s makeshift living space. We drew on the strength and resilience apparent all around us in the tent cities to push and expand our relief machine around the clock.

Mat tells me he saw the numbers for the first time since he arrived two weeks ago and was floored. I remember not reading a single statistic while I was there, too consumed by the gritty life and death reality all around me. So, I held my breath, not knowing if the news was good or bad. “We have helped 1.3 million people to date, can you believe it?” I exhaled.

He told me about the boy he met in the German Red Cross field hospital, erected in the Carrefour soccer stadium just days before I left. The child lost his entire family– and his leg– in the earthquake. I can see Mat, a big kid himself, playing games at his bedside, no translation required.

“What’s it like to leave here?” he asks me. “I can’t imagine not being here.”

Expect the shudder from a truck driving by to feel like an aftershock. Your heart will pound until you ground yourself. Expect withdrawal from the lack of information juxtaposed with a barrage of news-that-happened-while-you-were-gone hitting you like a cement block. A broken cement block like the remnants of so many houses and suddenly your mind whisks you back to Haiti.

Expect spontaneous tears at inopportune moments. Remind yourself that it’s normal and just breathe and ride the wave. You will have to unpack all those little boxes you hid deep inside yourself– images, sounds, smells, feelings, inconsistencies and frustrations that you had to pack away in the moment so you could do your job.

Focus and be strong, you told yourself while in Haiti. It’s what you had to do during those weeks on that half-island that lies somewhere on the road between hell and hope.

When you are home, nothing will ever look the same. But that’s good, I tell Mat. It keeps Haiti on your mind.

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  1. Winnie,

    I am touched deeply by your comments and reflections…I know you will always carry the Haitian people in your heart as well as your mind. Nice work and much love to you!

    Dave

  2. The rainy season is fast comming and the people in Haiti can not stay in tent. My solution to the housing problem in Haiti.Haiti House has ready make house for only $6,000 and easy to assemble in just 15 minute. HaitiHouse.org Solves Haiti Housing Crisis With FlatPackHome™ Permanent Self-Assembly Shelter & Container Support Units Creating Entire Villages. We combine safe, clean individual …homes with community container showers, bathrooms, kitchens, laundry, administrative offices and more! … Check the link below!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwCMX2pm5k8

  3. Hi Gerald,

    Thanks for the idea, and of course wouldn’t it be great if we could give everyone a house like this. But I did the math.

    These houses- at $6,000 each- would put a roof over about 30,000 families and then all the money we have left would be gone. We have a plan to give emergency shelter the neediest 800,000 people! We cannot responsibly use up all the money good people have sent us on one ticket item for so few families. We have to figure out sustainable, local solutions that will help as many people as possible… more than 30,000 families.

    If the Red Cross bought only these shelters with the money we have left, we would NOT do the following: no more life-saving medical care (vaccinations, first aid, field surgical hospitals), no further water distributions (we’re giving out 1 million liters a day), no additional relief supplies (cooking pots, spoons, soap, toothpaste, diapers, tools for building, rope, tarps, shovels, work golves, etc.), no more latrines and hand-washing campaigns to keep people healthy, and no disaster preparedness to help Haitians withstand the NEXT hurricane or whatever disaster will surely come.

    We know that if we prepare people for the NEXT disaster, we will save $4-10 in future relief activities. It’s fiscally shrewd to help people prepare for the next event. We call it building resilient communities.

    Using the first $80 million we quickly spent, and together with our Red Cross brothers and sisters from around the world, we already have helped 1.3 MILLION Haitians with the items listed above. That number will go up, every day. That is our promise to the Haitians. It is also our promise to the people who opened their hearts and their wallets for Haiti.

    Everyone is working really hard on this problem, and I hope lots of families get your houses, because if they withstand future disasters then those families will benefit. But they are so expensive and not made in Haiti, so we have to add shipping costs, too.

    We have to keep thinking creatively and in conversation WITH the Haitian people to figure out good solutions. Like in the tsunami-hit nations, there will be many solutions, for sure. And we should promote the ones that can help the most people in the most sustainable way.