Haiti is a country characterized by long suffering as a result of poverty, illiteracy and dictatorial leadership. On January 12, 2010 this poor country was further devastated by a major earthquake. It was over in just 35 seconds yet created havoc throughout the country. Over 250,000 lives were lost, many more lost limbs and at least a million people were rendered homeless.
As a social worker, adoptive mother and Director of an NGO supporting the needs of destitute children, I was drawn to the plight of the thousands of children orphaned and left homeless following the quake. I decided to volunteer for two weeks in Haiti in October 2010. I found that Port Au Prince looked like a war zone with many collapsed buildings. Clean water was scarce.
My volunteer group was stationed in Jacmel where the people were friendly and welcoming. The water however, was murky and there was an abundance of trash visible everywhere. People could be seen bathing, washing clothes and washing cars side by side in the same river. The majority of the people lived in tents in very poor conditions.
While schools had reopened, too many children remained at home as there was no money for school fees, uniforms, books, shoes, paper and pencils. I took a small post-earthquake orphanage under my wing. The space was small and the care-providers few. The children shared soiled mattresses. Food and potable water were scarce. A bucket provided a shared wash basin for the children. The local children would often greet me with hugs and warmly slip their hands in mine as we walked along the road together. I purchased thirty tables and twelve tables for “my” orphanage which the volunteers painted in bright colors.
Upon my return to my comfortable New York apartment, I was struck by the vast difference between the lives of the children I encountered in Haiti and the children that are part of my daily life. One child yearns for a touch that may never come… another child is smothered in warm hugs throughout the day, one child has no access to an education… another child has numerous opportunities, one child may look forward to a long life and good medical care… another child will need luck to overcome severe poverty and unexpected medical conditions. There is much wrong with this picture.
Since my return, the Haitian people have suffered additional misfortunes. The spread of cholera has left more than a thousand dead and over 200,000 infected. Hurricanes threaten this fragile population and more children are orphaned each day. The needs of the Haitian people and the challenges they face are immense and immediate.
Haiti will require ongoing support for several years to come. My two-week volunteer experience represents but a drop in a very deep bucket. However one must believe that change can occur, perhaps with one person at a time. I will be returning to Haiti in the coming months. I invite anyone with an interest, compassion and fortitude to join me in this venture. Details will evolve dependent upon the needs of the individuals in the volunteer group. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will keep you informed.
To read my full journal of my experience in Haiti, you may download it here.
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