I am very fortunate to be privy to first-hand insight into what has been going on in Haiti in the last week. Elizabeth, the 22-year-old daughter of a colleague at work, happened to be in Port-au-Prince on a work assignment when the earthquake hit. The letter below, which I am posting verbatim with her family’s permission, came in last night. There were hundreds of people worried about her, and this was her first written response to all of us, less than 24 hours after getting out. It speaks for itself.
Dear Friends and Family,
As many of you know, a 7.0+ earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday evening devastating Port-au-Prince and many of its surrounding areas. I had been in Haiti for a little less than a week when it occurred, as I was beginning a job with the GHESKIO-IMIS centers in conjunction with Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences as the Nutrition Training Coordinator of the clinic. I have not been physically hurt; and am currently safe in Santo Domingo with my family, extremely grateful for all of the support that I’ve received.
I was at the GHESKIO clinic at the time of the quake only a few kilometers away from the epicenter – the buildings at the clinic have some damage but are for the most part intact. Beyond the clinic, however, has suffered a great deal. My colleagues and I walked home that evening (~1 hr walk) and stayed at Le Clos (where we lived) for that night and the next day with our neighbors and friends. Wednesday during the day, we tried to help the doctor who lived in our neighborhood tend to injured people from the community (mostly with supplies from our house). In the evening, our neighbors returned to take us with them to the French embassy, and we stayed there Wednesday night. Thursday morning, Rebecca Heidkamp and I were able to make it out of the city by bus to Santo Domingo. None of this would have been possible had we not been graced with the help of many incredibly generous neighbors and friends.
Many of you are probably seeing the horror and tragedy that is occurring in Haiti in the news and papers. It is very real (and has been very eye-opening). But what is not noted in the papers is that people are helping one another in Haiti, and it’s been the crux of the efforts that I’ve been able to witness – people helping family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, etc. The aid is “coming” but while I was there, it had not been very well organized or in effect. The first response (first 48hrs) came from the community, not internationally. Although there has been chaos, sorrow and many losses, the first few days after the quake were marked by people working and supporting one another to a tremendous degree. That first night, there were waves of crying and silence, but also of song and prayer. People were working to support one another in this time of need. It has been a true example of community, and I am extremely appreciative to have been able to witness it. Many of the GHESKIO doctors, on their own accord and despite of their own personal losses, have already returned to the clinic and have been spending their days treating those who have been injured and also providing anti-retrovirals/ TB medication to patients who were on-site. This has been incredibly important as GHESKIO is in the center of many destroyed neighborhoods, among many people who are homeless and in need of help. American medical doctors are arriving to GHESKIO today or tomorrow, and will be providing medical care there as well.
I am blessed to have been able to have left Haiti without even a bruise. However, many are not nearly as fortunate. It is not the best of situations – few tools to remove concrete from bodies, limited food and water, very cold nights, etc. Haiti and its people are in need of support. While I was there, most people were still very calm. But, as water, food, clothing, etc becomes more scarce, the tide may change. There will be a need for food, water, clothing, medical supplies, doctors, etc in the short-term. But there will also be a need for support in rebuilding homes, hospitals, micro-credits, etc. in the long-run (and many times this sort of relief is forgotten a few months after an incident).
I am no longer in the country, and can no longer tell a story about the situation beyond this point. I am trying to find the best ways to help Haiti from where I am now – realizing that if I were to have stayed or returned, I would be using up the limited resources that are available, instead of providing needed support. I believe that at this point in time, support of relief efforts is one of the best ways to contribute. I am not aware of many specific programs, but do know of a few. Specifically, GHESKIO, the organization I was working for, has been providing support to the surrounding areas: GHESKIO on Haiti. Its website to provide support is here. The clinic is close to many areas that have high need and is a good place to direct donations because it is working for both short and long-term goals in Haiti.
I wanted to thank everyone for worrying about me, and for your thoughts and prayers. It’s been very meaningful since I’ve been back to know that so many people had me in their thoughts. I hope that you will do the same for Haiti – keeping it in your thoughts in the coming months, as it is a place full of love and life, but also full of great need.