I’ve been spending summers and holidays in Haiti since I was about six years old, visiting my grandmother and extended family. Because my family moved almost every year, Haiti was one of the few constants in my life, and more of a home than anywhere else for a long time. This is why I focused on Haiti for my political science studies and volunteer work. When I was accepted into a group at SIPA this past September to research and conduct interviews in Haiti, I was ecstatic. As our team researched Haiti during the fall semester, we chose to focus on how private-sector investment could impact state-building and development in Haiti. I could not wait for our trip, which began on Jan. 7. I could never have imagined the state in which we would leave Haiti on Jan. 14.
Prior to the earthquake, we had been learning from government officials, U.N. leaders, and private sector members about the “window of opportunity” currently present in Haiti, due to its relative stability and international investment interest. On Tuesday afternoon, we had just finished a meeting with one of the Haitian president’s advisors at the Hotel Christophe and were on our way to meet the head of the UNDP mission in Haiti at their building, about five minutes away. Our driver had just parked the car at the top of the hill in the UNDP parking lot, and my team members were getting out of the car when the earthquake started. Once it stopped, we heard screaming, and we went to look to see what had happened. The road that we had just been on one minute ago, as well as the cars and buildings upon it, was completely demolished by rocks that had fallen from the hill above. I could see a woman’s arm flailing between rocks. I burst into tears. We had one doctor in the parking lot from Partners in Health and a couple of us were trying to help in any way we could, though all we had were first aid kits to treat gaping wounds and broken limbs. The supplies from the first aid kits quickly ran out and all I could do was attempt to comfort children who were alone. I sang and prayed to calm them and myself.
The next morning, we walked over to the outside of the other U.N. building, and all of us who were in the parking lot were driven to the U.N. logistics base. The devastation we saw as we drove seemed unreal. A few hours after our arrival, the incredible doctor from the previous night sent news that she needed help in the infirmary. The only suitable way to describe the infirmary is “hell on earth.” Those first few hours are a blur, but I remember doing my first splint on a woman whose bone was sticking out of her leg, and then having to redo it because I messed up. We spent that day and the following morning cleaning wounds, making splints, and holding hands.
The girl that made the greatest impression on me was Marie-Olene. At seven years old, she had a broken wrist and was all alone. I tried to make her laugh, and occasionally succeeded by making silly faces and telling funny stories. The funniest moment was when she interrupted me to touch my hair and ask me if it was real. Some things never change. As I looked into her big brown eyes, I kept telling her how strong she was, and that she wasn’t alone at all. The next day, as one of the newly arrived doctors made his rounds, he stated that Marie-Olene would lose her hand because it hadn’t been properly taken care of in time.
Marie-Olene is one of the many children that brings me to tears regularly and compel me to do as much as I can to help. Since I’ve returned, people have repeatedly asked me a variation of the question, “What should I do?” World Vision, for example, is hosting a 5k run/walk for Haiti on April 3, and the reason I encourage each of you to join this or one of the other many wonderful opportunities, is that it provides us with the opportunity to engage everyone in our networks by asking them to support us and donate to relief work in Haiti. As students, we may not have substantial personal economic resources—at least I don’t. However, we have extensive networks and contacts. There has been a devastating earthquake in Haiti and none of us can change that, but we can contribute significantly to rebuilding Haiti through strategic efforts, radical compassion and generosity.
The author is a student in the School of International and Public Affairs. She is the co-founder of Global Life Focus Network, a non-governmental organization currently serving in Haiti.