Impressions of the trip:
Well, we are on the bus leaving Port-au-Prince. The trip is coming to a close. I am trying to reflect on the past week and make some sense out of all that I have seen, heard and felt working in Haiti these past several days.
I have done medical mission work before and have had the fortune to travel a bit to underdeveloped countries, but this trip to Haiti has been like nothing I have ever experienced. The double tragedy of extreme poverty and a natural catastrophe has left me searching for words to describe what is happening to this country.
It is hard to fathom the destruction until you see it. Pictures in the press and even from our cameras cannot truly capture the devastation. Building-after-building, block-after-block, neighborhood- after-neighborhood, in a city of 10 million people, houses, churches, schools, colleges, stores, Internet cafes, hospitals all lie in ruins.
Hundreds of thousands are displaced, each empty lot, park and open space are filled with make-shift tents, people using scraps of plastic, tarps and sheets to make a feeble shelter. Garbage and rubble is everywhere. Whole areas are without running water. At night, a city of millions is plunged into darkness – the only light comes from vehicle headlamps and the few houses lucky enough to have a generator.
So much loss. The human toll from the earthquake was incredible – every patient lost someone: children, parents, siblings, friends.
Everyone was affected somehow. So many lost their homes and everything in them – they literally have nothing left. In the U.S. we hear of tragedies in which people lose their houses to fire or flood, but for most there is a chance to rebuild. Here there is no insurance, no government infrastructure to help – and the magnitude, an entire city broken. So many will continue to live on the street, with little to no food, clothing or clean water for months, if not years. And the future for the children of this country…?
Yet despite the tragedy, many beautiful stories. The Haitians are a truly amazing and resilient nation of people. If someone needed help, dozens would come to lend a hand. A car gets stuck in a hole, ten people run to push it out. When a woman collapsed in front of a store, passersby carry her into the clinic. Children share what little they have with friends and siblings.
So many stories of courage and sacrifice: relatives and neighbors racing to dig out survivors from the rubble, taking strangers in their still-standing homes and houses of worship. The family who took into their home a boy on the streets who had lost his father and sisters and whose mother was in the hospital.
The strength of the people I met is what impacted me the most. The 10-year-old who lost both parents and all but one sibling but had the determination to watch over his surviving eighht-year-old brother on the streets. The father who lost his wife and son, but now was trying to pick up the pieces and care for his infant daughter. I learned so much from these patients who, despite pain and unspeakable tragedy, can push ahead and carry on.
With all the sadness, it is easy to get depressed about the dismal road ahead. But, though it sounds cliche, what I leave Haiti with is hope. Seeing so many doctors, nurses and others who left their families and creature comforts at home to come and lend a helping hand. Working side-by-side with volunteers from all over the world, renewed my sense of optimism for the future of this country – and ours.
I definitely leave this country a changed and better person.