[Published on 13 January 2013]
Today is the second year anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January 2010. Any one with the slightest connection to Haiti remembers where they were or what they were doing when the news broke. I was watching television in the living room of my apartment in Ithaca when my mother called to tell me the devastating news. My heart sank immediately. I turned the channel to CNN and saw that a 7.0-magnitude earthquake had occurred just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. I went into a state of sheer shock and utter disbelief. Why Haiti? My mother's country was already on its knees, trying to break free from chains that held it to a past marred by oppressive dictators, hurricanes, and slavery. How would Haiti recover and build for a better tomorrow?
My mother was still on the phone and all I could do was try to comfort her. Her sister had just visited us the week before. She had gone to Montreal to visit some other relatives and her last stop was in New York before flying back to Haiti. Now, my mother had no way to contact her because of downed phone lines. I felt helpless; I did not have the degrees, special training, or any other qualifications to go to Haiti and help. After a couple of days, I found out about a short Red Cross course on disaster relief offered by the Tompkins County chapter. I learned how to complete several type of intake forms, assess disasters, and how to help people prepare and respond to disasters. However, even after the course ended, I still felt the need to do more. I wanted to help the people of Haiti directly.
My responsibilities as a maternal and child nutrition intern are not at all in the field of disaster relief. However, nutrition is just as important as building a house or repairing damaged roads. The country needs healthy children that will grow up into able-bodied adults who can do those things and more for their fellow countrymen. So, this was the first opportunity of my lifetime to help people directly who had been impacted by the earthquake. During my first week of work, one woman talked about how difficult it was raising her HIV-positive daughter without the help of her mother who had died during goudou goudou. Goudou goudou, pronounced goo-doo goo-doo, is the sound she and hundreds of thousands of other people say they heard when the earthquake happened. Thus, goudou goudou became synonymous with tremblement de terre (earthquake). The Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti started to address the issue of childhood malnutrition in the country over a decade ago. Yet, the earthquake was the catalyst which brought people like me and a slew of other NGOs to the republic.
The only Haiti I personally know is the one that exists after the earthquake. I still cannot believe it happened even after I see the damage left behind on a daily basis. I see crushed buildings where rubble still needs to be removed and where people might still be buried underneath. I also heard about the nursing school that lost its entire second year class in one building, and the nine-story professional school that learned its lesson and now is built anew at one-story. Everyone connected to Haiti lost that day. To all of the men, women, and children, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives, parents, and grandparents, know that you did not die in vain. Everyone working in Haiti from the international community is working hard to make the lives of those you left behind better for tomorrow.
**My mother's sister survived along with her two children.