“We are not alone”

Jhonny Celicourt, 37, is communications manager for World Vision in Haiti. His story (as told to James Addis) illustrates the dedication of local workers despite the personal impact of the quake.

Haiti earthquake

Jhonny Celicourt, still on the job. (James Addis/WV)

I was working on the first floor of World Vision’s office. Suddenly I felt the building shaking. The first thing I did was hide under my desk and pray to God. Things began to fall down—my laptop and my documents. It was so violent. I thought I was going to die.

When I recovered a little, I called my wife. She was on her way to work when it happened. She told me was that she saw a big office complex collapse where a friend of mine works. I later found out he is dead. About two hours later I got hold of someone staying at my house. She told me my daughter, Kemisha, was sleeping. She did not even wake up. It’s unbelievable.

I finally get back home, maybe five hours after the earthquake.  All the roads were blocked with rubble, with cars, with people searching for relatives and family. There they were crying in the darkness. I saw maybe 20 to 50 corpses.

My house was damaged but still standing. My wife had already arrived. I grabbed my daughter and cried. My daughter said, “I want to go to New York.” I’ve no idea why she said that. She’s never been to New York. It must be a place she heard about on television.

The walls of our house were leaning in; a few things were smashed. But we couldn’t sleep there. All the people in our neighborhood were gathering to sleep in a tennis court across the street, so we joined them and slept there that night.

Haiti earthquake

World Vision staff stayed busy with relief distrutions just days after the quake. (Jon Warren/WV)

The next morning, the first thing I did was come into work. World Vision is a relief organization, and I knew I was going to be needed.

I got into the office at 7 a.m. There were about four employees there. Later, some more came in. We took three vehicles and filled them with medications. My God, you can’t believe what we saw. So many houses collapsed in the street. So many people crying for help.

We had a doctor and a nurse in the car and we arrived at a park. I saw at least 200 corpses, and I started to cry. I know I’m a professional, but I cried and cried and cried. I could not stop.

We started giving out basic stuff like alcohol and bandages to treat wounds. There were so many people asking for help, so we just treated the first people we came to. There were so many people asking us for help. We returned to the office for more supplies and we took them around to all the hospitals instead. We spent the whole day driving, without eating, just drinking water.

At home, my wife and daughter could slip into the house to cook food. They made sure we had their passports handy and some clothes and shoes packed so they were ready to evacuate if necessary.

Haiti earthquake

World Vision staff from all over the world rushed in to help Haitian colleagues. (Jon Warren/WV)

I left the last hospital at 11 p.m. and returned home. My family went back to sleep at the tennis court. But I just could not sleep. I spent the night walking around the neighborhoods until 5 a.m., and then I drove back to the office.

The second day was really, really busy. People [World Vision staff] were coming into the office from around the world. I said, “Thank God we have some help. We could not handle this by ourselves.”

It’s never crossed my mind to get out and escape, though my daughter is very traumatized. She asked, “Dad, why do we have to sleep under the stars? Why can’t we sleep in the house?” I tried to explain, and she said, “Why don’t we sleep in New York?” She can’t seem to get New York out of her head.

But I want to stay here. I believe my country is going to live again, because I heard President Obama and Mrs. Clinton and people from Canada and all over the world talking about Haiti. They are all willing to help us. We are not alone.

Jhonny’s wife, Florence, and daughter, Kemisha, 4, are now staying in Orlando, Fla., with relatives.

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3 Comments

Filed under Haiti, Haiti Earthquake, On Assignment

3 responses to ““We are not alone”

  1. Terry M

    Who are the heroes? Not so much the ones sending aid, but the ones who – thinking not of themselves – walk back into the fire after the heat is turned up.

    I pray God bless you to overflowing, brother, for your faithfulness.

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