Lest we forget

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Haiti Earthquake

Gina Jean and her family. (James Addis/WV)

Today, I am working from a comfortable office. Exactly six months ago, I was on a plane to Haiti to report on one of the worst earthquakes in human history—one that killed more than 220,000 people. My work environment there included overcrowded hospitals and hastily set-up displaced people’s camps that lacked water and sanitation.

One question I was sometimes asked after returning home was: “How did if affect you personally?” That’s not easy to say. There was a range of emotions. Some experiences were heartbreaking. I’ll never forget the corpses of children lying in the streets and the people trying to dig relatives out of the rubble using small crowbars and flimsy hacksaws.

One woman I met, Gina Jean, was cradling her 4-month-old daughter and living in a tent made of bed sheets. Losing her home was not so bad. Her real concern was that she had not seen her husband since the quake. Was he alive or dead? “How can I continue living like this?” she asked me. “How am I supposed to take care of my children?”

Haiti earthquake

Nicole Muse cares for a child after surgery. (Jon Warren/WV)

But in the midst of tragedy, I was also inspired. World Vision’s relief manager, who lost her daughter in the quake, carried on working so that the lives of others might be saved. Chicago nurse Nicole Muse hopped on a plane without hesitation as soon as she heard the news of the quake. Within hours she found a field hospital in Haiti and began caring for dozens of horrifically injured children.

Coming home after seeing these kinds of things, it can be a little hard to adapt. Everything seems slightly banal. There’s a discussion with my wife about where we will find the money to fence the yard. At the supermarket checkout, tabloids are trumpeting that Dr. Phil’s marriage is on the rocks, and there are updates on the turbulent love lives of actors called Brad, Jennifer, and Angelina.

It can be easy to feel superior to this trivia. But the truth is, after a few months my memories of Haiti do begin to fade. Immediate “concerns” reassert themselves. Even for World Vision, there are other big issues to think about—devastating floods in China, for example, or a hunger crisis in Niger.

So the six-month anniversary of the quake is a good reminder for me and an opportunity to check on progress. A World Vision report on the last 180 days is encouraging in that it shows how much help is getting through: the distribution of food to 1.8 million people; the delivery of 2 million liters of clean water every week; the construction of hundreds of toilets and showers; the continuing work of 10 health clinics; and the ongoing distribution of tarpaulins, tents, and cooking utensils to assist some 120,000 people.

Haiti earthquake

James interviews a quake-affetced family. (Jon Warren/WV)

And yet, as the report notes, the needs remain great. About 1.5 million people still live in emergency shelters. Difficulties in securing construction materials and establishing land ownership rights and the logistical challenge of removing tons and tons of rubble are proving to be major obstacles.

I confess it’s been a while since I prayed for Gina Jean and the thousands in her predicament. I’ll do so tonight. Perhaps you could join me?


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Filed under Haiti Earthquake, On Assignment

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