Latest update: December 4th, 2012
Like millions of people around the world, I had followed the tragedy in Haiti since the earthquake jolted that country just over a month ago. But while the media portrayed a great deal of the devastation visited on this poorest of Western nations, it wasn’t until I traveled to Haiti on a relief mission that I truly understood just how severe the crisis really was.
One night two weeks ago my father asked me if I wanted to join him on a visit to Haiti to donate relief supplies to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince and to generally help in writing and broadcasting about Haiti’s devastation. We would leave Sunday night and return Wednesday morning. The idea sounded preposterous. How could we possibly go to a country where all hell had broken loose? The offer sounded irrational, but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I thought about it, I probably would have decided against it. So I quickly agreed.
About 48 hours later I found myself sitting in the Santo Domingo airport sleep-deprived and cranky, trying to figure out if the whole thing was still a good idea. We met up with our friend Glenn Megill, founder of Rock of Africa, an organization that feeds families in Zambia and Zimbabwe, along with his daughter and a photographer named Peter.
After driving nine hours on a windy gravel road, we finally came to the border. It was there that we got our first taste of the deprivation left by the earthquake. Thousands of people were waiting in the baking sun to get into the country with supplies. It was another two hours before we reached the Haitian capital.
Advertisement Words cannot describe what we witnessed. Picture Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic detonation, or Hamburg and Dresden after the carpet-bomb raids delivered by allied forces. Picture monstrous mounds of rubble and jagged edges of half-torn buildings on every street. Only this time the picture was drawn not by conflict or war but through the sudden crush of nature alone.
Hundreds of thousands of people wandered the litter-strewn roads like zombies, their homes destroyed, many of their family members dead. Perhaps the most devastating thing was that they were so helpless. Haiti, already a poverty-stricken country, was now also in shambles. These people didn’t even have the means to get back on their feet if they wanted to.
As we drove through downtown Port-au-Prince, my heart grew heavier. I could not understand why God would allow such a calamity to take place. Why were so many innocent people lying in their graves beneath the rubble, as others stumbled over them to find their way?
The smell of death permeated the city. Relief workers informed us that dogs had been coming during the night and consuming the decaying bodies, leaving behind piles of bones in the rubble. I felt as if this God-forsaken country had been doomed for all eternity, without any hope of salvation.
But in the midst of darkness there is always a beacon of light that shines through.
My hope was restored the next day when we paid a visit to an orphanage called Child Hope, an organization run by a Christian family who left their home in California six years ago to devote their lives to rescuing suffering and abandoned children in Haiti. They have many volunteers who travel from the U.S. for months at a time to help in any way they can.
Their love and devotion are incredible. They treated the orphans as if they were their own children and gave them opportunities that they could never receive growing up on the streets as most orphans in Haiti do. I sat with some of the Haitian girls who live there, laughing and talking about school and our favorite nail polish colors. They were a pleasure and their company inspired me. Rather than wallow in self-pity they exhibited a zest for life and knowledge. They told me how they wanted to be doctors when they grow up.
We also went to the UN base where we saw hundreds of doctors from all over the world united in the common goal of healing the victims. You could hear every language spoken as doctors ran back and forth from tent to tent tending the sick. I was especially proud of all the American volunteers – military personnel as well as random individuals who felt it was their duty to assist their fellow human beings.
One American volunteer introduced us to a three-year-old Haitian boy whose mother and sister perished in the earthquake. The father was forced to amputate his own son’s hand in order to save him from the same terrible fate his mother and sister had met. His father then walked ten miles, carrying him to the hospital to get help. This American volunteer felt a connection with the boy and treated him almost like a younger brother, bringing him gifts and paying him daily visits.
Catastrophes such as the earthquake in Haiti are some of the darkest forces of nature. These same calamities, however, also bring out the brightest qualities in humans who feel it is their duty to help others.
You can’t go to Haiti and return the same person. You come back a little sadder, but a lot more inspired. You discover that even in the darkest of times, when it is impossible to understand the meaning of terrible events, one can still make a difference with one’s actions.
We can’t understand why bad things happen to so many good people. But our personal decisions can make all the difference in improving their lot. Witnessing the effects of the earthquake in Haiti first hand has made me so much more sensitive toward those in need.
About the Author: Mushki Boteach is an undergraduate at Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women where she is majoring in public relations. She resides in Englewood, New Jersey.
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