July 12, 2010
More, Right, Enough: Thoughts on the six-month remembrance of the Haiti earthquake
T oday marks six-months since the 35-second quake that shook Haiti, killed 300,000, and left millions without a home -traumatizing a nation. The death and destruction of January 12th was unprecedented and still to this day continues to remain indescribable.
Billions were donated. Thousands of search and rescue workers volunteered their time and energy. Millions became glued to their TVs, computers and newspapers. Countless prayers were offered. Governments from around the globe offered help. Even Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, sent a search and rescue team. Although a worldwide response, the suffering remained with the Haitian people alone.
O ur response at Joint Council was also unprecedented. Until January 12th, we had little experience dealing with the effects of natural disasters. There wasn’t time to learn, just act. And somehow we figured it out. Late nights and 20-hour days. Phone call after phone call. Meeting after meeting. Tear after tear. Through all of it, there were times when we got it right…and times we didn’t.
1,100 children removed from harms way and into a permanent family – got that one right. 45,000 children and families receiving services – got that one right too. One teenage girl on the streets of Port au Prince, surrounded by gangs, moved to the safety of the U.S. Embassy – thank God for that one. Yes, we are proud of what we did and of what we continue to do. And we are very proud of our partner organizations who have continued to help us reach over 46,000 children and families.
But whatever pride I had evaporated the instant our plane landed in Haiti on January 24th. I walked onto the tarmac and there I saw real heroes. I saw the The U.S. Army who brought food, water and medicine and delivered it to many of our orphanages. I saw doctors and nurses who performed round-the-clock surgeries with few professional instruments.
I saw what once was Port au Prince and its people, now living in the street – literally in the street – they surrounded themselves with stone as to avoid being hit by a car or truck. I saw damaged orphanages and held children too traumatized to enter any type of building – even a safe one.
Then I saw Haitians helping Haitians. Haitian men, most had lost their own home, but were now digging friends out of the rubble. Haitian women, most having lost all they had, were now comforting the injured and caring for their neighbor’s children. And young Haitian children, scared and alone, were now carrying water buckets for miles, trying desperately not to spill a drop. It was then that I realized the true heroes of this tragedy were the Haitian people.
R emember the pride I mentioned earlier, well it still is long gone. Because whatever we did, it was not enough. And whatever we are doing, it is still not enough. Families are living in squalid tent cities. Children are existing without a mother, father or anyone to truly care for them. And Restavek children are still being enslaved.
The rubble has yet to be removed from the roads. Promised housing has yet to be built. The pre-quake poverty is growing every day. Efficient aid is stymied by the bureaucracy of world governments. Effective assistance is impeded by the territoriality that is the U.N. and NGO community.
Billions have been raised, but suffering continues.
So my pride in what we did and what we are doing has transformed through a continual circle of stages. Despair into anger. Anger into dedication. Dedication into action. Action into pride and back to despair, starting the circle once again.
The one element that has not altered is our commitment: our commitment to the children of Haiti. Our commitment to do more. And our commitment to challenge governments, the U.N., UNICEF, NGOs, our partners and ourselves, to do more – to do it right – to do enough. To end the suffering.
And so during this week of remembrance, we will be announcing our plans for more. I hope that you will stand with us this week and in the weeks to come. And I hope that we will all stand with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, do more, do it right and end this needless suffering.