In late January 2012, I joined a group of bloggers (we called it Bloggers4Haiti) to visit Haiti two years after the devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of thousands of people. Elena Sonnino, Leticia Barr, Ana Flores, Nadia Jones, and yours truly went with philantropist Willa Shalit, PR whiz Danica Kombol and Kelly Heisler of Be Everywhere.
To say it was life changing is an understatement.
After growing up in South America, I am no stranger to shantytowns and poverty. But nothing prepares you for what you see in Haiti. Thousands still were living in tent camps because they have no place to go. Garbage was piled up on many streets. The presidential palace was in ruins and months later was to be demolished.
What I never expected to see was the dignity of the women I met. Nobody asked me for money. Each woman I met simply asked me whether I could teach her something new. Others showed me the jewelry they had painstakingly made by hand during daylight, since they have no electricity. Willa Shalit through Fairwinds Trading and a grant from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund has helped train dozens of artisans and even opened up the doors so they could sell their creations to stores like Macy’s and Anthropologie.
In the J/P HRO tent camp, which we were the first bloggers to be allowed inside, we saw how despite the dire straits they were in, moms took so much care in keeping their kids and clothes clean. I looked up a hill and a volunteer explained that when women gave birth, they needed to walk up the steep climb when they went into labor. Hours later, they would walk down the hill to go back to their tent, without time to recover. J/P HRO staff members were so happy that with the new clinic they were opening, mothers could at least give birth in better conditions.
I met true heroes. People who are genuinely unselfish. Volunteers who left their family, lucrative careers and comfortable living conditions to help those who had lost everything. When I saw how they were living and heard how their lives used to be, I doubted whether I could do what they did. Actually, I know that for now, I would not, which probably makes me a worse person than I thought I was. I am doing what I can to help, but it is not enough.
Today I am using my words and my voice to keep Haiti alive in people’s memories. Three years have passed since the earthquake of January 12, 2010 and there are so many other tragedies, so much need in the world, that it is easy to forget there is still a long way to rebuilding the poorest country in the Western world. Not because we are bad, but because we are human. The beauty of our humanity, though, is that it allows us to realize we can do better and take steps to do so.
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