There are a handful of places on the planet that grab the heart of every single person that visits. The vice grip hold that Haiti has on ours is difficult to explain.
Difficult to explain that is, unless you have been here.
In 2002, my husband and I first visited this country of deep beauty, great suffering, abundant overcoming, and stark contrast. While it sounds cliché, from that day forward we have never been the same. At the time of the catastrophic earthquake our family of nine had lived and worked full time in Haiti for four years.
Tent city that sprung up where people had lived before the earthquake
Wes Stafford, president of Compassion International, said, "Haiti was home to one of the worst disasters of our time. Then the earthquake hit."
January 12, 2010, at 4:53pm, forty seconds of violent shaking changed this land forever. Long ago known as the “Jewel of the Antilles,” Haiti stood in total ruin.
The hours, days, and weeks that followed the earthquake felt entirely surreal to us. It reminded us of the movies where things that don't make any sense happen and where story lines don't always match up with reality. On one corner bodies, were being stacked by the dozens for mass removal, and on another people gathered to pray, sing, and thank God for sparing them even as multiple aftershocks shook the ground violently.
Tara Livesay and a patient
The media this week has focused much on the mind-boggling amount of work that remains to be done. They quote statistics about slow rubble removal and lack of economic growth. We don't disagree with them, but we think they're missing the real stories.
As we mark the passing of this first anniversary since the devastating earthquake, the real stories are being told all across Leogane, Port au Prince, Petit Goave and the entire country. MSNBC and ABC must sell more advertising by focusing on the negative, because the positive is not very hard to find. It stands out all around us. It begs for us to notice.
The positive is Antoinette, who walks perfectly on her prosthetic leg and is so filled with joy and gratitude for her life that you cannot help but smile when she greets you. The real story is Collette, who went from the poorest slum in the western hemisphere with a life-threatening injury to the USS Comfort ship by helicopter. Doctors did not think she would survive the surgery to meet her unborn baby girl. They told her as much before they operated. Today she walks tall, holding almost one-year-old Ester confidently on her shoulder.
In the days after the earthquake, Haitians rescued each other; for hours on end, they dug by hand and with brute strength lifted giant slabs of cement with nothing but their will to see friends live and their faith. Yes, thousands of volunteers poured in a few days later, yes many big name NGOs responded, but the Haitian people were united and responsive first. In the hours of the greatest devastation and loss of life, Haitians helped Haitians.
Day after day, miracles unfolded before our eyes.
Tara Livesay with a boy who had his leg amputated with no pain medication and needed a new operation
Tara Livesay with the same boy -- only now he has a new prosthetic leg.
Our role in this epic undertaking was small. Each day we transported patients from the slums outside of Port au Prince to our makeshift field hospital a few miles away. When our medical volunteers could not meet their needs, we went to work networking with others on the ground. We acted as advocates in a place that often forgets the weak. We traded a patient that needed an amputation revision for a patient that needed tender loving care in a long-term recovery setting. We traded ketamine for morphine. We worked together with organizations from Israel, Miami, the United Kingdom, and even the United States Navy. These organizations worked together, and we did it without ego or concern for credit. It was not about us, nor did we want it to be. More than anything, we longed to see the people we so respect experience relief from their pain and feel both love and care in our touch. Each day, lives that would have been lost were saved. In a sea of 300,000 injured, our contribution was small, yet not insignificant.
As we reflect on the earthquake and the aftermath, we find ourselves focusing less on how much cement there still is to move and more on how inspiring the resolve of our tenacious friends has been. We think less about the questionable behaviors of the president and the international community and more about the strength of spirit and example exhibited to us daily as we work along side our Haitian brothers and sisters.
They are the reason Haiti has our hearts.
Port au Prince, Haiti
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