A Glimpse into Haiti’s Agony from the eyes of a Volunteer Team

 2nd Feb 2010, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti: Effectively chronicling the human tragedies that have taken place in Haiti since the earthquake struck is a nearly impossible task.  How is one orphan’s story any more or less distressing or significant than the thousands of others?  And yet it is still necessary to do what we can to highlight specific heart-rending and also heart-warming events in an effort to provide greater context for those of us who have not witnessed the devastation firsthand.  It is crucial that we do not fall into the trap of looking at Haiti’s anguish through the prism of statistics and data.  The suffering is real and it touches millions.  It is no less real than the suffering we see elsewhere and it does not demand any less of us as Sikhs.

  Haiti’s plight was enormous even before the earthquake battered its people.  Poverty was extreme; good governance was absent; effective planning was lacking and its people lacked access to basic services that we usually take for granted.  The earthquake has magnified all of those problems and the results have been catastrophic.  The price of food has skyrocketed and the distribution of food has also been seriously disrupted.  The destabilization in the food situation combined with the destabilization in the income of millions of Haitians has resulted in our mission here.  Many of us have been doing what we can to listen to and console the earthquake’s victims and yet we do not lose sight of the fact that our current mission is primarily about feeding those who are hungry and providing water to those who are desperate to quench their thirst.

 Our team members here have all borne witness to events that they will remember for their rest of their lives.  Some of these events have shaken us deeply while other events have left us with faith that the resiliency of the Haitian people will see them through this dark period.

  A short glimpse into Haiti’s agony was encountered right at the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The young Haitian boy

  A young boy, no more than 6 or 7 years old ran up to our van and before long we were skipping stones across the lake with him and trying to understand how he was personally affected by the earthquake.  He told us that his entire family had been killed and that he was alone and helpless.  We fed him and also provided him with a pillow and a blanket.  We did our best to flag down a UNICEF bus but it went by too fast and unfortunately we had to head on to Port-Au-Prince in the hopes that someone else would help this boy.  The frustration at how little we could do in that situation still frustrates us today.
Charles is a little boy who is 8 years old and he comes to our camp regularly.  He is let in by the United Nations Military Police who do not usually allow children into the area that we are located.  The Military Police let him in because they know that we are here to take care of him and to feed him.  Today we bathed him and brushed his teeth as well which he was really eager for.  After his bath, he even requested that we tie a dastar (turban) on him which he happily showcased to everyone he could find!  He also regularly participates in singing the keertan that is playing in the camp which we all find really inspirational.  He is getting very close to and comfortable with us and all of us will be sad to let him go when we leave from here.
Yesterday we took a tour around downtown Port-Au-Prince and witnessed some of the worst affected areas from the earthquake.  As we approached the Presidential Palace we saw a sight that spoke so tellingly to the state of Haiti’s government. The metaphor of a destructed crumbling palace coupled with the sight of Haiti’s people standing in the forefront against a gate that protected their once gleaming White House was enough to make one stop in awe. We spoke with some of these people to find out what they were feeling and how they were coping. We found one gentleman leaning against the gate who spoke English very well and when we asked how they were feeling he said, “It is like something is broken inside us that is still not right…”. Many around him had lost family members and loved ones, though his family had been spared. They were extremely appreciative of the global community’s aid and assistance during this traumatic time. We dug a little deeper and asked for their thoughts and feelings about their government. There is a pervasive mood of dismay and abandonment amongst the people of Haiti; they feel that the government does nothing to help the people but instead only help themselves. We asked the gentleman who was translating to convey a message that we as Sikhs and Canadians were here to help in any way we could and that we would also go back home and encourage our government to continue their aid to Haiti.

  Down the road from us there is a makeshift hospital that we visit every day.  When visiting it yesterday to drop off lunch for the hospital’s children, we witnessed the birth of a baby boy right in front of our eyes.  The joy of the people at the birth of the child was stirring. 

 Our team members were moved to be able to hold the baby in our arms.  One of our team members did a short ardaas (prayer) that this newborn grow up and become a leader in growing Haiti and helping the people of his country.
There are many other stories and we hope to keep you all posted!

Japnaam Singh
Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

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