When an earthquake ripped through Haiti on January 12, 2010, I found myself watching helplessly from my living room more than 3,500 miles away. I was filled with a strong desire to help, but I didn’t have a clue how I would get there. A few weeks later I found myself packing a suitcase full of medicine and medical supplies on my way to the airport in my hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. My plan was to meet up with an American nurse named Aaron and head to Port-au-Prince to work in an orphanage for several weeks. Well, things didn’t exactly work out the way I had planned. As luck would have it, Aaron and I ended up meeting a pair of doctors the next morning while we were leaving our hotel in Miami. The men were connected with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and were headed for Carrefour, the epicenter of the quake. They were scheduled to meet up with a team of medical professionals and within minutes of boarding the plane to Port-au-Prince, I knew we were getting off with them. After stealing one of the doctor’s seats when he went to the washroom, I was able to convince the remaining doctor, Dr. Ortiz, that Aaron and I were willing-and-able nurses who wanted to give everything we had to help out. He agreed to let us join him and 45 minutes later our flight touched down.
Within an hour we had gone from being surrounded by Ferraris and Starbucks in Miami, to being thrust in the middle of a war zone filled with UN and US soldiers and 1.5 million desperate and scattered homeless Haitians. It was quite possibly the most shocking thing I have ever seen. It was just too close to paradise to look the way it did.Minutes later we were ushered into a van and taken to a hotel. On the way to our destination, we witnessed knife fights while people held on to their bags of rice at any cost. Gunfire erupted at one point and people in the streets were sent running and ducking for cover wherever they could find it. The Starbucks coffee in my hands may still have been warm, but the contrast between the decadence of Miami and the desperation of Port-au-Prince couldn’t have been more chilling.
For the next two weeks, we worked from sun up to sun down. Our tight-knit team consisted of seven doctors, three nurses, two pharmacists, one dentist, one coordinator and 11 Haitian translators. We all worked side-by-side in an inflatable clinic, serving more than 32,000 displaced Haitians who had set up a hastily constructed tent city on one of Port-au-Prince’s university campuses. The lack of water, extreme heat, endless hours and long list of unbelievable injuries would have been enough to wear anyone down, but somehow I found myself with an abundance of energy. Despite the horrendous conditions, the atmosphere around our clinic was the most positive, powerful, loving and inspirational environment I have ever experienced.
I witnessed God’s grace every day, but I also saw some truly challenging things that will haunt me forever. I saw cancerous tumors that had eaten through people’s bodies, I saw gaping wounds that were still open and untreated for over a month and I saw children with ravenous dog bites who were destined to die because we had no rabies vaccine to administer to them. The hardest part for me was knowing how inexpensive treatment was for these conditions, and yet how impossible it was to obtain the medicine and supplies we take for granted in North America.
One of the most heartbreaking experiences for Aaron and I was the close relationship we developed with an 11-year-old girl who came into our clinic every day for fresh bandages. Her foot had been nearly severed when her house collapsed and we grew very close to her. She had such a warm, infectious spirit that always brought a smile to our faces regardless of how grim things became. By Day 4 she was helping us with her bandages and on our last day in Haiti, we loaded her up with bandages so she could continue to care for herself. I came across some adult vitamins as we were about to leave and asked her if she wanted to take them for her parents. She looked at me with a half smile on her face and said, “My Mom and Dad are dead. We were in the kitchen eating and they were crushed by the roof of our house”. Aaron and I could feel our hearts breaking and for the first time all week we knew our emotions were going to get the best of us. How was it possible that this little girl was so joyful in spite of the profound loss she had experienced? She was completely alone with no mother or father to tuck her in at night or to see her grow up. Sadly, her story is the story of so many beautiful children that once had a home and a family. Their lives will never be the same again.
I love Haiti. I love Haiti’s people. I love Haiti’s desire to rebuild and I want to help in any way I can. I learned to love in Haiti. It’s a real love like only God can offer. It is an unconditional, radical, inexplicable kind of love. The images I witnessed were painful, reassuring and uplifting at the same time. The heartbreak I saw was widespread across an entire country. I struggled until recently with how to share my photos from Haiti. I couldn’t possibly explain them all and I so badly wanted others to feel, smell, and touch even a little of what I felt. I wanted others to witness what it was like to see 1,000,000 homes destroyed, or to smell 300,000 bodies buried beneath the city, or to hear the cries of 900,000 citizens living in tent cities. I wanted to show all of this. At the same time, I wanted others to feel the hope that they share. I wanted them to hear the happiness of their songs and the laughter of their children because then I knew that they would have hope too.
I went to Haiti to be a hero and save people, but the truth is that they saved me. They saved me in the deepest way a person can be saved. I found myself in Haiti and feel I would be doing the country and its inhabitants a huge disservice if I didn’t spend the rest of my life trying to help them heal and rebuild. I sincerely hope you can join me in my mission.
With Love and Grace,