I am a professional journalist. I have seen much suffering in my 25 year career. I have written countless stories about the lives of people less fortunate than me. I knew I was prepared for my first medical mission with People For Haiti. I have covered hurricanes, wars, mass murders, fires, tornadoes and floods. I was prepared for everything Haiti was going to throw at me. Or so I thought.
When we began our drive out of the Port-au-Prince airport, I was prepared for the squalor. I was prepared for the tent cities where hundreds of thousands of people have lived since the earthquake in 2010. I was prepared to see people bathing in ankle-deep streams, next to someone doing laundry, upstream from someone gathering drinking water, and near a person going to the bathroom. I saw them all sharing the same contaminated water and I was prepared for it. I was even prepared for the mass grave that is taller than any mountain in my home state of Florida. Tens of thousands are buried there.
I was prepared for the lack of potable water at the orphanage, where we made our home for five days in March, 2013. I was prepared for the risk of malaria, typhoid, hepatitis and every other communicable disease attacking that country.
I knew there would be dozens of children eager, almost begging, for affection at the orphanage. They needed to be held, hugged, pushed on a swing. They needed the surrogate parents we turned into, when we were not busy treating hundreds of sick people, each day, in our medical clinics. I was prepared. I ended up playing with with three boys, in particular. They were aged six to eight. They would line up to sit on my lap, sing a simple song, or jump into my arms for a hug.
All of this, I was prepared for. I took this trip because I wanted to experience the country. I got the experience of a lifetime. It was only five days. However, I had no plans to return. As I said, I was prepared for everything Haiti had to throw at me.
But I was not prepared to see a dozen volunteers with People For Haiti work themselves to exhaustion every day treating 100s of people. They worked miracles in make-shift medical clinics and became visibly upset when they could not do more.
I was not prepared for the nurse who broke down at the sight of a two year old baby who weighed 12 pounds. I was not prepared to see this nurse work 10 hours at a clinic and then sit up all night in a rocking chair with the starving child.
I was not prepared to see a doctor, at the end of a long day, agonize over the condition of a very sick child. Our pharmacy (where I was pressed into service) did not have the right antibiotic to prescribe for the child. The doctor had to settle for second best. He hated settling.
I was not prepared for the triage nurse who cried because the emergency accident victim she helped treat could not get to a decent hospital.
I was not prepared for our group leader’s tears when she witnessed a domestic abuse case and knew there was nothing she could do to help the girl.
I am a realitively dispassionate person. I don’t get rattled easily. But, these volunteers rattled me. They have fallen in love with the misson of helping the people of Haiti. Their dedication convinced me to ask you for your support.
For the price of a Starbucks latte, a martini at happy hour, a pack of cigarettes, or a Happy Meal at McDonald’s, you can buy enough medicine to treat two or three children at a clinic in Haiti. Imagine how much good you can do for so many people! Please, take a moment to help these great people!
One final thought. As we were leaving the orphanage, where we were based, one of the boys I played with (who spoke remarkably good English) wrapped his arms around my neck. I thought he just wanted to say goodbye.
But he whispered in my ear. “When you come back, can you bring me a flashlight?” When I asked why he told me his friend, one of the other boys, was afraid of the dark.
I ws not prepared for that selfless act by an eight year old orphan. It turns out this was not going to be my only trip to Haiti. I am going back, but I will be prepared. I am bringing three extra flashlights, one for each boy.