It is true that Child Family Health International does not have any programs in Haiti. It is also true that we are part of the world community and, in a situation like this, if there is a way for us to help, we will do all that we can do, as we did in the Asian Tsunami and have done in other events over the years. CFHI has actually worked in the past with our friends at VIDA and a Haitian partner, the Consortium for the Development of Haiti, to send medical supplies to a number of grassroots clinics and hospitals. It was a very successful endeavor. And so when news of the earthquake came, we tried to re-initiate our successful partnership and get disaster relief supplies to Haiti as quickly as possible. We sent out a message to CFHI supporters, who were already contacting us to find ways to help, and they responded generously.
Our great friends at VIDA (Volunteers for Inter-American Development Assistance) were also right on it, and within about 24 hours of the Tuesday quake, they had assembled over one million dollars in urgently needed first aid and disaster medical supplies. Being on the West Coast, we found ourselves at a disadvantage as the access to the airport and other avenues to get supplies in were quickly clogged. It was also only later, by late Friday and Saturday, that the impact of the earthquake on the functionality of the airport and the seaport were really known. Once it was obvious that all avenues to get supplies in would have to go through the military (directly or indirectly) and staging areas in Florida and other close points, we realized that there was no way to get a shipment directly to Haiti.
We found great support from another wonderful NGO, MedShare, which recently opened a warehouse on the West Coast. They were dealing with the same issues, and through their East Coast connections, were able to get shipments into the pipeline for Haiti. We are grateful for all this collaboration and happy to be in such good company. Our role is very small but, as we are seeing, if we all pitch in and do what we can, a big difference can be made.
On a personal note, having spent some time in Haiti in the early ’90s, when I worked for Food For The Poor, I was moved by the earthquake through the memories that I carry. My visits to Haiti gave me an experience that has stayed with me ever since. The overall work of Food For The Poor was refreshingly simple: provide for basic needs, and develop ways for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Expecting to find people beaten down by poverty, I was challenged to reevaluate my assumptions. Sure the poverty was there, and it was among the worst I have seen anywhere in the world, and some of the people were caught in its clutches in a way that made it hard for them to break free. But, as I have seen in other places, that wasn’t the whole story. By and large, I saw, in Haiti, people who did not let poverty define them or their happiness. These are the people that don’t make the news but carry on their lives as best they can. I gained deep respect for people who perhaps had a better sense of the important things in life than I did. It was a lesson I have tried never to forget and one that I am reminded of again as I see images that trigger forgotten memories of sadness and beauty, despair and hope all mixed and juxtaposed in a society so abused by history, and so full of potential. The people of Haiti re-taught me lessons of never making assumptions, of never writing anyone off, and of the richness that comes from allowing another person, another culture, to change the way I think. I carry these lessons to my work today, even as I carry the memories and, too, the hope that the resounding resilience of the Haitian people and their great joy in living will raise them up, once again, from being dealt a terrible blow.