Thursday, January 13, 2011

Haiti Earthquake Refelections

Last evening (January 12, 2011) one year to the day, after the big earthquake, the ground shook yet again.  This time the earthquake was centered far to the East, and of low magnitude.  I didn't even feel it, but others reported feeling the ground shake.  It's just a reminder that we live in a fragile universe.  I had some reflections for the anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake.  Please read on if you're interested...

What were your primary concerns in the week after the quake?
•    Getting status of friends in Port-au-Prince area
•    Finding lost friends
•    Comforting the widow and kids of my friend (who disappeared in the quake)
•    Keeping communication systems up and running at the hospital
•    Keeping up with email and questions from abroad.
•    Helping prepare for, coordinate and host medical teams through VMM.

How have they changed?
•    Some of these concerns still exist, some of the unknowns are now known.  For example, my friend that still hasn’t shown up is dead.

How has the atmosphere at your hospital changed?
•    The hospital where I work was extremely busy, with lots of patients coming from Port-au-Prince.  This had a short-term effect of a ton of patients.  Then the additional health providers arrived.  This brought in new life to the hospital that was struggling financially.  It also brought in a psychological counseling center and a prosthetics manufacturing group.  All of these new groups of people has been revitalized yet again with the helping hand of visitors coming to help treat the cholera patients.  There is now more access to resources like helicopter for air evacuation, and more sharing of knowledge and resources among organizations.

How has the landscape around you changed?
•    If you were interviewing someone in Port-au-Prince they would probably mention the crumbled buildings that still need to be cleaned up or the slow construction of new buildings.  Funds were sent within the first weeks after the quake for the Oasis of Faith Christian Church, and that building has been rebuilt and is one bright spot in the slow rebuilding story.

What have you learned?
•    I’ve learned that God has everything in His control.  The timing of the earthquake was ideal.  About 5PM, many people were outside on their way home from work or school, which saved their lives.  Rainy season was still months away which was fortunate for the people living in tents.  After hearing story after story of survivors and the close encounters they had with death, God has everything in his control;  Missionaries who had just finished shopping at the Caribbean Market that collapsed.  People who were talking on their cell phones and stepped outside to hear better.  You’re not going to die unless God allows it!
•    I also learned that people will taking advantage of the situation.  For example, I have a friend who’s house was partially damaged, but she opted to live in the tent city so her child could be part of “school” activities, and she would qualify for food and other free handouts.
•    When visiting the tent cities right after the quake the typical response was “What do you have to give me, White?”  Even on days that we were not having clinic, but just doing announcement for the film in the evening, they seemed happy just to know that we were there, that God loved them, and that we loved and cared about them too!
•    The Haitian people really cared for each other.  They always seemed happy to share what they had among others, even in these difficult circumstances.  One day at a tent city, there was someone asking what I had for them, and I said I had nothing.  They had a bowl of food in their hands, and I suggested (jokingly) that they give me some.  They seemed honored to share with me.

What do you wish had been done differently?
•    I wish I could have done more.  All of the people who suffered through these events.  I wish I could have done more than sit paralyzed in my office at the hospital trying to keep communications going.  I wish I could have been more practical.  I wish I was part of a prepared disaster first-responder group.  I wish I had been able to provide basic necessities immediately after the crisis.

Is the community around you still dealing with the effects of the quake daily?
•    Even today they continue to fit and make prosthetics.  I can hear the machines working from my house.
•    Yes, the earthquake here will NEVER be forgotten.  We had a special commemorative ceremony yesterday morning (the one-year anniversary of the quake) to remember our fallen comrades.
 
Thinking over these questions and remembering everything that has transpired has provoked deep emotions in me.  I’m not sure if I should rejoice, or cry, or what.  All of that and it’s been a whole year since it all happened.