03/27/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

WFP Staff Heroes in Haiti Keep Working Despite Personal Losses

Gumel Henry rose before dawn the day of January 12, awakened by an irresistible compulsion to document the cherished components of his life -- his family members and the home he'd worked so hard for.

He lined up his children -- Girard, Graham, Emeline and Ralph -- neat and fresh-faced in their school uniforms, to snap their photograph. As he turned the lens on his house, he noticed a strange and ominous pattern of dark clouds forming overhead. In the photograph, you can see the glowing corner window of his living-room, a beacon of light amid a gathering storm.

Twelve hours later, at 4:53 p.m., as Gumel was wrapping up his work day at the World Food Programme (WFP) office, the earth shrugged violently -- and Gumel's world shattered around him.

Without a second thought, he dashed home. School had finished for the day, and his four children would be there. As he ran, he passed rows of buildings collapsed like a chain of dominoes.

When Gumel entered his front gate, he found his two-story house in ruins -- his children trapped beneath the rubble. He tried first with his hands, then raced back to the office to fetch shovels and picks.

Frantically, he dug -- finally reaching his eldest son, 15-year-old Girard Gumel Jr., five hours later. Covered in white plaster dust and in shock, he was in a life-threatening condition. The other two boys, 13-year-old Graham and the youngest, Ralph, were then pulled out of the ruins: Graham was seriously injured with a broken leg, while Ralph sustained head injuries.

Days later, from a hospital in Santo Domingo, in neighboring Dominican Republic, where the three boys were airlifted and treated, Gumel told me that his wife and youngest daughter, Emeline, had escaped the house without injury.

Gumel's heroic efforts did not stop with his immediate family. He worked into the night to help dig out one of his neighbors, then rushed to a sister's house, because he knew she would be there with three fellow university students.

Tragically -- while he and others dug out two of the students alive from the rubble -- Gumel's sister and another student did not survive Haiti's bitter night.

Meanwhile, Graham needed an urgent blood transfusion, but his blood type was not available. Jayne Adams, officer-in-charge at WFP's Santo Domingo office, pushed out urgent appeals to WFP staff until she found someone with the same blood type to donate.

"I am a hardened emergency guy, but when I heard that story, my heart turned," Peter Casier, one of hundreds of WFP staffers from outside Haiti who volunteered to assist in the Haiti relief effort, told me later. "This is an excellent illustration of how WFP staff pulls together in an emergency situation and how we take care of each other."

All of our staff in Haiti have suffered losses and hardships, great and small, but nearly everyone is back on the job, helping even less fortunate compatriots who are hungry and homeless. With most staff homes either completely or partially destroyed, the WFP compound has been transformed into a tent city; others are sleeping in their yards or on the streets. And yet, they come to work, day after day, soldiering past their own needs. Their commitment is humbling -- and inspiring to the rest of us.

Augustin Jocelyn, one of our drivers in Port-au-Prince, found the body of his 24-year-old
in the ruins of her university the day after the quake. The next day, he was back at work. "Everyone is driving. Everyone is suffering," he said. "It is painful, but that is our job."

WFP's staff associations are arranging a global collection for our colleagues in Haiti next week, with a target of $250,000.

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