It has been more than six months since the earthquake in Haiti, and I still remember the moment when I heard what had happened. Sitting, stunned, on the set of "House," I felt my stomach plummet. How could I go on working? I knew that the hospitals and schools where I stood only weeks before had little chance of surviving such a horrific beating. I also knew there must be thousands dead. I could never have imagined the number would reach as staggeringly high as 300,000. What followed was a month of sleepless nights, hot tears, desperate pleas for donations, and a constant stream of bad news from our friends on the ground in Port-au-Prince.
But amidst all the disbelief, anxiety, anger, sadness, and frustration, I found a deep well of hope. The world pulled together to offer help, arms held outstretched, pledging not to forget. In that moment I was proud to be a part of an organization that was in a position to offer real, effective assistance to those who needed it most.
So many of you were generous, raising funds immediately to help Artists For Peace and Justice, and other worthy organizations, provide critically needed care. APJ representatives were able to get into the country immediately to provide humanitarian relief, bringing surgeons, medical equipment (such as Morphine, so that amputations would no longer have to be performed using only Motrin) and other emergency supplies. This would have been impossible if not for the donations we received in that first week.
Because we had maintained a presence in Haiti for a year before the earthquake struck, we were soon able to re-focus our efforts on our long term goal of education for the poorest children, while at the same time building a rehabilitation clinic for youngsters who lost limbs and needed prosthetic limbs. This project is ongoing, and recently, when I was back at St Damien's Pediatric Hospital with Father Rick Frechette, where APJ Haiti was born, I marveled at the clinic's in-house factory, where tiny arms and legs are built before being individually fitted, so that the children can receive physical therapy, and begin to move forward with their lives.
Haiti, six months after the earthquake.
On that same trip, I scrubbed up and stood in on the surgery of a three-year-old girl, Fleurengina, whose hand had been badly bitten by rats while she slept in her tent, in one of the many refugee camps, and was now badly infected. APJ's Co-Executive Director, Dr. Reza Nabavian, performed the procedure that saved her from probable amputation. As I listened to her howling cries for her mother, I realized what horrors this child had gone through, how much terror and misery she had seen, and how strong she would have to be to stay afloat in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation. I felt my dedication to her, and her country, solidify in my heart. I want girls like Fleurengina to have a chance at survival, and an education, so that she may grow, armed with the knowledge to help her battered country heal from the inside out.
Almost seven months later, APJ is still firmly planted in Haiti, with many new exciting partnerships allowing us to launch projects such as water purification systems, a mobile clinic, and others, that are making a huge difference in the lives of those hit hardest by the poverty that was grossly intensified by the quake. With the help of the World Food Program, we are thrilled to now be able to secure food and water for 8,000 children a day.
We firmly believe that education is the key to sustainable recovery of this devastated nation. Our school programs are progressing every day, and we have many exciting plans for the future. We have high standards and expectations for our work in Haiti, and we are in it for the long haul.
As things start to look up in Haiti, I pause and remember those who were lost in the dust. In their honor, I choose not to forget. Food, water, shelter and medical care are in short supply. International relief and reconstruction efforts are slowing down when Haiti is most in need of help. It is not OK for us to leave our fellow human beings desperately clawing at survival. We must not look away and throw up our hands. The only ethical and responsible reaction is to take action, and work to break the cycle of suffering.
I am proud to work on behalf of APJ, and I look forward to a day when all Haitian children have a safe place to sleep and play, a healthy meal, a doctor, and a classroom.