The drive west from Port-au-Prince was as haunting as it was heartbreaking. The earthquake had destroyed 90 percent of the buildings in the city of Léogane. And amid the crumbled homes and shops I could see even more bodies -- ones that weren't there when we'd passed one day earlier.
Each victim reminded me not only of what Haiti has lost but also how long the road to recovery will be. Because, ultimately, it's the Haitian people who will rebuild their country -- brick by brick, book by book.
This belief is at the core of how CARE is responding in Haiti, where we have worked since 1954. Instead of just pulling up with a truck full of food or supplies, CARE is empowering members of the community to partner with us in distribution.
On our team's initial visit to Léogane the day before, we had met with the mayor and other city leaders. We told them of CARE's plan to hand out water, jerry cans and hygiene kits. And we asked that they identify the most vulnerable members of their community -- pregnant women, children, elderly people -- and give them tiny "chits" that could be exchanged for the supplies.
Patrick Solomon, CARE's Senior VP of Gloabal Support Services, surveys distributions in Léogane, where CARE partnered with the community to give out household hygiene kits that include soap, toothpaste, mosquito nets, and sanitary napkins among other basic items. CARE also installed water bladders to provide clean, safe drinking water to the population.
(Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/CARE)
The result was amazing to witness. As we arrived, it was apparent that the people of Léogane had developed a plan for the distribution of 1,500 jerry cans and 1,200 hygiene kits. Volunteers had indeed handed out the chits within some of the 14 tent cities that have sprung up around Léogane. And they directed us to the driveway of a telecom building now serving as makeshift town hall because the municipal buildings were destroyed. Then, in an orderly line, people were escorted to the back of the building where the distribution took place. They handed over the chits, which were then marked with specific items received to prevent duplication.
But perhaps the most inspiring sight was of young girl and boy scouts helping maintain order. The boys served as security and emotional support as CARE delivered buckets containing a hygiene kit of soap, sanitary napkins, and toiletries to the women of Léogane. They stood guard to help control the anxious people gathering outside. The female scouts -- some are called "Girls Guides" -- provided gentle guidance, walking alongside the tired and frightened women as they braved the crowds and noonday heat.
Girl scout Jonie Estin meets with her scoutmaster and a CARE staffer to plan a distribution in central Léogane.
Joanie Estin was among those helping, her blue kerchief tied neatly over her beige dress. The 22-year-old wore the colors of the Ste. Rose de Lima Scouts of Léogane. "We try to advise the people on how to stay calm, and we help the international agencies with the distributions," Joanie said with pride. "For me, it's a good deed. It helps me feel better."
Feel better because Joanie, like many of the scouts, is trying to cope with her own personal tragedy. She lost her father in the earthquake. He was the only one inside when her house collapsed.
Yet here Joanie was, dressed in that uniform of honor, helping her fellow survivors pick up the pieces of their lives. That kind of will-do spirit is necessary for Haiti to rise again.
But it's not enough.
The people of Haiti will need partners to join hands with them as they construct new schools, new hospitals and, perhaps one day, a new sense of optimism. We at CARE have already sent in the reinforcements to help our 133 staffers -- all but one of them Haitian -- who were on the ground when the earthquake changed their lives forever. CARE is digging in for the long haul and developing a five-year plan to help rebuild Haiti. And we will continue to take a community-based approach.
Boy scouts help CARE staff unload hygiene kits in Léogane
Already, young women such as Joanie are taking the first steps. After the earthquake, she was able to crawl in the back door to her house and retrieve a few belongings. She found a few clothes and a cosmetics case. Then she pulled something else from the rubble: her scouting uniform.
It was a reminder of what the earthquake couldn't take away.