When I visited Haiti after January's earthquake, I met so many children who had lost parents, siblings, homes, schools, and endured horrors no child should ever experience. One little girl in pigtails still stands out in my mind. She had been playing in a courtyard outside her school when the ground started to buckle beneath her. Her first thought: God is teaching me how to fly. She soon realized, as she described to me, that her feet were where they were supposed to be, but the ground wasn't. She locked arms with her fellow students, knelt down, and prayed. I think of this little girl now and imagine her standing in that courtyard, surrounded by rubble. And I wonder what her future will bring.
It has been six months since one of the worst natural disasters of our time struck the already struggling country of Haiti. The immediate outpouring of compassion from Americans was stunning. We stood with Haiti in her hour of greatest need.
Six months later, the cameras are long gone, and Haiti is, once again, in danger of being overlooked and forgotten. For many years, this deeply impoverished country plagued by neglect and conflict had registered barely a blip on the world's radar. A terrible, unprecedented tragedy changed that -- but only briefly. Some people may now be wondering what happened to all the money that was donated -- whether that money did any good, whether anything was accomplished in Haiti.
I would like to answer such concerns with a resounding, "Yes!" One of the most remarkable stories out of Haiti -- and one that has not been widely reported -- is about what hasn't happened. In the earthquake's immediate aftermath, there were very real fears of a second wave of disaster. A lack of clean water in makeshift tent camps could have led to a cholera epidemic or widespread and lethal diarrhea. A deadly spike in malnutrition among displaced populations could have claimed many lives. An outbreak of measles could have imperiled already vulnerable children. Yet, none of this has occurred, in part, because the colossal humanitarian relief effort in Haiti has worked. Despite unbelievable obstacles and rubble-choked streets, a massive, coordinated flow of aid -- including clean water, medicines, food, and immunizations -- has reached hundreds of thousands of children and families. In other words, all of that generosity did make a difference -- an immeasurable difference -- to scores of people who may otherwise not have survived.
There are so many other success stories of families reunited, of children returning to school, of life beginning anew. But we would be naïve to think we are out of the woods yet. Conditions remain precarious for the 1.6 million people who continue to live in makeshift camps (a number that nearly matches the population of Manhattan). An outbreak of deadly disease is still a threat. Not to mention that hurricane season is looming -- an especially terrifying prospect if you live in a tent.
Boston, Miami, and New York are home to some of the largest Haitian communities outside of Haiti. Many Americans know someone who was directly impacted by the earthquake. And I believe when your neighbor's house burns down, you don't just help them put out the fire -- you help them rebuild. And you check in on that neighbor for years to come. I believe that as Americans, we have a responsibility to keep Haiti on the world's radar -- and to offer our support as the country charts a new course for the years ahead.
And it is not just a matter of saving lives. With this monstrous calamity, comes a significant opportunity. Before the earthquake, many of Haiti's children were already facing a crisis, deprived of basic health care, adequate food, clean water, and the chance to go to school. Those children deserve the chance to grow up healthy and safe, and we have the power to make sure that they do.
I can picture two futures for that little girl in pigtails. One is a daily struggle defined by poor health and the absence of a quality education. The other is a vibrant life full of opportunity. It's up to us to help decide which one she gets.