Don't Cry in Haiti: Part 1

Vered Schimmel-Lifschitz

I ask myself again and again, what have I given to the Haitian people? Did I give; did I help as much as I could have done? They gave me so much of themselves.

It has been so hard to respond to the simple question asked by friends and family, “How was Haiti?” It is a question I couldn’t answer … so I found myself sharing photos that captured more vividly than words the chaos, the color, and the human drama of my time there. Every picture tells a story, but a story I have to explain. And as I do so, once again I am flooded with a passionate desire to return.

There have been other disasters. Why did this particular disaster have such an exceptional pull on my heart? Maybe because the people of Haiti had suffered so much already. Why should they, of all people, be struck by this additional tragedy? I could imagine the story hitting the headlines for a few days and then public interest fading as the next sensational story came to the front. I determined that I at least would not forget.

My dearest friend Limor and I seem to have a single mind. We were both fortunate in having supportive families who encouraged our dream of going out to help. Everything had been arranged, and we found ourselves at Port-au-Prince at the start of a nine-day visit, made possible by two wonderful aid agencies: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and their partners on the ground, Heart to Heart (HTH)…. We were met by JDC’s incredible man on the ground, Gideon Herscher, tasked with ensuring that the monies raised (in response to the quake) were efficiently and effectively spent….

Even in the midst of disaster, we were treated like welcome guests. Limor and I were eager to give everything we could. We were given the most heartwarming welcome by the HTH team and were introduced to the American doctors, nurses, and the paramedic whom we were to get to know so well in the coming days. The coordinator and manager of all HTH clinics and volunteers in Haiti continue to amaze me. His days and nights of work are admirable. Josh, you are amazing!

It is hard to describe the scenes of desolation we encountered…. I am still haunted by the image of tent cities, rows upon rows of primitive dwellings housing huddled families, without any of the comforts we take for granted. The heat, humidity, and relentless rain, pouring over hundreds of thousands of flimsy tents, made every day even worse. It was as if the weather itself was an evil spirit making war against these tragic sufferers.

On our first morning we were driven to our main clinic in Port-au-Prince, in a huge truck that had been sponsored by JDC. It was one of several trucks and jeeps carrying the JDC logo. The journey would normally have taken 20 minutes, but the poor road conditions had been worsened by rubble and damage from the earthquake and the journey became a bumpy assault course lasting at least one and a half hours. It was hot, painful (Limor flew off the bench), and exhausting–yet we were looking forward to our day of work…. [To be continued.]

For an update on JDC’s impact and ongoing activities in Haiti, visit www.jdc.org/haiti

Vered Schimmel-Lifschitz, the wife of JDC Board member Jacky Schimmel, is deeply engaged in JDC’s global mission and travelled to Haiti, together with a friend, so that they could assist as volunteers in the clinics following the country’s deadly earthquake.

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