How much good did we do? Was it just a tiny drop in a vast ocean? Is it possible to care for so many sufferers? Do we not have a duty to reach out as much as possible regardless of the scale of our task? All these and many similar questions troubled me then and continue to engage me now. I knew I would break down at some point because the scale of the human disaster was so overwhelming. To witness destruction on that epic scale, to see so many people displaced, to see so much injury, pain, and misery, was simply shattering. You cannot witness such things without being touched and transformed yourself.
One of our patients on our first day in Port-au-Prince was a young woman suffering from a partly open infected caesarean section. She had walked to our clinic for over an hour in the heat, two days after her caesarean section had been performed and botched. She had no access to any other hospital and had come to us as a last resort. We treated her as best we could, cleaning the wound and giving her antibiotics, with instructions to come back to see us in three days time. When she returned, the wound was still in a poor and unhealthy condition and it was then that we found out that she had lost her baby. Our interpreter advised her to come back again.
It was when this young woman left us that it really hit me. I could not hold back my tears any longer. Hurrying through the crowds of patients and team workers, I hastened up the stairs to the damaged open roof area overlooking a vast sea of misery and sobbed. Yet my tears were of no use to anyone but myself. Tears were a luxury no one could afford in Haiti. I knew I had to pull myself together and rejoin the others, and so I did.
On the way back, George, our dear, kind translator, stopped me. Gently, he barred my way, asking if I was ok and refusing to let me pass. “Sure”, I replied, anxious to show that I was fine. George knew better and insisted on comforting me. Looking directly into my tear-filled eyes, he said something I shall never forget: “Don’t cry in Haiti. We must believe in God and be strong and continue in hope and belief.” So there I was, flooded in tears, being consoled by a young Haitian whose whole world lay shattered in ruins around him. George taught me a valuable lesson: to get my act together, offer all I had, and continue to give whatever I could.
Back at home ... the memory of my two weeks in Haiti refuses to fade. Having seen the devastation and misery at firsthand, is it not our obligation to do so much more to help this suffering land? Of course, I recognize that there are many other poor and devastated countries around the world, but Haiti is a place where we could not only give temporary relief but actually make long-term changes. We could give the Haitian people opportunities, the first steps toward a better future, for them and their children. Is it really possible to return to our comfortable complacency and pretend that Haiti never happened?!
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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