January 24, 2010

Surviving Haiti

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I had moved to Haiti on Thursday, January 7th, 2010 to begin a job as the Nutrition Training Coordinator for the GHESKIO Centres – HIV/AIDS and TB clinics that collaborate with Weill Cornell’s Medical College. I had just begun to get adjusted to living in Haiti. However, the series of events to follow were not as smooth. On Tuesday evening, January 12, only five days after having arrived in the country, a 7.0+ earthquake hit Port-au-Prince and many of its surrounding areas. I was at the GHESKIO clinic at the time of the quake – only a few miles away from the epicenter. The buildings at the clinic did not fall, and by a stroke of good luck, I was left unhurt by the quake.

It’s still a little difficult to describe what my colleagues and I saw. Most of the buildings had collapsed. There were thousands of people in the streets filled with many ranges of emotions and feelings. Many were in shock. There were many, like us, focused toward their families and homes, others were at the side of the road. There were people crying, people with their arms stretched out praying, people working to pull out others from under cement, people who laid lifeless under the rubble. By the time we approached our home, people were setting up camp in the middle of the street because there was no other place to go. Needless to say, I did not sleep very much. I was surprised to hear, between the crying and silence and the screams during the aftershocks, much prayer and song.

Overall, the aftermath was devastating. Inconceivable. But despite this, the resilience of the Haitian people has been astounding; friends, family, neighbors and strangers are supporting one another in this time of need, and those efforts have been the crux of what I’ve witnessed. The sense of community and selflessness that exists in Haiti is profound (even before the disaster). Amidst the grief, horror and fear, people were supporting one another in this time of need. From the doctors at GHESKIO who, despite personal losses, were already at the clinic working on Wednesday, to the family that stayed with us that first night, who had a neighbor who had broken both arms (who Wednesday during the day found her family and inquired of open hospitals for her to receive care), to the people lifting concrete off of the bodies of strangers that first day we walked home, to the director of GHESKIO, a Haitian Cornell graduate, it has been a true example of community, and I am extremely appreciative to have been able to witness it. It was inspiring.

I am currently safe with my family in Santo Domingo, working on relief efforts from here. I can no longer tell a story of the earthquake and its effect beyond this point. If I were to have stayedor returned,I would be using up the limited resources that are available, instead of providing needed support. I believe that support of the relief efforts is currently one of the best ways to contribute. I’ve been recommending family and friends to donate to GHESKIO. It is close to many highly-impacted areas and is working for both short and long-term goals of Haiti. GHESKIO consists of experts who know the people, the language, the needs, etc. GHESKIO’s main community of support is Cornell University. As such, it needs our help more than ever. More information of GHESKIO can be found at http://weill.cornell.edu/globalhealth.

I know many people reading the Sun are students on “tight-budgets”, but every little bit counts. Cornell students need to think beyond the hill . We, as Ivy League students, have been given tools that not everyone around the world has. We should use them not for our sole benefit, but for our communities . Otherwise, as humanity, we’re not going to move forward. So whether it is organizing relief efforts on campus or personally writing an e-mail to family, friends and alumni promoting a cause, you can have an impact. I can guarantee that it won’t affect your study time that much. In fact, it might even make you more efficient.

I hope that you will keep Haiti in your thoughts for the coming months, as it is a place full of love and life, but also full of great need.

Men anpil, chay pa lou; ansam nou kapab. [With many hands, the burden is light; together we can].

Elizabeth Fox ‘09 is a Nutrition Training Coordinator at GHESKIO Centres. She may be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically.

Original Author: Elizabeth Fox