Haitian update: Hope amidst the rubble

(Editor’s Note: Chairman Anne Mulcahy and Joseph Cahalan, president of the Xerox Foundation, recently visited Haiti.  Here is Joe’s account of what they found. Anne visited Haiti on behalf of Save the Children.  In addition to her Xerox responsibilities, Anne will become chairman of Save the Children’s board on March 1.)

— Submitted By Joseph Cahalan

You get it immediately.

The airport terminal in Port-au-Prince is unusable; the control tower inoperable; the tarmac congested with passenger planes disembarking relief workers and volunteers and cargo planes unloading medical supplies, water and food.  A disproportionate number of people with missing limbs hobble about on make-shift crutches trying to arrange flights out.  A young woman tries in vain to comfort her two children who are hungry, frightened and disoriented.

As you survey the scene, a Haitian sums it up with brutal brevity: “Before the earthquake, we had nothing.  Now we have less.”

It’s nearly two weeks since the earthquake ripped thorough this small island nation without warning, destroying everything in its wake.  The toll is beginning to be clear – perhaps as clear as it will ever be: 150,000 dead; 200,000 seriously injured; 500,000 homeless; countless missing.

If the numbers are mind-numbing and hard to comprehend, the personal tragedies behind them are heart-wrenching and impossible to ignore.  There are children whose parents are missing and perhaps gone.  There are families whose homes and all their earthly belongings have been destroyed.  Amputations without anesthesia or proper surgical instruments are commonplace.  Mothers are seen begging rescue teams to keep looking for their infants, unable to accept the inevitable.  People roam the streets in search of food

It’s a cruel irony that the infrastructure designed to help in a crisis like this has received a crippling blow.  Some hospitals which are in desperate need have been reduced to mounds of crushed concrete and debris.  An obstetrics center stands abandoned, its roof caved in upon itself.  The headquarters of the United Nations mission, which normally would be leading the relief effort, has been demolished and dozens of its employees killed.  In downtown Port-au-Prince, everywhere you look – everywhere – you see destruction and suffering and death.

It would be so, so easy to lose hope, but Haiti inspires it.  News reports of violence or looting, while accurate, are grossly misleading.  The streets are safe.  People with nothing are helping people with less.  The worst of the medical horrors are over.  The dead are being buried.  Water and food are being distributed.  Make shift camps are being organized.  Markets are just beginning to re-open.  Some of the banks are allowing people to withdraw much needed cash.  Long lines are forming at Western Union offices where Haitians are receiving money from family members living abroad.  The tiny signs of better days are first and foremost a remarkable testimony to the resiliency, optimism and faith of the Haitian people.

But they are also a remarkable testimony to the decency of the human family.  Scores of relief agencies are augmenting their existing efforts in Haiti and new Non-Government Organizations have arrived to lend their help.  Countless thousands of volunteers are on the ground – doctors and other medical staff, fire and rescue workers, teachers and social workers, caring people from around the world who have left their lives behind to help Haitians find new ones here.

Xerox has invested money in four organizations all of whom were already in Haiti: The American Red Cross, Save The Children, Concern Worldwide and Doctors Without Borders.  

“Xerox people can be proud that they are part of the solution.  Our funds are making a difference,” said Chairman Anne Mulcahy.  “We’re playing a small part in a larger effort to help a country that has been though so much to survive this latest catastrophe.

“I hope people will consider making personal donations.  No amount is too small.  Soon the media will leave Haiti, and the spotlight will fade.  We can’t forget.  The need will continue to be great for a very long time.

“Next on the agenda,” she emphasized, “is replacing bed sheets strung on wire as shelter with more protective tents.  That has to happen before the rains descend in March.”

And so the need, the challenge and the work goes on.  If the last two weeks are a good indication, Haiti will rise again – a triumph of the human spirit.

Anne Mulcahy visits a safe play area in Port-au-Prince.  Photo Credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas, Polaris
Anne Mulcahy visits a safe play area in Port-au-Prince. Photo Credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas, Polaris

— Joe Cahalan, president, Xerox Foundation


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  1. Noemi Lehning August 27, 2010 - Reply

    Thanks for the Information, thanks for your useful Article. Really great topic to write about on my Blog. I might make a bookmark from another Website. Medical Eye Doctors

  2. Tiffani Doyle September 2, 2010 - Reply

    It’s great to see the company we work for stepping up and getting involved to help the people of Haiti. The article above really made an important point when it said, “Soon the media will leave, and the spotlight will fade.” It’s been almost 8 months since the earthquake, and thousands are still living in tents, buildings are still collapsed, and rubble is still everywhere. I visited Haiti in June with 2 of my sons and have seen it first hand. We can’t forget about the people of Haiti. They still need our help. I urge everyone to get involved. You can visit the following website for more information on how you can help http://www.restorehaiti.com.

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