Resiliency in the face of tragedy

As I noted in last week’s column, I am now on the ground, quite literally, in Jacmel, Haiti. Here I lie in my REI tent that I purchased off of craigslist last week, in a field next to the United Nations outpost, across from the small airport where large white helicopters emblazoned with the letters ‘UN’ arrive and depart daily. I share this field with the two Canadian founders of Shelters International Disaster Relief and about a dozen Haitian volunteers who bust their ass for $5 and 3 meals a day, removing rubble from one crumbling site after another. Breakfast consists of corn flakes with diluted condensed milk, lunch is rice and beans with chicken and sauce, and dinner is spaghetti. The weekdays consist of waking up before 7am to dress, eat, and load a pickup truck with wheelbarrows, shovels, and pickaxes, in order to be onsite by 8am. Work ends between 3 and 4pm, with an hour for lunch, and water breaks.

Today we started a new project – clearing a large grade school, L’Ecole Trinitie, where many children died during the earthquake on January 12th. While we’ve been told that all the bodies have been removed, we may still come across more. The work is back-breaking, first using pickaxes to break up the rubble, then shovels to load the wheelbarrows, and then pushing them into the street.

In just a few days I’ve become accustomed to the sight of destruction such that it seems normal. Rubble is everywhere, many second floors are now the first, and tents line the streets. But what I find heartening is that everyone I see is carrying on, running their shops from the street, smiling, laughing, playing music, washing laundry, and zipping up and down roads on the motorcycles that outnumber all other vehicles, honking their horns in a complex form of conversation. Even as the effects of the tragedy are everywhere, the Haitian spirit seems to shine above the debris, giving everyone a sense that life continues on.

Posted by | Comments (5)  | March 11, 2010
Category: Volunteering Abroad

5 Responses to “Resiliency in the face of tragedy”

  1. Aaron H Says:

    Great post, Ted. And great work.

  2. brian Says:

    Take care and be safe.