On February 19, 2010, we, Jeanne Sica and Kate Barry, embarked on a trip that will forever change our lives and our views on humanity. We traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the R.E.L.I.E.F. Foundation, a branch of the nonprofit organization Clean the World. For the next 5 days, we would concentrate all our energy on providing humanitarian relief for the Haitian people suffering because of the earthquake that had rocked the already impoverished country.
We arrived at the New Life Children’s Home in the early hours of Saturday and proceeded to set up our campsite and unload the 20,000 lb of supplies we had brought with us in the underbelly of our chartered Boeing 737. Not much sleep was had to prepare us for the next days of labor in the summerlike heat. We spent our daytime hours removing rubble, organizing and distributing supplies, building latrines and shower facilities, playing with the orphaned and sick children, and building temporary housing. At night, we crowded around the giant mango tree that served as the focal point of the compound, singing songs and getting to know the loving and captivating children.
To see the devastation in person was a life-altering experience. Driving through the ravaged streets of Port-au-Prince, we couldn’t help but shield our faces from the garbage-ridden city filled with feces and human decay. We were forced to wear filtered face masks and sunglasses to protect ourselves from the thick black smoke that rose from mountains of burning garbage and permeated the city’s air supply.
Somewhat of a daily routine seemed to have resumed among the Haitian people, but without much normalcy. Children will not be able to return to school for up to 3 years. There are no jobs to be had for anyone, save for those few souls working to rebuild their homes. The living conditions in Haiti are deplorable, due only in part as a result of the quake. It is exemplified by poorly paved roads, lack of sewers, little electricity, limited running water, and few toilet facilities. There is no infrastructure and no active government to speak of. The capitol building and national palace lie in rubble, as do the lives of the people around them.
We met children who had lost limbs saving loved ones, only to learn that other family members had suffered a worse fate. We met reverends, priests, and pastors whose churches were the only structures that still stood among the debris of the schools and orphanages they had spent years of their lives building. We met Miriam, the compassionate, selfless, and jovial woman responsible for founding the New Life Children’s Home and for providing our group of 120 volunteers with a safe haven closed off from the destruction of the city. She made us want to push ourselves harder—mentally, physically, and emotionally—to open our ears to children’s stories and see the heartbreak in their eyes and to make life a little easier for the people suffering so deeply. She said both solemnly and assertively, “My biggest fear is what’s going to happen when people forget or move on. When the media leaves and we’re no longer in the news. Haiti still needs help. And will need help for a long time.”
Monday, the last scheduled day of the trip, was time well spent with the children at the orphanage. We played basketball, pushed the children on swings, made arts and crafts, and played tag. More than anything the children just wanted to be held, hugged, and talked to. Hearts were broken as we packed up our supplies (most of which were donated to the orphanage) and left these wonderful children behind with our hearts aching and the sense that our lives would never be the same.
Because of 2 aftershocks that occurred our last day in Haiti, there was an electrical power outage on the runway at the airport, and no planes were allowed to land. The terminal had been condemned after the earthquake, so we were confined to the tarmac outside the building. This is where we spent the next 18 hours with limited sanitation facilities, no cover, and no accurate information on the possibility of our charter plane’s landing clearance. We thank our guardian angels, the United States Air Force, for watching over us and providing us with water, MREs (meals ready to eat), and cots. We arose to the sound of the captain’s voice at 5:30 AM as the sun rose, and finally, at 11 AM, as the temperature reached 90°F, our salvation arrived and we were able to return to our wonderful country.
What we want the civilized world to know, in the words of the mayor of Coral Gables in Miami, Florida (who accompanied us on this trip), is that “Haiti has not given up in the face of such odds. They wake up every day and face their challenges with the conviction that God will provide and that times will get better. I pray that I can exhibit that same positive attitude when something beyond my control goes wrong or a challenge is thrown in my path. We are back from the mission, but the impressions of Haiti and its people will remain a part of my life forever.” We share his sentiment 100%.
We would like to thank all who made this trip possible and those who we know will continue to keep Haiti and its people in their hearts and minds. We must remember that relief does not end with this one journey. This is only the beginning of what may be a 30-year struggle to rebuild their city.
To help those affected by the earthquake, please visit:
Jeanne Sica & Kate Barry