Ready To Rebuild

I remember this moment in February, 2010. It was a time of extreme challenge and difficult to separate my days from night. Eventually, pure exhaustion settled my mind to rest. But for the most part, my mornings began as remnants. I did not sleep well. It was my first international humanitarian mission. Bedtime was spent on a concrete slab, cardboard sheets and blankets – along with a family of thirty inside a large makeshift tent. The chill of nightfall and dank winds would often sneak in. 

The indoor bathroom was a communal five-gallon bucket. And while falling asleep was tormenting in some regards, I was refreshed every morning by a chorus of little angels. I do not speak Creole but I could feel what those children were singing: “Haiti! Haiti! Transform tragedy into triumph. Every day is a new day. Sing grateful, the joys of life.” 

Often, I left our tent empowered and with a robust sense of purpose. I truly enjoyed those gifts of song from the children. Neglect and displacement are no strangers to me because of my childhood living in foster care and, so, emotionally, I could empathize with their situation. Departing that tent, I was ready to learn from and assist a culturally rich Caribbean capital. In essence, I was ready to rebuild. 

Our organizational lead directed me to the Haitian Red Cross base camp to volunteer. He speaks Creole, French, Spanish and English and has a phenomenally innate sense of how to maneuver bureaucracy in order to survive. An hour later, I find myself standing on the bed of a moving diesel truck with disaster response volunteers from around the world; there were no spoken words, no introductions or complaints. Everyone was on a mission. 

As we arrive to the point of distribution in Port-au-Prince, I witness a sea of human beings from atop the diesel truck as I peer over a barbed-wire fence. Massive crowds inside a temporary camp clamoring toward the entrance to obtain food assistance. Our disaster relief unit joined a much larger team already on the ground. We may have had 100 volunteers but at this site there were thousands of Haitians who had been neglected, both historically and in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. 

My immediate thought was: this is going to be unlike anything I could have ever anticipated. It took our team leaders two hours after arrival to maintain order because we were faced with unparalleled levels of chaos and anxiety. On this day, our capacity was 3,000 boxes of rice; 3,000 ready to eat meals and 20,000 bottles of water. It was a Herculean task.

This photo was taken by our organizational lead as we provided boxes of food until the supply was emptied. It accurately captures the drive and lethargy I was feeling by daybreak. Furthermore, I’m not sure how to honestly articulate the rest of this experience or how to convey how much I valued being a part of the recovery effort. But this much I know: “Haiti! Haiti! Transform tragedy into triumph. Every day is a new day. Sing grateful, the joys of life.”

Haiti Journal by Happy Johnson | Photo Courtesy of Davou Thompson