The TJMS’ spring break was a time of service. My crew – Sybil, Nikki Woods, Mary Boyce, my wife, Donna, and seven others – flew to Haiti to volunteer at country’s only hospital run by Project Medishare. It was an experience of a lifetime. Seeing it first-hand is the only thing that allows you fully comprehend what happened, what’s needed and why they have such a long journey ahead of them.
Arrived in Haiti, went straight to hospital/tents and took a tour of the facility. After that, we went on a tour of the downtown area. Such devastation – and that was 40 miles away from the epicenter! But people have moved on with their lives. No one seems to be dwelling on the disaster. They are real survivors. The people, patients and doctors seem so upbeat, in spite of the circumstance. But we didn’t come here to look; we came here to work. Tomorrow morning, we start our first 12-hour shift in the hospital.
We walked in the tent that was designated to house medical supplies. It was about 95 degrees, dusty and full of aisles with shelves made of plywood. There was a lot of stuff on the shelves and just as much stuff in boxes that lined each aisle, and lots of hot sweaty people waiting for us to come in there and straighten things out. We were game. That’s what we’d come to do.
Sybil and senior producer Nikki, the best multi-taskers in the group, were assigned to logistics that included computer work, filing, drawing maps and cleaning the refrigerator of the triage unit. But we were hoping to come into the supply room and get it together so that when we left, you knew someone had come in and made a difference.
But here was the problem. Not only were there too many supplies and not a good system in place; not everyone there was even following the wack system that they had. There were a lot of mini-systems. Plus, people were tired and hot and had been there for a week. We had just gotten there, so we were excited to do good work.
Yes, we took a lot of breaks; yes, we lost one soldier to dehydration and talked about her real bad, but when we left the site for lunch and returned, someone said, “We didn’t think you were coming back.” They thought we were there for a photo-op or just to say we had come; it wasn’t like that at all. But at the end of the day, I realized that although we made some progress, the problem was much bigger than the mess that existed inside that tent. The real problem was communication between people who were sending supplies and the people who know what supplies are really needed. There was way too much stuff that would probably never be unpacked or would be thrown away because it was useless –like opened sterile bandages and expired medication or just items that were unidentifiable. That is a waste of money, space and time because the only way it can be determined unusable is for someone to go through it first.
There were so many items doctors and nurses really needed to treat patients right away. Some of them were properly shelved and easy to find, but a lot of them were anybody’s guess, and that was the hardest part.
So many people, like us, want to do something, but you have to make sure not only that what you’re doing counts, but that it is the best thing at the time. I never would have thought that way before going to Haiti. But we would all be of much more service if we chose an organization to give to, contacted that organization or someone we know who can and asked them what’s needed, what amount, what form, and what at intervals it’s needed. Otherwise, I know now that your good intentions will end up stacked up with a box of other stuff waiting to be gone through. And that’s being optimistic.
The men (and in the words of Michael Jackson’s body guards, “Men know men”) under my leadership returned to the supply tent, and the women went to visit an orphanage. When we got back to the tent, it was the same old story. More dusty boxes and more lack of organization, but we pressed forward and worked for several hours.
The women said their time at the orphanage was inspiring, but they came away believing also that identifying a good organization and determining their need and the best way to supply that need is the key. The place they visited housed more than 100 children. Some were living there because their relatives are homeless and have no where to bring them once they’re treated for their injuries. But most were there because their parents have died or abandoned them for some reason or another.
My Donna brought Michael Jackson music and danced with the kids while they ate lollipops donated by St. Philip’s School and Community Center in Dallas. If you ever wondered if MJ really had universal appeal, all you had to do is watch the joy on the faces of kids – in casts, with stitches and braces – do their best moves to “Beat It.”
The children at the orphanage ranged in age from infants to teenagers. And because there’s so much bureaucracy, corruption and abuse of the system, an administrator at the orphanage said if someone wanted to adopt one of the children, she has no idea how they would go about it!
So, it’s less about the problems in Haiti and more about the systems or lack of systems in place to solve them.
But as with most things, education is the key. If you don’t really know what’s going on, your perception is your reality. We were no different. Before we went there, I got the same reports you did from CNN, MSNBC and the other network news organizations. They were camped out in one spot, outside the airport (because they couldn’t get anywhere else), reporting the same stories over and over.
Like you, I thought there would be chaos, looting, lawlessness, poverty and hopelessness. That’s what mainstream media told you was going because sexy and sensational gets people’s attention. I’m not mad at them. They’re in business to get people to watch their news shows. They have to do it – a jacked-up economy has caused them to make huge budget cuts, and they have to compete with TMZ, whose journalism style is to report the story first, and ask questions later. TMZ said Michael Jackson was dead hours before CNN would confirm it. So, CNN had to resort to attributing the “rumor” of his death to TMZ until they were positive that it was true. That gave TMZ more power, publicity and credibility than it deserves, but it is what it is. Either way, it has absolutely put the heat on all main stream media outlets. So, while they’re going after the stories of crime, corruption and devastation, no one is telling the story of a little country who isn’t waiting for anyone to put it back together.
I saw it with my own eyes. People cleaning up the streets, rebuilding their homes and businesses in a way that is so slow and tedious that you and I would wonder, “Why bother?” But they are bothering. They’re working, building, selling, buying, going to church, everything they were doing before the earthquake. Some have returned to their homes in the day time, but at night, they sleep in tents because they’re afraid of another earthquake. We all are so concerned about the rainy season coming in April, but they’re concerned about today, this moment, this time. Every day, they do more, and it doesn’t matter whether we see any progress or not. They’re not trying to impress us.
So, I came there expecting to see hopeless poverty. And what I actually saw was poverty with hope.