Friday, February 12, 2010

Things I Can't Wait to Tell You About Haiti

I'm back from the big trip to Haiti. There are so many things to tell you and to share, and honestly it is hard to know where to start. There are so many stories, experiences, feelings, people, places, and more to tell you. So I'll start first with telling you the things I can't wait to tell you about. Rather than the usual travelogue diary, I will break things down into subjects, and not day by day activities.Today's subject- service.

It is an incredible experience to be able to spend every day in the service of the most humble of people. The days were not about me. They were about helping our serve Haiti. (My role primarily being a support role to the camp and organizers.) We served. I can honestly say no one complained. Sure there were little comments made here and there about how much we all came to hate MRE's, (seriously, the egg omelet MRE is of the devil), how much we missed showering, and oh my stars and garters, the state of the latrines. We jokingly made comments about the trivial things. But no one, not once, ever complained.

Sidenote: At this moment in time I am sitting outside, on the tarmac, at Port au Prince airport. We have no idea how many hours we might be sitting here. We're tired. We're sweaty. We're hungry. And we're all anxious to be getting home. But no one is complaining. That being said, I'm eating a beans with potato MRE, and I think the inventor of this particular flavor may be trying to kill off the US Army one by one. As gross as it is, I am still always acutely aware of how much more I have than the average Haitian family. My food may be an MRE, but at least I have food. And I won't have to stand in a line for hours tomorrow to get a bag of rice from USAID.

Back to service-
We served in many capacities. We truly arrived in country not knowing what to expect. Our people were construction people, medical people, and translators. Our translators were all former missionaries for our church in Creole speaking missions (primarily Haiti, but also in Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Bahamas, and Boston). We had approximately 40 translators, which, for the record, is way more than the Red Cross and the Army has. We brought surgeons, physical therapists, nurses, medics, and EMTs. And our talented construction crew was skilled in a dozen different ways.

When we arrived in country we identified the different existing clinics and hospitals where volunteers were serving. Our medical personnel were assigned to go work at the different locations. One of our nurses became a key director in one hospital, and one of our doctors was a crucial member at another hospital.
No matter where we went we all wore our navy blue t-shirts that read “Utah Hospital Task Force” across them. Our shirts were known and recognized all around Port au Prince. I doubt we all truly realized how many barriers we crossed, or how easy things were for us at times because of our shirts and hats. We also all wore red, white, or blue hats identifying our organization, and which team we were on (white= translators, blue= construction or other, red= medical).

Some days we were not at hospitals, instead we would go to specific locations, often identified by the US Army (more on them later) that needed help. We would go set up tents and tarps, provide our own medical supplies (donated by you!), and provide medical help. One of the most profound days for me was at a place we called Refugee Tent City.

Everything in Port au Prince is a tent city these days. This particular camp was no exception. There were approximately 3,000 people living in “tents” (often not actually tents, but actually sheets and tarps strung up with string and sticks) at a high school. The 82nd Army Airborne drove us there. We were escorted in with security. What I saw when we entered will likely never leave my mind. Hundreds of people standing in a huge long line, squished as close together as possible, in 95 degree heat and high humidity, just waiting for us. It was humbling. And in a strange way, overwhelming.

We set up tarps for shade (thanks awesome construction team), and put tables under them. We set up a triage area, a waiting area, and a treatment area. All around us were our own security detail we brought (also awesome guys), the 82nd Airborne, and believe it or not the equivalent of the Haiti Boy and Girl Scouts. They served as our protection throughout the day.

We saw over 300 patients that day. It was incredible. It was hot and it was not easy. We saw all sorts of patients. We worked our tails off and melted in the heat. But let me repeat. Not one person complained.

It is my fear that our awesome construction team will get overlooked in all of the acts of service. I'd like to go on the record as saying that it was my privilege to be assigned to their service for a total of 6 days in country. They are my friends and my brothers and at many times my protectors on this trip. It wouldn't have been the same without them.

These fine men were assigned into different types of service. Many of them went out and visited the homes of LDS Church members to check on their houses to see if they were stable and safe. Sometimes their jobs were to set up tents and tables for the medical crew. And then there was my crew, who worked their butts off to build a temporary shelter for an orphanage in need.

I have written about them before. But I want to say it again. My construction crew boys worked out in the searing hot sun, and high humidity, using less than perfect tools at times, to build an outdoor kitchen, a latrine (10 feet deep!), picnic tables, and a swing set. And I will say it again. Not once did they complain or say they wish they weren't there. I watched those guys sweat in the heat, get sunburned, and work until they could barely move. They didn't get paid. In fact, many of them put their own money into the project. They all left their tools behind. And they did it all for little children they have never seen, and will probably never see. I have never been more impressed with a group of volunteers.


  1. Can't wait to hear more!!
    So glad you are back, safe, inspired and bursting with even more love than was already in your huge heart!!

  2. What an amazing experience! Good to hear you are back safe. Looking forward to hearing more.

  3. Anonymous8:51 AM

    Hi Erin,I am so happy to know there are still unselfish people out there, you certainly inspire me to be more giving of myself and also to always remember who I am.


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