For those of us who were living and working here in Haiti on January 12th, our lives forever changed the moment the earth began to move. Burned into our collective memories are a deep rumbling, metal creaking, walls moving, glass shattering, ceilings caving in, stairs collapsing, the ground rippling, fear gripping. Some of us barely made it out alive; some of us did not make it out in time. In the immediate aftermath, I was fortunate enough to be among the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince who made our way through the rubble, the streets lined with drunken houses and poles, the clouds of dust, the flames, the bodies, the masses of injured people, to begin the U.S. Government’s swift and steady response to the earthquake. We offered critical relief and saved countless lives in those first hours and days, and now, we continue to provide aid and support for longer-term recovery and reconstruction efforts. In anticipation of her visit, I shared with the First Lady’s office some of the stories of the many survivors, heroes, and walking miracles in our midst.
The visit of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to Haiti on April 13th left a lasting impression, lifting everyone’s spirits in a way that will last beyond the few hours spent on the ground. This trip helped tell the story of how Haiti is healing and moving forward beyond the devastation and destruction, from the rehabilitation of displaced children through art, music, and dance at Plastimoun, to the reconstruction of classrooms, chairs, and desks at College St. Pierre, where students and teachers returned to class this week. We are especially grateful that Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden took the time to recognize and appreciate the incredible efforts and sacrifices of those involved in the relief efforts, both civilian and military here at the Embassy, as well as the local NGO and international communities at the UN. We were deeply touched by her presence, her acknowledgement, and the sympathy and encouragement she offered. Many of us, our Haitian colleagues in particular, were moved to tears by the once-in-a-lifetime encounter and experience.
Still, the needs in Haiti are overwhelming, and the road to recovery is long. The rainy season officially began last week, and hurricane season is soon to follow. Currently, the U.S. Government is assisting with a massive resettlement effort to move hundreds of thousands of people from tent cities in flood-prone areas to more suitable transitional shelter with access to basic services, such as water and sanitation -- things that so many of us take for granted. But let us not give up hope that Haiti can succeed in the face of these seemingly insurmountable challenges. Instead, as the First Lady said when she was here, let us be “inspired by the resilience and the faith of the Haitian people -- people who have lost everything, except their belief that tomorrow can be a little bit better than today.” Please continue to help us honor America’s commitment to Haiti. One way you can contribute is through the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. In doing so, you help honor the memory of all those whom we lost, and help find a way towards a better tomorrow for Haiti.
Mesi anpil d’Ayiti cherie… pa bliye nou!
Sonia Kim is an Economic and Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti