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Haiti Earthquake (January 2010): Journal from Haiti: Bonnie Gillespie Returns Home

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Uploaded on Feb 22, 2010

Journal from Haiti: Bonnie Gillespie returns from almost 3 weeks in Haiti.

It was my 5th international assignment and one of dozens of disasters I've responded to in recent years. But still you go into assignments never knowing what to expect and like so many others had a chance to watch the aftermath of the earthquake unfold from afar.

When I arrived in Haiti I was already heavy-hearted with anticipation of how things would be there.

Within the first few hours of that first day, I went to the Red Cross field hospital and my perspective really changed. I met up with our psychosocial volunteers who themselves were victims of the earthquake. They were there giving back providing support and encouragement to people recovering in the hospital. We walked towards one of those big white tents. I braced myself for sadness. I really expected to see kids inside struggling to recover from their injuries. Instead, all that greeted me were their smiles and the beautiful sound of their laughter.

There I was having prepared myself thousands of miles away for tears and cries. These kids, most of them immobilized with their arms and legs suspended as they healed, they were beaming, laughing their heads off as they played and interacted with the Red Cross volunteers. For me it was the sounds and signs of hope and resilience I felt there within my first few hours in the country that really set the tone for me the rest of my time in Haiti.

Not that everything was easy, though. Logistically it was the most complex operation I've seen. Our teams were tenacious and tackled challenge after challenge day after day. Haitian Red Cross would identify the most vulnerable communities to target but those are often the most difficult to reach. Sometimes our trucks wouldn't be able to make it up the steep mountainside grades or the roads would simply be impassible. They always found solutions, whether it was partnering with other organizations or literally using wheelbarrows so beneficiaries could get their supplies home. They always figured out a way to make sure people received the help they needed.

After one of the first overnight rains, we knew people living outdoors in temporary camps were really struggling. Until more permanent shelters could be put in place the Red Cross set out to distribute 5000 tarps in one of Port au Prince's largest camps. It was a massive settlement of thousands of families but the team assessed the site and organized the distribution in just a few days.

People in the camp told us they started lining up at 3am. By the time the trucks arrived with the tarps and rope, the line started moving with airport like precision. It was incredible. When it was all said and done, it was our largest single distribution to date in Haiti.

The work of the Red Cross went far beyond the distribution of supplies. There was a mass vaccination campaign targeting camps where children in particular are at risk of infectious disease. This effort alone helped protect 150,000 earthquake survivors from measles, typhoid, tetanus and other illnesses.

Water and sanitation efforts ensured thousands had latrines to use, proper drainage in camps and communities and clean water for drinking and washing.

Red Cross supplied more than a million liters of water to earthquake survivors across the country every day.

The team I worked with there is truly unforgettable. Their tirelessness and work can only be matched by their bigness of heart. I'll go home a better person just for having worked with them for a few short weeks.

The local Haitian Red Cross volunteers who themselves were earthquake survivors offered unrelenting courage and commitment in the face of tragedy. They kept us all going every day and will surely continue to fuel recovery in their country.

Perhaps the images that linger with me most already though are the beautiful faces of the kids I met - whether in the hospital or in the camps or even if they were about to get a shot at the vaccination post. The smiles of those children will forever be for me be a sign of hope for the future of Haiti and that's what I'll leave remembering and believing for all of them.

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