(De) Constructing Haiti

It’s been a few weeks since I came back from Haiti, and I just now feel as if I have realigned myself to life in New York. For multiple mornings, I was still listening for the rooster to wake me up at 4am, still dreaming of omelette fromage and toast for breakfast, listening for Kom ou ye?, still anticipating the hugs and screams from children who knew my name after the first day they met me.

Being in Haiti was a fragmented dream in many ways. I hadn’t been back to work in Haiti since 2005, and I knew it would be a different experience. This time the experience went deeper, something felt familiar, pain I remembered and could relate to, the need to move on and feel blessed to be alive. Honesty, ingenuity, and art surrounded me everywhere.

I visited patient rooms to distribute free clothing and shoes that were donated, checked in on my team to make sure they were taking breaks to eat and drink water while working, and then going out to the tent to hear the laughter and feeling the healing energy of the art program. Seeing each component run smoothly helped me appreciate all of the work it took to put together a collective team in a short amount of time.

Everyone was ready and flexible in their roles and rarely complained about limitations. Instead, they found a way to push their own limits. I was amazed to see the incubator that the Pediatric team made along with Haitian staff to help the 28 week old premature baby in its fight to live. When I went to the community art tent, I saw a little girl jump with one leg from her wheelchair and onto the wool rug (that covered the cement floor) where the other children sat ready to start their next art project. In the same class, I saw a little boy who lost his father due to typhoid, taken care of by our team members who served as surrogate parents. I also saw a woman smile as if a miracle happened when she discovered that through Mirror Visualization Feedback therapy, she could relieve herself of the pain she was feeling in her phantom limb by using a mirror, plus, she now had a new furniture item for her tent. It pulled my heart strings to see the power of touch when Susan D’Aloia gently massaged a child’s hand using pressure points at a hand massage station set-up at one of the orphanages; simultaneously at the yoga station, I saw Chia-Ti Chiu teach children the tree pose.

There were so many stories that we shared daily and we were fortunate to have Sarah Ryley capture some of our most poignant moments. Our photographer, Tamara Fitzpatrick, also documented many hidden stories using a realist perspective. There was so much to see, much to learn, and so many new connections that we all made. Building relationships with Haitian medical professionals, translators, community members, patients and their families, children without families, each other, and ourselves is really important to doing this work.

I found that this visit to Haiti felt different. Its slowly healing, is in repair, but also renewing itself. As the Executive Director, I feel like my vision for Unified for Global Healing is also renewed. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work in Haiti and help in a way that is meaningful and culturally relevant. I am proud to have new UFGH team members from all career disciplines join our family of compassionate professionals that love helping others in a selfless way.

Although back in New York, with more resources, an education, a job, plenty of food to eat and water to drink, I truly gain an understanding of what it means to not take what I have for granted. I learn from people who don’t have these privileges, a Buddhist lesson I have been reading for years; how to strengthen the ability to have internal happiness with nothing.

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