After warming up outside with a name game, the children return to the classroom for their next activity. The mentor asks them to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. They have just had an outdoor activity and it’s time to slow down — it’s time for meditation.
Mercy Corps is training teachers, psychologists and parents in a program called Comfort for Kids that helps children heal from the trauma they have experienced. More than 61,000 Haitian children have been reached through this network. The goal of meditation: to focus on breathing, take a moment for some quiet time and gain a different perspective. These children are learning how to find peace and serenity in the midst of the chaos that surrounds them.
I wept during the return flight from Port-au-Prince to Miami. It’s painful to see the suffering and poverty in Haiti. It’s difficult to imagine sharing a toilet with 300 strangers every day. Or to envision sleeping on the ground, night after night with no door to lock and no bed to sleep on. Or not having privacy to bathe.
The Haitian flight attendant rubbed my shoulder to console me and said sweetly “Oh honey, no one cries when they leave Haiti.”
Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Compassion can be shown in countless ways: just thinking of someone else and holding them in your heart, praying for them, gaining perspective and silence through meditation, being of service and giving your skills through volunteering or donating your money to a cause you believe in.
These acts of compassion can transform the world. It makes a lifesaving difference to those in desperate need.
An unexpected revelation I had was when I realized that most of the devastation in Haiti was not from the earthquake. The rivers of garbage, the unpaved rocky roads, the shanty towns held up by tin were like that before January 2010. In fact, I was almost surprised when I recognized a structure that was damaged from the earthquake.
One theme throughout Mercy Corps’ programs is “turning crisis into opportunity.” A Haitian woman I met said that the earthquake was a blessing in disguise — now the world is watching Haiti. Now there is hope.
The board has been erased and it’s time to be rewritten. The earthquake was nothing short of a catastrophic crisis – and this is the moment to turn it into an opportunity for a better life for Haitians.