It has meant a lot to me to be back here in Haiti. I had spent some time here 15 years ago and just fell in love with the culture, people, and their artistic and spiritual life.
It’s astounding to me to see how much of that warm culture still shines through during this horrific crisis. It’s a very gentle culture. I have walked deep into the vast tent encampments where people are living in almost unimaginable conditions with literally nothing, and these encampments are calm and people are welcoming. Perhaps that is part of their great problem — they may be too passive and too used to living with nothing and expecting nothing.
About a million people in Port au Prince are living under a sheet or piece of plastic on poles. Inside their tent, they have a few belongings that they were able to grab from their home/hut or things they have found on the street: scraps of cloth, a blanket, maybe a pot and plate. They exist on a piece of bread or a bit of corn or rice mush.
It’s touching to see what things people have clutched onto. In one tent, a little five-year-old girl was clutching her old plastic doll. It was missing an arm and a leg and most of its hair, but it was obviously very precious to her. In another tent, a young man who had been a university student had his engineering books. He had a stool in his tent. He sat on the dirt floor and his books had the place of honor on the stool.
While I was talking to a couple of mothers, I spied a little seven-year-old girl huddled by a tent pole, poring over some scraps of paper. When I asked her what she was doing, she showed me a few torn pages from a school workbook. She was sitting alone reading and reading these few pages. I asked her if she wanted to read me some, and she proudly started to read slowly running her finger underneath the words.
I am always thinking of my children when I see these children. Children have such innate curiosity and will to learn and connect. I am very happy that we are focusing much of our efforts on the children in this crisis.
If we can help parents and teachers help their children adjust and become secure again, we will be making a difference in how their lives unfold.