These days it’s hard for me to find time to sit down for dinner. My roommate jokes with me that she never sees me eat. I eat plenty alright, but it’s always on the go! Yogurt and a granola bar travel the best between work, the library and meetings with professors. I’m in my final semester of grad school, during which it’s often hard to remember what it’s like to pause and enjoy a movie, take the time to read for pleasure or leisurely eat with a fork and knife! But a few weeks ago, for one day – my entire world slowed down. All of those work projects, school deadlines and daily pressures seemed to melt away and I was reminded about what’s most important in life.
On January 12, 2011, I organized an event called “Haiti: One Year Later” on my campus at the University of Washington Tacoma, commemorating the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake. The goal of the event was to raise awareness about the issues still facing Haiti today and raise funds to support the incredible work Mercy Corps is doing in Haiti, providing relief and facilitating change.
Holding the event on a college campus, I knew we’d have to compete for students’ attention with iPhones, MP3 players and freshly-brewed lattes. I needed it to be eye-catching and big enough to make them pause from their busy routines. So with the help of a few friends, we built a simulated scene from a Haitian refugee camp (or tent city) in the middle of the campus — complete with several realistic tent dwellings, blankets, tattered clothing and basic cooking supplies, as well as a replicated relief aid station with emergency food and water packs, flashlights, first aid kits and more. Mercy Corps sent me stacks of handouts and materials about Haiti and I created two large presentation boards featuring photos of Mercy Corps’ on-the-ground programs. Finally, I set up a “donation station” with information about how a small gift can make a huge difference to someone in Haiti.
The morning of the event, in perfect Pacific Northwest style we received our first attendee: Rain! Although I had waterproofed everything and dressed warmly, I had no idea it would start raining that day around 9:00 AM and it wouldn’t stop until long after 6:00 PM, when our event was set to end! Despite the pouring rain, we received hundreds of visitors who stopped to view the scene, learn more about Haiti and make a donation to Mercy Corps. A few local newspapers, TV and radio stations publicized our event, so we had many community members come out to learn alongside students. People came from as far south as Olympia and as far north as Seattle with a range of Haiti and Mercy Corps knowledge from next to nothing to experts in their own right.
There were a few moments where time truly slowed that I won’t forget:
- One man took the bus to come and donate $5, apologizing to me that it was truly all he could give.
- One woman handed me an envelope and said "Good luck today" and walked away without staying to chat; inside I discovered a stack of crisp one-hundred dollar bills and a simple note: “zen to one.”
- Another man got teary eyed as he told me he used to be homeless and live in a tent himself and how deeply he feels for Haitians facing even more difficult conditions.
- And an international student from Haiti quietly told me about losing every member of his family in the earthquake except his mother, and then working for five months to assure her safe arrival to the United States where she now lives.
Standing outside in the rain all day wasn’t easy, but I have to wonder how much more difficult it’d be to sleep outside for a whole year? Unfortunately, that’s the story of one million Haitians who still live in refugee camps and tent cities today. Which is why it fills my heart to know that while I was standing in the rain, Mercy Corps Haiti staff were standing alongside Haitians – offering support, relief and empowerment to the thousands they serve. The moment that truly slowed everything to a halt was counting up the funds raised at the end of the day. After it was all said and done, we raised a grand total of $2,100!
I can’t undo the earthquake and I can’t erase the last year of struggle for so many Haitians. But I can support Mercy Corps to work in Haiti, compassionately serving, day in and day out, rain or shine. And even when my world gets busy and it seems like I don’t have an extra moment to spare, Mercy Corps staff are in countries like Haiti around the world – giving not only their time, but their lives to care for others in need; And that’s a fact worth pausing for.