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WCCCI partner Free The Children provide an update to the disaster in Haiti

By admin | January 21, 2010

Prior to leaving Haiti, Craig Kielburger provides some final thoughts as he prepares to leave the country. Physically he may not be there, but having just met him back in Toronto, it was evident that his heart and soul are still with those who wake up finding courage to write a new chapter in their lives knowing that giving up is not an option, nor within their spirit.

“In the hours leading up to our departure from Port-au-Prince, no one from our group ate from our supplies.

Soon, we would be heading back across the Dominican border, back to the airport where tourists board buses taking them to all-inclusive resorts. Knowing that we were heading back to abundance, there was nothing to do but give what we had left to the kids who humbly asked for a single drop of water to quench their thirst.

As we slowly made our way through traffic, we saw the signs posted by people in IDP camps asking for help. Children came up to the windows of our trucks looking for any means of relief.

Through our limited correspondence with family and friend, we have constantly been asked about violence and looting. “Are you safe?” “Is it dangerous?” While we understand the picture painted on our television screens is one of lawlessness, we have to stress that these are isolated incidents.

They are acts of desperation.

Instead, kids like the ones who appeared at our windows and stood wide-eyed at our windows are more telling. No one is asking for much. They just patiently wait for relief.

We have to wonder how much that patience can be tested. The extent of the damage in Haiti is devastating. Seeing it compound with the already brutal living conditions is beyond comprehension. As, we mentioned in previous blogs, before the earthquake struck, 80 per cent of Haitians live in extreme poverty. The country has the highest rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western world.

But, statistics don’t do justice to this tragedy. As we prepared to leave for home, we all asked, “How much more can people endure?”

That’s not to say the people we met over these past days are not strong and fiercely determined. Every day, we met community members emerging as leaders. While our help is desperately needed, it’s going to be under the guidance of Haitians that this country finds strength.

It is the people organizing the IDP camps and creating signs detailing their struggles who will give voice to the displaced. It’s people like Mona who stitched up a stranger’s foot with her nursing school supplies, who will answer their call despite their own pain and loss.

Those such as Brother Franklin will be instrumental in helping others build new homes. He will comfort them as they start new lives. Finally, the boys who turned back to help their injured friend during the aftershock we hope will use that courage to speak up for their country, ensuring they do not get left behind.

Thinking back to the day we crossed the empty Dajabón border from the Dominican Republic, I remember being taken aback by our security guard KK’s commitment to volunteering despite thinking his own family was dead.

The moment when KK learned his child was alive is something I will never forget. His words when he turned back alone to gather more supplies for the group of orphans will remain with me forever.

“I feel a sense of responsibility to the people of Haiti,” he said.

There is no doubt that each of these individuals will endure. My hope now is that the rest of the world will feel that same sense of responsibility going forward.

Our response to the crisis so far has been remarkable. But, we need to remember that rebuilding will have to be a partnership between North America and Haiti. Unlike during the tsunami, Haiti doesn’t have profitable resorts that companies will rebuild. It doesn’t have a large population of expatriates around the world, ready to send money home.

Instead, given our extensive ties to the country, it’s North America that will be instrumental in helping Haitians rebuild their country in the coming weeks, months and years.

We are getting close to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. As the attention of both the media and the public gets diverted, it is absolutely essential that we remember dressings still need to be changed on wounds. Children still need a school in which they can receive an education. People still need safe homes in which they can live and the means to lift themselves out of poverty.

Haiti is already fighting to do just that. On our way through Port-au-Prince, we passed by the Presidential Palace, its roof completely caved in. Across the road was a makeshift shantytown.

We arrived to find a group of university students gathered at the main gate with a long tree branch and a length of twine. They scrambled to the top of the fence, secured the branch and tied the twine between the posts and the tip.

Together, they hoisted the Haitian flag.

As it was being lifted, the gathering mass spontaneously broke into song. Hundreds of Haitians raised their voices, jumped up and down and pumped their fists in the air. Through embraces, tears and a mix of fear and pride, their love for Haiti was evident.

Today, we are all Haitian. Going forward, we have to remember we are all human. Never can we forget our responsibility to our fellow man.”

THANK YOU CRAIG & FREE THE CHILDREN FOR YOUR COMPASSION AND SPIRIT.

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