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WARNING!!!! LONG POST AHEAD!!!!
As most of you know, Amelia is the one who does the majority of the posts on our blog. Well, the time has come for me, Justin, to post once again.
As many of you know, I had the fortunate, life-changing opportunity of going to Haiti recently. I spent two and a half of the most intense and rewarding weeks of my life there, and I happened to have my camera with me. The following photos will help tell some of the stories that I wish to share with you.
My love for Haiti goes back to 1996, when I went there for a couple of years to do missionary work. Prior to arriving in Haiti for the first time, I knew very little. I had heard about their vodou, the refugees fleeing to Florida and The Serpent and the Rainbow, but these vague labels tell very little of the Haitian people, the Haitian spirit, or the REAL Haiti that I would soon fall in love with.
Spending those young years of adulthood, in the service of the Haitian people, changed me and left an impression that would prove to last throughout my life. I fell in love. I fell in love with HAITI! I fell in love with the Haitians! I learned the language, Haitian Creole, and fell in love with their culture, their stories, their proverbs, their laughs, their smiles, their love, and their spirit. It is a spirit of humility, of giving, of resilience, and of a love for God.
Since '98 when I came back from my missionary work there, I have returned a few times. As you saw in a few posts back, I was even able to take Amelia there with me for a few weeks, so she could see where my love for Haiti and the amazing Haitians came from. She now sees what I see, why I call Haiti my second home.
As the world now knows, Haiti experienced a crippling blow on January 12th. The earth violently shook beneath what was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere, leaving a scar so deep that more than 200,000 people were left dead, a million now homeless, and an estimated 17 Billion dollars worth of damage! For the first few days after the quake, I was literally glued to the tv in shock as I took in any and all information about the quake that I could find. I was horrified and felt helpless! I wanted to be there and I wanted to help. I needed to be there! I needed to help! Long story short, while I was in Park City for Sundance, I found a group called the Utah Hospital Task Force that was planning a trip to Haiti. They were planning on taking 150 people - 50 Haitian Creole translators, 50 medical professionals and 50 construction professionals. The only problem was the group was scheduled to leave while I was still at Sundance. I applied on the outside chance that I would get accepted, and would figure it out from there.
I got accepted, and I had yet to ask Amelia's permission. I figured I'd try my chances at acceptance first, and if that day came I would see what she thought, knowing there would be many willing and ready to take my place were I to decline. Amelia is the sweetest, most compassionate and supportive wife of all time. She had the heart and the strength to allow me to go, while she stayed behind with our children, uncertain of what I was about to embark upon.
These photographs tell that story, of the two and a half weeks that I spent in Haiti!
On the flight over there, two of the female translators seated behind me were holding hands. The girl on the right is Haitian, and the girl on the left is American. A telling sign of what was to come.
We had 20 Pizza Hut pizzas delivered to us on the runway in Florida by a police escort, which was what the 82nd Airborne wanted in exchange to allow us to camp with them on one of the nicest soccer fields in Haiti! The power of pizza in a foreign country!This was taken at 1am the night we landed on that Sun Country plane in Haiti! Thank you Sun Country!
This was our campsite. It was literally one of, if not THE, nicest place we could've camped in Haiti. Our group referred to it frequently as the Taj Majal.
The oldest girl in this picture was left to care for her younger siblings while their parents went out for the day to try and work. I love how content she was at taking on this responsibility. This photo gets me.
This was just one of the many "tent cities" that I saw in Haiti. They were always growing in number as the days went on. Notice they're actually not tents, but sheets strung across four branch posts.
These orphan kids seriously made me laugh. They were so full of life and laughter. They never complained ever. In fact no one did. I wanted to take them all home with me!
This lady found an open spot of ground to lay her mat on for the night. This was in the courtyard of one of the LDS church buildings there.
What was a parking lot in a church's courtyard by day, turned in to a camping spot at night. They had between 200-300 people sleeping in here every night. With no where else to go, this was their best option.
The man on the right is Steve Studdert! He was the leader of our group, and one of the men responsible for putting our group together. He worked some serious magic and was a pleasure to serve under! Here he is meeting two of the captains of the 82nd Airborne plotting our days treks.
This is what remains of the country's nursing school! I helped translate the story of one of the students who was going to school here. Her teacher didn't show up during an afternoon class period, so she felt prompted to return home. During her few moments at home, the earthquake struck, killing most of the students and instructors who remained at the school. Her story was sobering and touching.
There's something so telling of our time in Haiti in this photo. This doctor was sitting just inside the operating room at the General Hospital in downtown Port-Au-Prince.
I spent most of my time translating for the doctors and nurses in the hospitals. This picture was taken inside the pediatric tent at the University of Miami tent hospital that was near the airport. This kid was so fun to talk to and hang out with. His spirit was admirable, and you'd never know that he had a broken leg.
These triplets were born just after the earthquake. I had to learn how to say triplets, because that is something I never encountered in any of my trips to Haiti.
"Gad Bless You" it says on this cast. The intention is there...
I LOVE the look on this girl's face! She is soooooo excited to be up on her feet again. You can only imagine what it must be or feel like to think that you'll never be on your feet again. Physical Therapy is something they need way more of in Haiti!
This guy was one of my heroes!!! He was buried for 2 days after the earthquake. He was getting ready to go in to surgery here in this picture and was literally telling me that he wasn't afraid of anything. He kept saying, "you can stick me with needles, cut me up, whatever you want. Nothing can hurt me! I made it out alive!" Once again, never a complaint. Only words of thanks, gratitude, hope and LIFE!
One of the children in the pediatric tent didn't make it while I was there. It was a surreal, sad and haunting moment. Immediately after the residents in the tent caught word of it they instantly took to prayer, praise and thanks! Not the reaction you would normally expect. This lady was singing a hymn of praise.This is the dear father of the girl that didn't make it. This really affected me, especially since we had to help this man understand what had just happened. Here he is giving a prayer of thanks to God that his daughter was able to be with him for the time that she was, and asking for her to be taken into His arms. It was a sobering moment, and made me instantly think of Hudson and Sloan - my own children. What if I were in his shoes? Would I be that strong? Would I be able to stand there and give thanks when the Lord hath taken away??? My heart broke for this man.
These transporters in the hospital took a moment to pray and give thanks. It was amazing to see their hearts instantly turn to God.
Here is just two of the many people that I saw that had been given some sort of relief. The lady on the left had received a 100lb bag of rice that had obviously come from the US, and the lady on the left has a sack full of little bags of water.
Here is Steve, one of our translators, and a local leader as we were heading in to a tent city at a French school that had yet to see any medical help since the earthquake.
At the tent city for thousands of people that I mentioned in the prior photo, these people are all in line in the hopes of receiving a small, 12oz bag of water. It was tricky and demanding at times to organize the chaos.
Here is a boy receiving medical attention at the clinic we had set up for the day at the tent city. I love the look on his face.
It was amazing to see how helpful the Scouts were to us at this tent city! Here they were living in a tent city, but yet they took care of their uniforms and wore them with pride! They would literally help us secure perimeters and then go out into the tent city seeking the injured and afflicted and help them come receive help and care! They definitely gave Scouts a good name. I'm proud to be an Eagle Scout!
Justin Bowen, our group photographer from Las Vegas where he currently shoots for the Las Vegas Sun, playing some basketball with locals at the tent city. It made them so happy to have us there helping them and playing with them.
LOVE the look of these two women in different generations! The one on the left was on a tap tap (the public transportation in Haiti), and the girl on the right was at one of the largest tent cities up in Petionville.
Steve, Dr. Kirk and Brent analyzing the situation at the adult tent at the University of Miami's tent hospital. You'll notice the civil war like status of the conditions.
The medical volunteers for the University of Miami hospital slept in here. They would typically be on for 12 hours and then off for 12 hours. You can only imagine that their conditions back home would seem paradisiacal in comparison. Talk about selfless, amazing people doing selfless amazing things!!!
Sean Penn and Lt General Keen, a 3 star General. Sean Penn had been in Haiti since the earthquake with the JPHRO (Jenkins Penn Haiti Relief Organization). Hats off to him for being there on the ground since the quake doing work!
This is a room in the General Hospital downtown that was no longer safe to be in. Look at this photo. Not sure I'd want to be a patient in there even prior to the earthquake.
To show the spirit and resilience of the Haitian people, this little girl had to have her arm amputated and yet here she is getting water, and doing chores without a single complaint. She even talked to me while smiling.
This little boy had a smile sooooo contagious that it made everyone that looked at him light up. His mother is in the foreground of this picture and I've never seen a kid bring so much joy to a mother. It was so comforting to see her love and affection for her child keep her mind off of her amputated right arm. In the foreground is the bandage. Again, she never complained and was too taken in by the joy of her child!
Take a minute just to digest the devastation and destruction in this picture! It is INSANE! This was a typical neighborhood in Port-au-Prince.
The imagination and creativity of the Haitian children is inspiring. Here they are in a tent city, yet they found sticks, string and plastic to make a kite with and they couldn't be happier! I especially love his pink sandals. He's just happy to be alive!
This girl's story will melt your heart and make you mad at the same time! I became really close with her and her parents. If you would like to hear her story, make sure you ask me next time you see me. It is too intense to put up here on the blog. She had to have both of her feet amputated. It was hard delivering that message to her and her parents. Not the expression you'd expect to see from someone that had just had the surgery performed the day prior.
An impromptu group of people singing hymns of praise while we visited the Presidential Palace which you can see in the background. I love the juxtaposition of this picture.
An aerial view of the national Palace and the park in front of it that has now become a tent city. Any open space that people can find has now been turned into a tent city.
Steve Studdert and Captain Reyes on our last night in Haiti. Captain Reyes and the 82nd Airborne were sad to see us leave. I will admit, we were all saddened to be leaving them and the Haitians as well.
A self-portrait taken inside the airport. This was one of the mirrored doors that had shattered. The airport is unoccupied and all of the operations are being ran outside, which was quite loud to say the least.
Our group saying goodbye to the 82nd Airborne after they dropped us off at the airport. It was such a blessing and a comfort to be able to stay with them.
Upon arriving in Florida, one of our leaders John Nichols had McDonalds waiting for all of us. After having a diet of granola bars for breakfast and lunch and MREs for dinner for over two weeks, McDonalds (which I normally am disgusted by) had never sounded or tasted so good!
Words will never be able to truly describe the impact this trip has had on me. It was one of the most intense, emotional, draining, rewarding, tiring and amazing things I have ever done! I will always remember it and I cannot wait to return. I have to say a HUGE thank you to everyone that donated to our group and to my trip! It was seriously life-changing and for this I am grateful.
In the words of Steve Studdert about our group: "we recently formed the largest non-military emergency aid task force to Haiti. I was privileged to be part of that team of extraordinary human beings who accomplished remarkable feats of heroism and service in Haiti. Countless were the broken lives blessed by this magnificent team of gifted medical professionals, indispensible Creole-speaking returned missionary translators, and knowledgeable construction specialists.
Our brothers and sisters in Haiti were experiencing incomprehensible suffering in what one U.N. official termed the worst human catastrophe in recorded history. With determination, compassion, unity, and a respect for the dignity of every Haitian, the team engaged their innovation, skills, and resources to bless those in Haiti who are hurt, homeless, and hungry. Our ability to serve came, to a great extent, from the freedom we enjoy in North America to make a difference, the freedom to act independently, to make our own decisions as to where and how we give of ourselves and our money. Our abundance, born of the American can-do spirit in our free society, made it possible. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, 'The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little.' Hopefully we added something to those in Haiti who have so very little."
PLEASE CLICK HERE to see an online slideshow of images from the trip!