Heidi Reed, daughter of former Los Altos mayor Jane Reed and her husband, John, works for Plan USA in Haiti. She posted the following account on her blog in November.
On Wednesday this week, I traveled with my Plan Haiti colleague Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant and our communications assistant Mackendy Jean Baptiste to meet a TV crew from Canada at one of the largest resettlement camps, Camp Corail, outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
In a partnership among the government, the United Nations and other non-profit charities, Plan is responsible for the camp’s health activities. Driving into the camp, which serves as home to approximately 10,000 people since the spring, UN vehicles passed by our truck. After we got out, in the center of the camp – not far from where Plan had recently set up a cholera treatment unit with cots and oral rehydration salts inside – UN officers from around the world walked up to shake my hand and say hello.
There we were, in the middle of a hot, dry desert, meeting new people from faraway places, while little Haitian children wandered by and pulled on the officers’ legs for more Chiclets.
I heard the sound of hammers pounding in the distance. I was almost afraid to look. Was it real? Jo-Ann said it was the permanent housing going up for all the people who were living in all those hot and humid tents.
It doesn’t get reported often enough, I thought, but changes are happening in Haiti – and I was glad Lisa Laflamme from CTV in Canada was coming. While we waited, a slight young man appeared before us. He was soft-spoken. He said that he was a creative artist and a poet. Before the earthquake, he was from Port-au-Prince, and now he lived at the camp near Croix-des-Bouquets with people he didn’t know.
He recited an epic poem to us in French about life, love, suffering and joy. Jo-Ann asked him to write it down for her on a piece of paper and he did so, eagerly.
In the camps, for most, there is so little to do. In the distance, we heard little children singing. I followed the sound to one of the many Canadian HousAll units that were donated to Plan after the earthquake. Inside, I saw approximately 30 little children seated around brightly colored tables with Plan logos painted on them. It made me smile.
So this is what Plan’s Early Childhood and Care Development program looks like in real life, I thought. Children under the age of 5 tear up sometimes because they are suddenly scared, and look up at the world – no matter where it is – with big, amazed eyes.
When we walked inside the school, the children were playing with moldable colored clay, rolling it around on their tables. One little girl wrapped it around her wrist and tried to turn it into a yellow bracelet. A little boy noticed the travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer clipped to my belt – my own small precautionary measure against the cholera bacteria. He asked if I’d put a drop of it into the palm of his hand. At first, I wondered if I should. Would a 4-year-old child know what to do? But I couldn’t hesitate for long. At least 10 little palms were held out and waiting.
As I dropped in the little clear-liquid pearls and told them to rub their hands together fast, I wondered what these 4-year-olds knew about bacteria and staying healthy. I didn’t have time to ask. Instead, I got mobbed with more hands. The room grew noisy with laughter. Then I put the hand sanitizer away and asked the children if they would like to sing. They knew what to do: They clapped and sang a rousing song about washing their hands with soap.
To access Reed’s blog, visit www.planusa.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1193520.