Trying to breed hope on Haiti's sacred ground
"Friends, though absent, are still present." - Cicero On Jan.18, less than a week after Haiti's cataclysmic earthquake, "60 Minutes" ran a story that changed the course of my life. In the segment, "The Tragedy of Haiti," an untold number of dead Haitians were scattered about the landscape. Some were stacked like human lumber; some were heaped together in the scoop of a backhoe and dropped into the back of a waiting dump truck. We were subsequently told they were heading to a mass grave outside of town. I was saddened and sickened - my heart became as broken as the mangled bodies waiting their turn.Later that evening, after Googling "Haiti" and "mass graves," I discovered that Haiti's fallen had been taken to a landfill just outside Port-Au-Prince. Here, they were unceremoniously dumped on top of existing garbage and entombed by rubble and debris from the earthquake. I began to envision how I'd feel if my own family and friends were treated like garbage. Would I turn my back to this truth? Would I write a check to some charity and then head off to meet some friends for dinner? My answer was, and is, no. As a result of the "60 Minutes" story, I put aside my selfish and comfortable life and established a new company with the sole purpose of helping Haiti and its people. For months, I have worked day and night on multiple recovery and development initiatives, each designed to improve the future possibilities of Haiti and its people. Yet, at the end of every day, after focusing on thousands of details regarding Haiti's future, my thoughts always drift back to the images of Haiti's recent past - to its mass-grave/landfill. I have just returned from Haiti. Throughout the island, I experienced events and human conditions that extended beyond my grasp emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. In Port-au-Price, I witnessed an old woman, her right arm torn off at the elbow, struggling with a bucket of water as she navigated the rubble and chaos of her surroundings. In Cap Haitien, I watched through gritted teeth as horribly burned individuals were provided free medical care at Haiti's one and only burn clinic. I also traveled deep into the "shadowlands" of rural Haiti, to places so desolate I cried at the mere sight of children. It's amazing, and disturbing, how far back in time one can go while traveling so few miles. It has been nine months since the earthquake, and few Haitians are thinking about their country's rebirth. Nearly 300,000 lives have been lost. Nearly 2 million Haitians are homeless. Their country lay in ruins. Unspeakable crimes are being committed in the tent cities. Food and water are scarce. There are no jobs to speak of, and a cholera epidemic is beginning to spread. This is a tragedy of epic portions, and it's only getting worse.
J. Kelly Lange is a Tampa writer, business consultant and founder of Haiti Recovery and Development Company.