Sunday, January 17, 2010

Questions in the aftermath of the earthquake

It's hard to believe, but one month ago today we were standing just a few hundred miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We spent a blissful week vacationing in the Dominican Republic, enjoying sun, sand and surf at the beautiful Club Med Punta Cana. Now, much of the Haiti has become a makeshift refugee camp. Dominican hospitals and hotels are packed to the brim with the injured from the disastrous earthquake in neighboring Haiti, and like so many, I find it hard to look away.

Any decent (and even not-so-decent) news reporter must quickly acquire the ability to separate his/herself from the story, as it's the only way to survive witnessing the countless tragedies the job entails. But sadly, I have found that separation often continues when I am not covering, but merely watching news unfold. It's hard to admit, but in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake I found myself watching through somewhat callous news eyes. Instead of really "seeing" what was happening, I was focused on analyzing the coverage. "How many reporters are heading down there?" I wondered? Where were they staying? How hard was it to edit and feed back a story in those conditions?

And then I saw her.

I don't know her name or her age, or really anything about her. I only saw a glimpse as a camera panned across one of countless villages now reduced to rubble. She stood on top of what once was a roof, perhaps her own, her back to the camera. On her hip she held an infant, a baby covered in dust, wearing tattered clothes and sucking his thumb, his face poking out over her shoulder. Another child pulled at her hand- a toddler, perhaps 2 or 3 years old, kicking stones with his bare, dirty feet. It took that simple image: two young children doing what all children do, doing what MY children do, their mother holding them like all mothers do, holding them like I do, to jar me out of news reporter mode and back into humanity. The tears haven't stopped coming ever since.

The feelings of helplessness in the wake of such suffering can be paralyzing. My oldest child is just 2.5, far too young to understand what is happening in Haiti. In his little world, a "disaster" occurs when his Thomas the Tank Engine has disappeared (which is really not cause for concern in my little world). So before bedtime we just try to help him say a prayer for those who lost their homes ("But Mama, why can't they find them?") and those who are hurt ("Do they need a kiss to make it better?"). We will do what we can to support the relief effort through the Red Cross. Thursday night a local family originally from Haiti will hold a fundraiser (you'll find more information here) to support the George Stines Foundation, which operates medical and dental clinics in Haiti. For those with older children, ABC news has compiled this list of resources for talking to kids about the earthquake. But it's my own questions

It's hard not to wonder why this particular disaster had to happen on that particular island given the already near desperate conditions prior to the earthquake. At night when I close my eyes I see that woman holding her two children and can't help but wonder why, despite the threads of humanity that make us similar, our lives turned out so differently. How is it fair that I sit with my two kids in my too nice house full of too much stuff, a spectator to her suffering? What will happen to her and the rest of the people of Haiti when the news crews pack up and leave, off to chase the next breaking story? Will our hearts and wallets remain open once the headlines fade? What more can we do to help, what should we have been doing before this even happened? There are no easy answers, but I'll start by holding my kids a little closer, and give thanks the only trembling in our lives is that of my own hands.


  1. As a person with a similar news view... I now find tears of joy in the images of the children who are being adopted into the U.S. through expedited processes... the family in the airport in tears, the warm embraces, the hopeful little faces, the beginning of a new chapter... :)

  2. I am right there with you! A good friend of mine in Atlanta is one of those who was finally reunited with the Haitian child she's been in the process of adopting for 2 years, and appropriately enough, her name is Hope. :-) And they say we news people don't like good news!

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