Healing Hands for Haiti: a Local Activist's Perspective on the Crisis

Damage from Haiti's earthquake last month.

This is a Guest Post by Lisa Rothstein, International Manager of Healing Hands for Haiti.
On January 12th, I was in my car listening to Minnesota Public Radio when an announcement came on the radio that Port-au-Prince, Haiti was struck with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. I rushed home and immediately called the Healing Hands for Haiti Operations Manager, Antonio Kebréau to see if I could get through.
I had been working for Healing Hands for Haiti just over a year and was packing my bags to return for my forth trip, scheduled to leave Saturday, January 16th. I had been on the phone with Antonio one hour before the earthquake hit as he was closing up the office for the day.

Lisa working at an orphanage in Haiti in 2009

Healing Hands for Haiti (HHH) is a physical medicine and rehabilitation program based in the Bourdin area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. HHH works with the population of disabled Haitians and provides prosthetic and orthotics, physical and occupational therapy and orthopedic care via our Haitian-run, rehab clinic. HHH fabricates and fits Haitians with new limbs and teaches them how to walk and function. We are one of the only organizations working with amputees and physically and mentally disabled in the entire country.
I connected with Antonio at his home via his Internet phone and was told he was fine. His house was in one piece and he had connected with most of his family except for his wife, who was working in one of the government ministry buildings that he had heard had collapsed. Antonio, thankfully, later verified that his wife was safe and we jumped into action assessing the situation.
It would be weeks before we knew the full impact this earthquake had on HHH and its staff. Healing Hands for Haiti lost more than 80% of our property. In one day, the life of our 45 Haitian staff members was forever altered. After more than two weeks of searching, we connected with all of our 45 local staff. Fortunately, all are healthy, although many lost family members and most lost their homes.

The earthquake hit Healing Hands for Haiti's property

For the past year, I have worked part-time for Healing Hands for Haiti as their International Manager. I am in daily communication with Haiti, managing our clinic and volunteers and acting as the liaison between the North American Board and Haitian operations. Although my education and past experiences have prepared me for working for this type of organization, it has proven to be a very challenging year.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for this past month. Over the past month, my part-time job has taken all of my time, energy and brain power.
I have learned what it means to work in a crisis situation, to be patient, yet urgent. The outpouring of support has overwhelmed me. I am forced to continually check our Healing Hands voicemail due to the mailbox filling up with people wanting to volunteer, donate materials, donate money, solicit information for the media and just professing support for our work. Why does the one of the poorest countries in the world need to suffer great tragedy before they can experience support and attention from the world? I worry that Haiti is already slipping from people’s attention and interest and the real work has not even begun.
Before the earthquake, there were estimated to be 800,000 Haitians with disabilities in Haiti. After the quake, there are estimates of 4,000 amputees and many more with untreated fractures and injuries that will leave them with lifelong disabilities. Healing Hands for Haiti is needed more than ever.
While strategies for rebuilding and collaborations are being discussed and planned, I have once again been shown the relationship between the two important parts of my life; Judaism and international development.
Judaism has taught me compassion, that miracles can happen, and that it is okay to question God. The Talmud tells us that “if you save one life it is as if you have saved the entire world.” Judaism teaches us how to be good citizens of the world. After all, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, WHEN?
For more information on Healing Hands for Haiti, please visit our website at www.healinghandsforhaiti.org.
(Photo: United Nations)