Update from Jayne Fleming, Humanitarian Project Project, Lawyers’ Earthquake Response Network (LERN)
It is my last night in Haiti. I spent the day at the general hospital and Doctors without Borders. We got medical care for an elder stroke victim, four tots with fractures, and six rape survivors. It was actually the best way to spend the last day in Haiti. I felt like I accomplished something, helped in a concrete way, which was a contrast to the six days spent listening to stories of loss, which made me feel so helpless.
Our team went to the hotel for dinner again tonight. I stayed here because I have three teenage girls and two tiny angels (ages 3 and 5) here with me. They are all orphans and we got back from the clinic too late for them to go to their tent camps in the dark.
The teens did not know each other before this week. They have bonded over the days our team has been here and they are looking out for each other. The little angels are the youngest siblings of one of the teens. Their parents died in the earthquake. I am babysitting all of them tonight. This is truly the best way I could spend my last night here.
I have learned a lot about myself on this trip. I have learned that I can be strong. I have also learned I am not immune from being swept away with emotion.
On the subject of emotion, I did not report this last night. I could not bring myself to, I was so full of guilt.
Remember the 18 year old named Nancy? The one who was raped on Friday and who I did not let out of my sight on Saturday? Well, she returned with the community leaders on Sunday to sign forms and see me again. I was incredibly busy and juggling about 100 cases. At some point, an interpreter told me that Nancy wanted to know when she was going to the clinic. I told him to tell her Monday at 10:00. The interpreter misunderstood and told her to leave and come back on Monday at 10:00. I searched for her later and learned she had gone back to the streets. I was horrified and filled with guilt and fear. I had taken the child under my wing for just 24 hours and she was already missing. To make matters worse, it was pouring rain.
I worried about her all night. Where had she gone? Did she have shelter? Would she be attacked again? Would she return?
This morning I waited anxiously, eyeing the clock every ten minutes. I worried when she had not returned by 9:00. At 10:00 a.m. I asked one of my interpreters to see if she had checked in. I prayed she was okay. No sign of her. I checked with the interpreters every 15 minutes. I swung between anger and fear, like a mother who has lost sight of her child in the playground.
At 10:30 I pressed the interpreters again. Where is she? At last, at 11:00, one came into my office. “She is back,” he reported. “She is in the courtyard.”
The relief I felt was like an emotional tsunami. I closed my office door and cried for the first time this week.
I honestly think if I had lost that girl I would have lost a piece of myself. She is all alone. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins, and siblings are all dead. The least I could do was give her a safe place to sleep and a meal. Yet I had managed to fail in that promise the first night she was with us. So when she returned I thought perhaps I would have a second chance.
I explored all options in an effort to find her a safe place. By the end of today I had found a family for her to live with (my interpreter’s sister). I will provide for her needs. Maybe this is a way I can take a piece of Haiti home with me. Maybe it is a way I can leave a piece of myself here.
We’ve also placed nine other orphans with families in the community. Five are going with our interpreters or their families. Four are going to neighbors of our driver.
It would be easy to feel that this is just a drop in the bucket. There are tens of thousands of orphans here. Yet hope has to start somewhere. Perhaps it can begin with these nine youngsters.