By JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami Herald
On her first solo trip abroad as first lady, Michelle Obama visited Haiti and said `the country will move forward.’
PORT-AU-PRINCE — She cheered and danced to the welcoming sounds of quake-devastated Haitian children. She even painted a purple fish with them.
For all the devastation that surrounded her almost everywhere she turned Tuesday, Michelle Obama found hope and inspiration on her first visit to Haiti, and her first solo foreign trip abroad as first lady.
“The road ahead, as you know, is not going to be easy. And it’s not going to be quick,” said Obama, wearing gray slacks, matching gray tennis shoes and a blue shirt.
“President [René] Préval and the Haitian government have been working under unimaginable difficulties,” she added at the end of a day here that began with an aerial tour of the capital and its hundreds of tent cities. “But they have a vision for the future, and they have a road map to get there. So little by little, Haiti will move forward.”
Préval and first lady Elisabeth Delatour Préval welcomed both Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. Préval later told The Miami Herald that their visit shows “the personal involvement of President Obama and Vice President Biden, and the sympathy they have for the Haitian people.
“It’s a reflection of the engagement of the American people.”
The daylong visit included a stop at one of two sites where Haiti’s first lady has a “bus camp” for 900 children. The children are provided with art therapy, with the help of Haitian artists in green buses. The buses were provided by the first lady of the Dominican Republic.
The program, Plas Timoun or the Children’s Place, was set up shortly after the earthquake with help from one of Haiti’s leading artist, Philippe Dodard.
Dozens of children greeted Obama and Biden, singing “welcome” in English.
Obama danced, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her hips as the children sang. At the end, she gave several of them high fives while smiling.
As one group ended, another group of children sang in Creole, “We are glad to see you. We say let’s be happy.”
Later, they joined the children in an art lesson, and Obama drew a purple fish at the request of one of the children. Biden drew a house. Haiti’s first lady served as a translator.
Elisabeth Delatour Préval said the children found the visit inspiring, as did she.
“The visit came with a lot of sympathy, friendship and hope, she said. “The children were very happy and felt very privileged.”
The visit came a day after Haitians marked the three-month anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which the government now says killed 300,000 people.
For all the challenges that remain, small signs: increasing numbers of the more than million homeless now have tarps to protect them from the rain, and over the weekend the government began moving thousands of people from flood-prone camps.
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