The Common Good

Report from Haiti: Poverty and the Earthquake Collided

We landed in Haiti about five hours ago. It has been approximately a week after the major earthquake struck this country. I had the privilege of traveling here with President Bill Clinton and other dignitaries to deliver some much-needed supplies.

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There was a deafening silence on the plane as we approached the landing. Everyone was peering out the windows in an attempt to see and gauge the level of devastation. Obviously, it was not very visible to us. At first glance, you would assume you are coming to a country that did not have a care in the world. It was very beautiful from up high. Mountains, water -- it is a beautiful country.

Unfortunately, we all knew why we were there: to deliver much-needed supplies to the earthquake victims. It became apparent very quickly that food, water, and medical supplies were desperately needed. Moreover, I realized that in a in a strange way, this relief was not only helping those who were the victims of the earthquake, but all Haitians. In this impoverished country, the majority of the people lacked so much before this natural disaster, and they too might finally be receiving some basics like food and water. It was certainly hard to distinguish the poor from the earthquake victims.

As we approached the terminal, we could see the military helicopters and aircraft for the staging areas and supply distribution. There is a large military presence at the airport along with UN soldiers. The U.S. military has been present and coordinating the U.S. operations at the airport. They are hard at work. Most have been here since the evening of the quake. Hundreds of evacuees are lined up at the airport hoping to get out. Even that is sad -- they are probably evacuating with what little they have left. The fortunate are few, while thousands remain trapped. As the UN vehicles got closer to Port-Au-Prince, you could see the first signs of the ruins and the collapsed buildings. Decimated. I kept wondering how anyone could survive these collapses. I concluded God's big and small miracles must certainly be at work. Some were smashed like pancakes. It is hard to describe the buildings. The concrete does not even look like concrete. Buildings just torn apart like a piece of paper. The earthquake seemed to have hit in a surgical way. Buildings collapsed and then the one adjacent was standing. My mind keeps thinking about any possible survivors. It would be a miracle. I also understand we did not get to see the most severe part of the earthquake -- God, help!

Yet what appears so incredibly odd is the number of people walking along the streets. Almost in a carefree manner. It must be that resilience you keep hearing people talk about when describing the Haitian people. Rodney Slater (former Transportation Secretary under President Clinton) and I both noticed it. Many with backpacks and some wearing masks, but they did not appear to be earthquake victims. Just ordinary citizens of Haiti. There were an overwhelming number of people just on the street. You wonder where they go at night. Therefore, it is hard to tell who was impacted and who was not. It was as though it were just another day.

We just passed the Presidential Palace. The TV photos have done this no justice. Collapsed. The dome sunk into the middle of the structure. The health, justice, and education departments collapsed as well. No government structure left. The Agriculture building survived. Now across the street from this palace is "tent city." A beautiful park has now been transformed into a living quarters for displaced Haitians. As far as the naked eye could see -- people. Clothes are hanging over the fence from apparent washing, tents, sheets pitched everywhere. Lord, if this is a way to remind a president, then he is certainly being reminded. We the people

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