The visceral images of mass devastation, suffering, loss and chaos will forever remain with Suzanne Edwards after her trip to Haiti.
On Jan. 12, less than an hour before the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the nation, Edwards, a University of Texas at Austin senior majoring in journalism and Chinese, and her group of Houston Rotarians, arrived in Haiti to embark on a humanitarian project at Diquini Hospital near Port-au-Prince.
While driving into the city from the airport, Edwards’ trip quickly spiraled into an unimaginable nightmare.
Edwards captures their arrival into Port-au-Prince on video. Watch her video on YouTube.
“Fortunately the earthquake hit right while we were driving in an open field,” Edwards said. “At first I didn’t even think it was an earthquake because the car was rattling like it had some sort of mechanical problem. But as we drove closer to downtown, we started to see how bad the damage really was.”
That night, Edwards and her team of Rotarians tirelessly attended the needs of the wounded, praying with them, holding their hands and administering what little medical aid they had to offer.
“The darkness seemed like a blessing because we couldn’t fully see the trauma in front of us,” Edwards said. “Whenever I think of that night, I feel pulled back to the hospital. That’s why I’m so aggressive about going back.”
A similar call to duty has inspired several other professors and students in the College of Liberal Arts who are dedicating themselves to Haiti’s disaster relief and making sure other Texans and Americans continue to remember the plight of the Haitians.
Hundreds of students and faculty have rallied for donations at campus-wide events, including Jemima Pierre, assistant professor of anthropology, who discussed long-term recovery efforts at a Jan. 22 benefit sponsored by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. And a number of liberal arts students participating in the university’s Hold Up for Haiti fundraiser helped raise more than $55,000.
In January, Pierre visited Port-au-Prince with a delegation of scholars, journalists and community activists, to support long-term relief efforts and community empowerment. In collaboration with members of the Haitian health relief nonprofit Fondation Avenir, leaders of non-governmental organizations and Haitian Americans working and living in Haiti, the delegation evaluated relief efforts for the ravaged city. When she returned to the university, she gave a report from her trip at a Feb. 2 conference titled “The Natural/Social Disaster in Haiti.”
A native of Port-au-Prince, Pierre believes the most effective way to support Haiti is to focus on long-term stability and development. Haiti’s hope for recovery also relies heavily on rebuilding efforts from other countries, Pierre said.
“In addition to general human compassion, the U.S. and other countries — particularly Canada, France and other European nations — have a very intimate relationship with Haiti,” Pierre noted. “They have been extremely influential in Haitian national affairs. Their involvement in Haiti should not be considered only in terms of compassion. It should be thought of as a responsibility to the people of Haiti for past and contemporary treatment.”
A call to duty
With 200,000 people dead, another 300,000 injured, and years of rebuilding in store, Haiti’s mass devastation is far from over.
Around the world, onlookers feel helpless as hundreds of thousands of Haitians struggle for survival. But after her January trip turned into a relief mission, Edwards is not content to merely stand by.
The sense of duty to the overwhelming number of Haitians left stranded and injured in the rubble made it hard for Edwards to leave Haiti. She is currently organizing a return trip in March with members of River Bend Church in Austin. They will all be trained in first aid with medical supplies in tow.
A freelance news journalist and fledgling documentarian, Edwards initially planned on documenting her experience through blogs, short videos and photographs. But as soon as she encountered the horrifying scene at Diquini Hospital, she had to choose between taking footage and helping the wounded.
“I felt like I needed to film the horrifying scene outside, but my heart wasn’t in it,” Edwards said. “It was kind of a crash course in disaster coverage. I learned that there’s a balance as a news journalist between documenting a crisis situation and knowing when to stop rolling footage to lend a helping hand.”
Read the complete story on the College of Liberal Arts Web site.
Top image: A market in western Haiti; courtesy of Barbara E. Bullock.
Bottom image: A Santera (a priestesse for a Fiesta de Palo, a santería festival); courtesy of Barbara E. Bullock.