Monday, November 22, 2010

The thirst


It's the first sound we heard as we walked past the wooden sign with the words 'Antre Colera' (sic) written in sloppy permanent marker, hanging outside a hospital in Saint Marc, Haiti.

They were mopping.

Cleaning up the waste left behind in the open air "rooms" in the hospital's courtyard by the cholera victims who have died already, or were transfered to another clinic.

Two steps in, the sound changes.

The brush of the mop against the muddied floors gives way to the faint sound of moaning.

The roar of agony is coming from a woman laying on a bare wooden cot.  She stares blankly at me as I enter the dimly lit room and just keeps groaning, with one hand on her stomach.  The pain from the cholera proving more than she can bare.

A few beds away, a husband holds his wife's hand as an IV drips lifesaving fluid into her.  He just stares at her- laying here, barely strong enough to open her eyes- in shock that after everything this country has been through, this disease could have been what claimed this young woman's life.
Across the room a toddler shares a bed with her mother.

The clear cords from the IV hang down into each of their arms as a family member holds a cup and encourages them to drink more.

Along with fluid, Dr. Pierre-Paul Cadet, a Haitian born doctor with offices in Haiti, West Palm Beach and Lake Worth says the antibiotic, Cipro will help fight off the disease, especially in its late stages.

He, and other volunteers with the Palm Beach County based Haitian Education Community Association (HECA) raised money to buy 5,000 prescriptions of the drug that they brought here today.

A volunteer with Medicos Sin Fronteras (Doctors Without Borders) tells Cadet that this particular hospital is not using Cipro for treatment, but she accepts the donation anyway.

The group then moves to two other hospitals and drops off duffle bags filled with the antibiotic which medical professionals say, unlike the first facility, they *will use.

They have to try something.  This hospital is so full that several patients, including a child, are kept in beds in the hallway.  The conditions are far from sterile, and people are dying,

But, the head nurse says she feels that things are actually good at her facility compared to others because *only 11 adults and 2 children have died there from cholera since the outbreak.  Far better than the mass fatalities noted at other hospitals and clinics.

It's easy to see how the number of overall recorded cholera-related deaths in this country has surpassed 1,100.  Patients the HECA volunteers speak with say they drank from the river they knew was contaminated because they were thirsty and had no other source of water.

Water donations are scarce, and bottled water is too expensive for most Haitians to afford.  A regular size bottled water costs fifty cents.  While many Haitians are out of work, those who are employed average a daily salary of about 2 dollars.   That's a quarter of their earnings for a single bottle of water!  

So, the spread of the disease continues, from the rivers, and possibly from the hospitals.

Those entering and leaving the first hospital are asked to wash their hands with water from a giant bucket.  There is no soap, no sanitizer, just a quick rinse off with 'clean' water.  Just inside the hospital gate, a man used that same bucket of water to fill up empty bottles, likely to sell.

While the earthquake cleanup seems to finally be moving on, the thirst that clouds all sense of risk is now killing so many who survived that January day.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Haiti-bound again!

In the morning, I'll head back to Haiti again. This time, I'm going with a group that is bringing Cipro, an antibiotic that fights cholera, to Haiti. We're bringing about 5,000 doses to 4 hospitals in some of the areas hit hardest by the deadly outbreak. We're told this is the largest amount of this kind of drug to be allowed into Haiti to date. Pray that we are able to get in without any problems and get this medicine to the 5,000 people who will likely die without it.
Don't worry. We will have lots of security and will be safe about what we eat/drink.
I'll be updating my blog as much as I can, and posting updates on My station is being so awesome by supporting me as I cover this immensely important story.
For more information from one of the groups on this mission:

Mishna Update

The little Haitian girl who traveled with my group to the U.S. following January's earthquake remains in federal custody 10 years later. Here's the story I did this week about Mishna:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grave Digger

BON REPOS, HAITI -- "My life has been very bad. Very bad," Mirlande Joseph explains as we drive away from Ruuska Village, a home for unwed mothers and orphanage where she works.

Her car thuds and convulses as she passes over the rocky dirt roads while sharing her story about losing both of her parents when she was eight years old.

Her aunt raised her and nearly a half dozen other children.

There was never enough food; there was never enough anything.

So, her life began to follow a path that like so many other young women in this country.

She didn't get an education.

She got pregnant young.

That baby died.

She got pregnant again.

That baby was born very sick.

The paternal grandfather heard that Barbara Walker, an American, ran a village in Bon Repos where they might find help.

He brought the baby there and begged Walker to try to save the boy.

Walker was willing, but she wanted to meet the newborn's mother.

Joseph reluctantly came to Ruuska Village.

That day changed her life.

Walker offered to let Joseph live in the village while the baby was treated.

Joseph, who spoke no English, began working for Walker by washing clothes, making a few dollars a day.

While she spent her hours working, the baby was well fed and began getting better.

Even healthy, Joseph knew she couldn't give the child the care he needed, so she put him up for adoption.

When the baby left for the United States, Joseph continued working for Walker.

She was alone, and missing her son.

But as she fell back into the feeling that all was lost once again, she found a new spark of hope.

Walker approached her one day and asked "Would you like to learn English?"

The two played word games together every day and after a year, Joseph could speak almost fluently.

Joseph began learning the adoption process and was promoted to assist Walker with the process of getting other needy children in into safe, loving homes all over the world.

The 31-year-old even saved up enough money to buy a house.

Then, the earthquake struck while Joseph was out dropping off paperwork for several adoptions.

Walker immediately called her cell and said, "Either a bomb just hit or it's an earthquake."

The line cut out and Joseph rushed back to the village, knowing there was a chance the children may be dead.

Incredibly, there was only some structural damage.

No deaths.

No injuries.

After a long evening of calming the frazzled children, Joseph returned to her home to find it leveled.

After working all of these years, her one possession was gone.

In the six months since the quake, she's been busier than ever at work.

Sleeping there, eating there, spending countless hours a day trying to get the babies, who are still abandoned at the orphanage on a regular basis, out of Haiti.

The car we're in comes to a loud stop as Joseph pauses in her story.

"This," she exclaims, "is my new house!"

She saved up part of the money needed to rebuild.

Walker is helping her with the rest.

In a time when hardly anyone is rebuilding, Joseph, who started her life with nothing, is building her own palace.

A home she'll share with her youngest child, Ruth.

These kinds of fairytale endings are what Barbara Walker is all about.

She is hardly the fairy godmother you might picture.

Take your vision of a missionary: even tempered, soft spoken, smiley - and reverse it.

That is Barbara Walker; she is as rough and tough as they come.

Before she became a missionary whose favorite self-portrait is a toss up between the one of her with a giant snake around her neck and the one of her crouched down with a bible in one hand, a huge gun in the other - she was a grave digger in upstate New York.

The 66-year-old laughs as she shares darkly humored stories over breakfast about rotting skulls falling out of caskets.

She's quick to shout an order, and even the most macho men stop to listen.

The day after the 'quake, I got into her beat up truck that rattled past the fallen buildings of Port-au-Prince.

We came to a bridge that was blocked off and a man came to the window saying it was damaged, so we couldn't cross.

She said, "Screw that!" and hit the gas, driving across the bridge anyway because she was certain the men blocking the bridge were only trying to divert us to a group of thieves.

It's that tough attitude that's helped her survive numerous muggings, having guns pointed at her, and the struggle that is every day life here in Haiti with no running water, no air conditioning, and dozens of women and children to feed.

She started this village a decade ago with a donation from the Ruuska family.

She was just a missionary at the time who helped that family adopt a child.

When they later had money left to them in a will, the family gave her $10,000 and told her to do anything she wanted with it.

She could have gone home to New York to be with her children and grandchildren, but Haiti had already grabbed onto her heart so hard it tied her here.

She knew she wanted to give women in Haiti a "hand up, not a hand out," so, she built Ruuska Village: a home for unwed mothers and an orphanage.

Behind the blue concrete wall and gate is a tiny gravel road with small concrete houses on each side.

Each woman accepted into the village gets free rent in one of those homes, job training, and an opportunity to earn money by working at the village doing things like washing clothes, as Joseph did.

They also get free child care and financial aid to send their children to school and pay for their uniforms as well as supplies.

And, after completing the job training they get money to help pay for a home of their own.

There are a few rules here at the village.

The main one: no men.

"Which means, no brothers, no fathers, no uncles, no male cousins, no male "companions" men!" Walker explains.

She considers this, a type of "birth control," while she educates the women about things they wouldn't learn otherwise including the risks of unprotected sex.

Plus, Walker explains, they don't, "need a man to pay their rent anymore."

Walker goes on to say, "God has blessed them with a new home better than they could ever have dreamed of. They must use this as a stepping-stone toward the beginning of a whole new way of life."

In helping women build these new lives, she gives all of hers.

Walker's life is tough.

Instead of enjoying her retirement years, she stays up late at night organizing adoption papers.

Her desk - is her bed.

The tiny twin sized mattress is in the corner of her office and volunteers parade in and out of the room throughout the day to use her computer.

She has zero privacy and zero time to herself.

The roosters outside begin crowing long before dawn - telling her it's time for another grueling day of running errands, buying food, gasoline, supplies, facilitating adoptions, taking phone calls, answering e-mails, organizing volunteers, taking care of children and making sure their mothers are on track.

She is known throughout town for her blue dresses (she has an entire closet full of blue floral dresses - it's ALL she wears) and for her no-nonsense attitude.

When she drives through town, people on the street call out, "'Ello Barbara!" and around the world children are with their new families, living safer, healthier lives because of her.

Walker could walk away now and know that her life has been incredibly impactful.

She could say her work is done and return to her family in the U.S.

But she won't stop.

She is rebuilding what was damaged here in the quake while buying more property to expand the village.

And while much of Haiti is crumbling, her heart and her mission continue to grow.

She knows not every story will have a happy ending like Mirlande Joseph's, but she believes each one like it helps dig Haiti out of its dark grave.

A Reason to Sing

BON REPOS, HAITI -- To close your eyes, you'd never guess these were the voices of children who've lost everything.



Smiling so big you know the joy came from somewhere deep.

Each of the 130 children who call the children's home at World Harvest Missions near Port-au-Prince home have a different sad story.

10-year-old Stevenson was buried in the rubble of his house for hours before he was found.

He was the only person in the house to survive.

His parents, siblings and best friend were all killed.

He had nowhere to go, until Miriam Frederick came along.

The Lake Worth resident founded World Harvest Missions which strives to save lives in Haiti in a number of ways.

The orphanage is continually taking in children, many of whom are found abandoned at their gate or in the streets because they were born with physical or mental disabilities.

The children attend school at the orphanage where classes are still ongoing this summer to make up for time lost in class after the quake.

But this mission is about more than these children who, because of the generosity of donors, are able to play, care-free on the swing sets and know that someone is looking out for them.

This mission is about making an even wider impact on the impoverished nation.

Outside the brightly colored gate of World Harvest, the streets are filthy and people beg for food.

Inside - a sprawling sanctuary that makes your forget you're in Haiti.

When you first enter the grassy compound, you see the food depot were cans, boxes and cartons of food, most of which was donated by people in Palm Beach County, are stored.

The food feeds the orphans here as well as those at other orphanages.

Frederick and her volunteers also take food out to the tent cities.

To the left, there is a beautiful, brightly painted building where volunteers sleep and eat.

So many people have poured into Port-au-Prince to offer a literal helping hand, that Frederick has several groups sleeping in tents in the middle of the property because she has no vacancy inside.

Those volunteers go out an missions throughout the city and go into the mountains to aid the other countless tent cities and orphanages.

Frederick and a team go out to throughout this region of the country looking for men, women and children who lost limbs in the 'quake and need help.

Once a week those people are brought back to World Harvest Missions where they can be fitted for prosthetics.

People's lives are better because of the work being done here.

Despite the horrors just outside the gate, she believes she's bringing a bit of brightness where there would otherwise be none.

And she believes these children, who at one time had nothing, are some of the few in the country with a chance at a life that will really be something to sing about.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Darker clouds

BON REPOS, HAITI -- The literal dark clouds began moving in to Port-au-Prince around 5pm, but the figurative ones blew in for Ifanier Bazile a few weeks ago.

He, like thousands of others here, lost his home in the 'quake.

He has spent the past six-months trying to figure out where to go next, and how - with 9 children he can't afford to feed - he will save enough money to build a new house.

It was stressful to think about even when he thought he had time to continue living for free in a tent just outside of the capital.

Then he found out - he is being evicted.

He along with everyone else in his tent city has been told they have one month to move out because the owner of the land plans to build a hospital on the property.

So, now, the homeless become even more homeless.

And as they learn of the intense rain that is expected to pass over Haiti tonight with this tropical wave, they remember to be grateful for the tarp roof they are fortunate enough to have over their heads...for now.

The Devil's neighbors

BON REPOS, HAITI -- He calls it "the devil's house," refusing to allow anyone to refer to it by its real name, the Presidential Palace.

It is what Carlos Jean Charles has to look at every time he steps out of his home in the tent city just across the street from the crumbling white government building that he says makes him think of the greed of President Preval; greed and carelessness he feels are responsible for the condition this country is still in 6 months after the quake.

Charles's tiny tent, that is just big enough to fit a twin mattress on the dirt, is made of burlap sacks and tin. A bright dinosaur print bed sheet is his front door.

And this is where he lives with his eight year old daughter, five year old son and wife, who lost her leg when the family's house crumbled on top of her during the 'quake.

Theirs is one of approximately 3,800 tents in this one tent city, where Charles explains violence is rampant.

He introduced me to a woman named Natalie who claims she was brutally raped by several men just a month ago.

People living in the tent cities have "lost their minds," he says, and thus turned to crime.

He claims people steal because they can't get food or water and children as young as 8 have turned to prostitution in the tent cities just to earn a few dollars to feed their families.

"I know they say so many donations been made to Haiti. Where are they? I don't see anything," Charles says.

He sells paintings just outside of the "devil's house," but doesn't make enough to feed his family.

Today, he said his wife went out to a place where they heard there would be hand outs.

He said he would have been turned away if he went to ask for food, so his wife offered to go, even though it is a struggle for her to get around on crutches and with no transportation.

"I'd almost rather die than live in this misery," Charles says, "That's really terrible."

Haitian Sunrise

BON REPOS, HAITI -- The roosters began crowing long before dawn.

Laying on a cot on a second story porch here in Ruuska Village, I finally cracked my eyes open as the first dashes of sunlight began peeking over the mountains.

What a beautiful way to wake up on a day when I know I'll see such sadness.

I'm about to head out with the orphanage director, Barbara Walker, to pick up some of the paperwork for a few of the babies who are being adopted.

We're also going to try to get more paperwork for Mishna.

After that we'll head into a tent city that is at risk of being evicted because they are on private property.

I walked through a small tent city yesterday and was overwhelmed by the poverty. There were dozens of children, many not wearing shoes.

They had no toys - except one child who laughed as he played with his new-found balloon.

Only, it was not a balloon.

It was a condom.

This spoke so much to the lack of knowledge these parents have.

Not one tried to take the possibly disease infected latex from the child.

It probably never crossed their minds.

I can only image what else I'll see in the larger tent cities today.

After hours of rain yesterday, I'm sure they are a muddy mess and from what I'm hearing, that's just a taste of what's to come with this tropical wave.

For now, the sun is high in the sky and already pounding its oppressive heat on the people of Haiti.

Today, knowing the potential alternative, it is a welcome discomfort.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Return to Haiti

aBON REPOS, HAITI-- The sound of the drums and maracas threw me.

Hadn't I just gotten off the plane in Port-au-Prince?

Despite the beautiful mountains and teal waters surrounding this city, this was certainly not the island vacation the music made me think of.

But, sure enough, as I reached the first floor of the airport, there was a live band singing and playing instruments.

I thought that was a good omen that hope was returning to Haiti. My friend, Joe Hurston, the founder of Air Mobile ministries out of Titusville, FL, met me at the airport to fill me on on what he's seen in his weekly trips to Haiti.

He said, "Things here are worse...much worse." He told me about a tent city that is about to be evicted because on private property.

He talked about his fear about, "not if but when a storm hits Haiti," and the need to develop a plan to evacuate the thousands still living under tarps held up by sticks.

And they are. The tent cities are in the same place I saw them when I left here six months ago - only they're bigger.

In some ways they're more sophisticated. Many of the tents are really nice: the kind you might take on your family camping trip.

Many have access to food, water, and free medical care. But, then, there are still the massive heaps of trash and human waste just feet from those tents that have been set on fire.

There is still the nearly sophocating feeling of living in a tent on a day when the temperature is around 100 degrees and the humidity makes the air feel like soup. And, of course, there is the rain.

Although this rainy season has not been especially bad, according to locals, days like today in which the drizzle begins around 4pm and grows into a steady pitter patter of drops on the blue tarps that spot the city by 6 and continues for hours makes this dirty, dusty place into a mud pit.

Families whose tents are placed on top of the foundation that was once their home consider themselves lucky; their home may be gone, but at least that foundation keeps the floors from flooding into a muddy mess. Jean Prezilus and his 22-year-old girlfriend are one such family.

They're grateful for the concrete foundation below their 10ft by 10ft home that is just burlap bags held together with wooden sticks and zip ties.

Prezilus and his girlfriend share the home with their three daughters, his brother and his wife.

Seven people, two beds, a few chairs and tables - all crammed into a place that is smaller than my bedroom.

And six months ago - there was an eighth person: two and a half year old Mishna. She was born with clubbed feet and required expensive medical treatment.

Prezilus earns the equivalent of nine US dollars each week at his job at a lottery store: hardly enough to feed a family, let alone cover her medical needs. So, they brought the little girl, named Mishna, to an orphanage called Ruuska Village.

The founder, an American named Barbara Walker, found a doctor in the states who performed surgery to fix her clubbed feet.

She then returned to Haiti, and her parents, again, brought her to Ruuska Village, explaining they simply couldn't care for the girl who had since forgotten Creole and only spoke English. Then, the quake hit.

Mishna was scheduled for follow up treatment in the states.

When I arrived at Ruuska Village the day after the quake, Walker asked if the group I was traveling with would be willing to transport Mishna to the United States for that follow-up care.

So, we did. Mishna refused to leave my arms as we walked passed the military helicopters and aid planes to board our tiny Cessna to return to Florida.

After a few hours of peek-a-boo and napping, I carried Mishna into customs at Palm Beach International Airport.

That's when we learned there was a problem. A very big problem. Her passport was not marked for a return visit, making it "invalid."

I was held for 9 hours and questioned by investigators on suspiscion of kidnapping.

Despite their personal compassion for Mishna's plight, they had to put her into U.S. custody.

Mishna was screaming, and reaching her arms out to me, crying, "Momma NO!" as they put her in a van and drove towards Miami.

She's been held at a federal facility there ever since.

Two families want to adopt her: a doctor in Titusville and the family who cared for her during her surgery.

Both have filed paperwork to facilitate the adoption, but still, the process drags on.

The orphanage director claims no one can get a straight answer about why, despite form after form being filled out, nothing is being done to release Mishna.

Standing in their tiny tent home, Mishna's parents look at pictures of their little girl and wonder if she knows why this is happening to her.

They say they are happy she is away from this place, but worry about her not living with a family.

As they plead for the United States to move her case along, they plan to go into the city tomorrow to pick up more paperwork in hopes these forms might be the last needed to put their daughter in the loving arms of a family that can actually care for her.

The sun has now set, and the rain is pounding even harder.

And while Jean Prezilus has some hope, he and thousands of others are laying down to sleep tonight with those drops falling through the their tents onto their tired faces.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

Running water.

HOT water.

A grocery store filled with food.

These are things I've taken for granted my whole life, and now, after just a few days away, they amaze me. I'm in awe of all of our luxuries, and even more by how shallow our culture can be.

Yes, everyone is donating money. We all care about what's going on in Haiti - stop to watch Anderson Cooper, or to shake our heads at the sad headlines on the newspaper. But, then we go back to our lives.

Back to complaining about traffic.

Back to gossiping.

Back to being self-absorbed.

There's no changing it. It's how we are, and generally how we'll always be. But it's making me sick and restless.

Still no update on Mishna. The last I heard, the doctor who plans to foster her had just finished all of the paperwork the government asked for. He said he should know more today. Please pray.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mishna's Journey

WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- I've never seen or heard a baby cry like this.

Since the moment the immigration officers closed the van door, and I could still hear the orphan that I carried with me to the U.S. screaming, I've been working on building the strength to tell you this story.

Her name is Mishna Prezilus.

She's a beautiful two and a half year old I met at the orphanage in Haiti.

Mishna was born with clubfeet. She was flown to the U.S. for surgery in August, and after several weeks of recovery, she went back to Haiti to be with her family. But there was a problem.

Her parents didn't want her anymore.

After a day together, her mother brought her back to the orphanage. The director told the young woman she had to take Mishna home with her. This went on day after day, with the mother continually trying to abandon Mishna. Finally, she succeeded, and the orphanage became Mishna's new home.

Then, the earthquake struck.

The director of the orphanage, Barbara Walker, scrambled to get as many of her babies out of the country as possible. Food is too scarce. The structures at the orphanage are too unstable. One more tremor and the walls could crumble and kill someone. As she gathered paperwork to get emergency visas for other children who have families in the U.S. waiting to adopt them, she turned to me.

She explained that she had a child who already had a visa. She needed to get back to the United States to continue her medical treatment and would be able to live with the doctor treating her.
Of course, I volunteered. There was no way we could leave this child here, where the walls are one aftershock away from crumbling, where there is no food, and certainly no access to the medical care she needs. I was taking a private plane home, and I knew there would be room.
Barbara said all of Mishna's paperwork was in order. She handed it to the pilot and we were ready to go.

Sue, the woman who had cared for Mishna in Haiti, brought her over to me. Mishna reached out her arms and happily let me hold her. We waved goodbye to Sue, got in the back seat of the SUV and drove down the dirt road out of the village, heading toward the airport.

After driving past countless toppled buildings, through a dirty little river people were desperately filling their cups from and past UN tanks with huge guns pointed in every direction, we pulled into the airport parking lot.

We made it past the nervous crowd of people frantically waving their passports, through the unstable terminal. In the chaos, no one bothered to check our paperwork. We just walked outside and on to the tarmac.

We passed every major news network's makeshift studio, planes from countries as far away as Iceland, and made our way to the far end of the tarmac where our 6-seater Cessna was parked.

It was the same end of the airport where the U.S. military was operating. As Mishna clung to me, huge military aircrafts took off and landed just feet away. We waited for hours, hoping that Barbara might get last minute visas for more children and bring them to join us on our flight. Mishna and I sat underneath our airplane, grateful for the shade it offered from the scorching sun. With each helicopter take off, I blocked her face from the dirt whirling all around us, and covered her ears to muffle some of the roar.

She never cried. She just accepted the confusion, and even fell into a peaceful sleep as the helicopters around us made our surroundings seem like a war zone.

Finally, around 1pm, we realized no more children would able to join us. Their visas were just taking too long. So, we boarded the plane and left.

Mishna and I had so much fun on the flight. We played games, shared lunch and then she fell asleep with her head on my chest. I kissed her forehead and told her how wonderful her life would be when we reached the United States. I had no idea I was lying.

We arrived at Palm Beach International Airport and groggily climbed off the plane and into the line at Customs. I handed the very kind agent our paperwork and he asked what my relationship was to Mishna. When I explained, he stepped aside to talk to his supervisor. Bad. This was very bad.

The supervisor called me into his office and told me there was a very big problem. Mishna's visa was for one visit only, a visit she took in August for her surgery. There were letters written across the visa that meant nothing to me, but, turns out, meant something very important to the rest of the world: CWOP - Cancelled With Out Prejudice. It basically means it was cancelled because she used her one visit, but it is eligible for renewal. A renewal we never applied for.

The other problem: there was no paperwork saying I was allowed to transport Mishna. I knew this all meant I was in for along night, but I had no idea just how long.

They brought Mishna and I into an office. They gave us every comfort they possibly could: food, water, diapers, a blanket for the baby. Then, the questioning began.

Was I paid to bring her here?

Was she kidnapped?

How could I think it was a good idea to bring a baby into this country?

I gave the special agent the explanation that I didn't realize the visa was no good, and that I was willing to do whatever I could, legally, to help get a child out of Haiti.

Meanwhile, the three men I travelled with were being held on the airplane, not being told what was going on. So they started making calls.

Congressmen, state senators, the orphanage director in Haiti - everyone started working on getting Mishna released.

Nine hours went by.

Despite a letter from the orphanage saying I had the right to transport the baby, the officer said he couldn't let me leave with her. She had to go to a facility for detained children in Miami.

When I put Mishna in the car seat, still inside the immigration building, her face transformed with an intensely serious expression. She knew something bad was happening. She just stared at me, wide-eyed, clearly questioning what we were about to do to her.

The officer told me it was time for Mishna to go. I tried to hold back the tears but when I kissed the baby on the head, told her it was time to go for a car ride and stepped back, she began wailing.

"Momma, no! Momma no!!!!!"

My heart broke as this sweet little angel, who thought I was her "momma" screamed and cried. I tried to comfort her. The officer told me I could carry her to the car, so I picked up the car seat and Mishna started to calm down.

I carried her out to the van, and we strapped in the car seat.

It was time to go.

I kissed her, told her I loved her and that she'd be ok. As I pulled myself out of the van, the screaming began again.

"Momma, no!!!"

They shut the van door, but I could still hear her wailing. The officer apologized and told me he did everything he could. I stepped outside of the office, and fell apart.

I almost collapsed, sobbing, letting a noise escape my mouth like I've never heard myself make. My heart was breaking.

This baby who has been repeatedly rejected by the people who are supposed to love her the most, who has undergone a very painful surgery, had to return to the third-world country of her birth, then survived a horrifying earthquake and a terrifying trip back to the U.S. was hurting once again.

I worry she thinks I abandoned her. I worry about how they're treating her at the center she's in now. I know she's better off here than in Haiti, but I still wanted more for her.

The fight continues now to free Mishna. The director of the orphanage will hopefully fly in this week. We won't give up until Mishna is with the doctor in Melbourne.

She's been through so much; she deserves the best our country and our hearts can give.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Like a movie

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI-- After the longest day of my life, I'm spending my last night here in Haiti.

Today felt like 3 separate days.

It began with another huge tremor around 5am that shook our building, sending Barbara and I running outside. Once we went back inside and laid down, there was another tremor. We were too lazy to get up for that one.

I woke up again around 7:30am. It was that damn rooster again. I went upstairs for some coffee and to play with the babies. Then a bunch of us piled into two trucks and drove to the U.S. embassy. This is where my day started to feel like a movie.

There was a huge crowd outside of the embassy - a gorgeous, modern building that was unphased by the shaking that destroyed the buildings all around it. We made our way through the crowd and directly to the front of the line (it pays to know people; Barbara is pretty much famous in Haiti). We told our story to a guard.

We needed emergency medical visas for some of the sick orphans here in the village, including 11-year-old Charlie, who we brought with us. Charlie had a concrete wall fall on him during the 'quake and the nurses are certain he has some serious internal damage to his abdomen. He's in a lot of pain. He quietly sits through his suffering - not saying a word, but once in a while you see a single tear fall down his face. Charlie has a family waiting to adopt him in the U.S. He has a passport, but the process of getting a visa really drags on here in Haiti. Now that he needs medical attention, it is so important that we rush this process. There is no one here to help him and we have no way of knowing just how bad his injuries are.

After the guards met Charlie, they brought a wheelchair out for him and we all got to go inside. It was like stepping into another world - a world that just a few days ago would have seemed normal, but now after 3 days without running water, toilets or a.c. - this was paradise. We brought our sweaty selves into the air conditioning and waited. I used the restroom.

The toilet flushed.

I almost fainted.

Back in the lobby, we watched as a steady stream of men carrying machine guns, as well as horribly wounded 'quake victims went in and out of the building. A makeshift hospital was set up in one of the embassy offices to care for the people waiting for the opportunity to be sent home to the U.S. After a few hours of waiting, we got the news. Not only is Charlie getting a visa, we're getting them for 11 other orphans.

We cried.

This is unheard of and beyond a miracle. Children that could die if they are forced to stay here, now not only have an opportunity for quality medical care but the chance to have a new life in America.

That was the end of the first leg of my long day.The second part began immediately.

We sent half of our crew, including Charlie, in one of the vehicles back to the village. Barbara, Joe (the organizer of this trip and founder of Air Mobile Ministries), John (the print reporter I'm traveling with) and I loaded into a truck and headed into the heart of Port-au-Prince.

It's the kind of devastation you simply can't prepare yourself for.

Decomposing bodies litter the sidewalks - their arms stretched out as if grasping for help; their faces frozen in an intense expression of pain - the same expression worn even by the living here. The smell is beyond description and the images now seared into my mind are just as nauseating.

Then, there's the structural damage: the presidential palace, the senate building, the national post office, the federal building, the main courthouse - all destroyed. Imagine if all of those buildings in the United States crumbled. It's something we like to think could only happen in some sort of blockbuster film, but for the Haitians, this is now reality.

A tent city sprung up just across the street from the once stunning "White House." Hundreds upon hundreds of people now live there, sleeping on what little scraps of cloth they could find, bathing in the fountain, eating and drinking - nothing. Some people are walking around in the streets naked. Maybe they have no clothing. Maybe it's too hot on this sweltering day. Maybe, they're just starting to go crazy. With no food, no water, and everything around you destroyed how could anyone keep it together?

I didn't see any organizations offering aid today; I know some tried, but I didn't see them. But whatever help is here, it's not enough. These people are starving and it seems to me that it's going to get much, much worse before it gets any better.

We wrapped up our emotionally draining day by going to the Visa Lodge - a cool little hotel in Port-au-Prince. Phase 3 of this unbelievable day. Again, it was like a movie.

There were reporters from around the world gathered there having dinner and a beer, unwinding after a very long, hard day of work. We all tried to pretend we hadn't just witnessed such horrible things.

For a moment, we escaped.

The peace was short-lived though. As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot we still had to drive 15 minutes back to the village, past toppled buildings, through a river that people were both bathing in and drinking from, as well as past hundreds of homeless Haitians wandering aimlessly in the streets.

I'm having another Haitian beer and heading downstairs for my last night with my new friends. I'll be home tomorrow, possibly with Charlie and a 2-year-old orphan who has a visa and a family waiting for her.

First blog from Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI-- The devestation and sadness here are hard to describe. I feel it looming around me, but so far, have seen such a small portion of it.

I left the airport in Port-au-Prince after nightfall, so my glimpse of the destruction came only through what was illuminated by the headlights of the truck I was riding in, or by the fires that burned in the street.

Some of the homes and business are fine. Next door to those seemingly sound structures, however, are schools, hospitals and grocery stores toppled. People, both living and dead, were still trapped inside as I rode past. It's too dark to search. So, sadly, they'll have to wait until morning.

I am staying in a small village in the town of Bon Repos just outside of Port-au-Prince. I'm with a group called Air Mobile Ministries and we are staying with an incredibly accomodating hostess named Barbara in this village she built on her own through donations. Let me tell ya, she is somethin'! She's a tough-talkin' New Yorker even the meanest Haitians are too afraid to mess with.

Tonight, on the drive home from the airport, we came upon a bridge that was blocked off. The locals came up to the window and told us it was unsafe to cross. While we all clung to anything we could grab on to, Barbara hit the gas and crossed the bridge anyway. She said they were trying to trick us into taking a detour where they'd corner us and force us to give them money. The other side of the bridge was blocked by tires and other debris. It was intentionally put there so the locals could collect a "toll."

Barbara wasn't having it.

She made John, one of the guys in our group, get out to move the tires and she drove past the now cleared road block as she sarcastically yelled to the wanna-be bridge tender, "Merci beaucoup!!"

Mom, Dad, don't let that story scare you. She's unconventional but we're in good hands. I can't wait to tell you more about Barbara. She is doing some truly amazing work here.

So far I've heard such scary stories about when the earthquake struck. Barbara runs an orphanage here in the village. They children were all on the second story of one of the homes here when it hit. Mandi, one of the nurses volunteering here, says she literally dove for the children when everything began shaking. Incredibly, everyone is ok.

We had our own scare tonight. A tremor rocked the building this evening around 9:30pm and we all had to run outside to safety. Barbara is noticing more and more cracks in her house as the tremors continue.

Tomorrow, we'll go out and truly survey the damage. The founder of Air Mobile Ministries, Joe Hurston, will be out repairig some of the 232 water filtration systems he has here in Haiti. I hope to bring you all stories from the survivors in hopes of painting a more personalized picture of just how destructive this earthquake was.

Tonight, all of the people in the village are sleeping outside with a tiny TV tuned to CNN. I heard Anderson Cooper say something along the lines of, "Wherever you are, be grateful it isn't Port-au-Prince." I, however, am grateful I AM in Port-au-Prince so I can hopefully share stories that might otherwise be overlooked in this tragedy.

Helpless in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- I've been here less than 24 hours but it feels like a week.

There are so many stories here to tell.

I've seen so much.

Today, I went to what was once a 3-story supermarket that completely toppled. People heard a woman screaming from beneath the rubble that she needed water. Dozens of people began digging to find her and any other survivors. The owners of the store were found dead inside; countless other customers are presumed to have met the same fate.

Looking at the rescue effort, the dust swirling in the air as strangers climb on top of the unsteady cement to dig, reminds me of a scene from 9/11.

The confusion.

The despair.

But this is just one building. Imagine this multiplied by hundreds and that is your picture of Haiti right now.

Even when survivors are found beneath the toppled building across Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns, there is nowhere for them to get help. The hospitals are gone, and any remaining Haitian doctors are reluctant to treat these injuries. People are walking in the streets, bandaged and crying for help.

Word spread that there are two nurses from the United States who just happen to be visiting Ruuska Village (where I'm staying). One U.S. citizen, a man whose leg is so badly broken the nurses say he's near death, was brought to the village in the back of a pick-up truck this afternoon. The nurses gave him antibiotics and put a splint on his leg. It helps, but they say if he doesn't have surgery soon, he'll lose his life. The man lost his passport in the rubble, and for now, he can't get back to America.

There are also a lot of injured babies being brought here to the village. One little boy was badly burned from his buttocks to his toes when a pot of oil spilled on him during the 'quake. His mother abandoned him here at the orphanage.

Other children have internal injuries, but there's no way to treat them.

Even those who weren't injured are fighting to survive. So many are poor and homeless here to begin with; now, they truly have nothing. Across Port-au-Prince and the surrounding towns hundreds are living in tent cities. The families making their homes in these public parks that look more like garbage dumps not only lost their homes, they have no food and no access to water. Multiple families share a blanket in the dirt, crumpled next to rotting trash. Flies cover their childrens' faces as they stare blankly ahead.

No one knows what to do.

One woman I spoke with at the tent city said that we were the first people to talk to them who could give them information about what is going on else where in Haiti. The government, they say, is doing nothing. The aid groups, while present, are overwhelmed. Where do you begin with such widespread destruction?

Here in the village, the efforts are multi-faceted. Joe Hurston of AirMobile Ministries, one of the guys I flew here with, is working hard to repair the water filtration systems he has here so the people can have clean drinking water. Barbara, the founder of this village, is trying to keep everyone fed and safe. She runs a home for unwed mothers as well as an orphanage. Some of the babies have already been adopted, but were awaiting visas. Now, she worries they won't ever get them. She's on the phone now trying to get the U.S. to issue emergency visas for the babies so they can be rushed out of Haiti before conditions here worsen. I just overheard her say on the phone, "We have to get them out, while they're still alive."

2nd night in Haiti

Port-au-Prince, HAITI -- I woke up in the middle of the night already on my feet.

The room was shaking.

It was another tremor.

The woman who is housing us, Barbara, starting yelling, "Out!!" and we ran. By the time we were outside of her tiny concrete room in a small town called Bon Repos just outside of Port-au-Prince, the shaking had stopped.

Back to sleep. Back to being attacked by the relentless mosquitos who gave up on the rest of my bug-spray covered body and decided to feast on the bottom of my feet.

Then - another tiny tremor. This one only lasted about half a second, and I went back to sleep. The rooster outside starting telling us to wake up long before dawn, and after the third tremor, I finally gave in. Everyone else is starting to wake up and the work is about to begin. Joe Hurston, the founder of Air Mobile Ministries, is about to start working on getting the water filtration systems functional. A few of us are going to go out to see some of the damage outside of the village so we can report back to you on the rescue efforts.