Holding My Gaze on Haiti
By Jennifer Grant
It’s the first Tuesday of the month which means, where I live, that the emergency siren was tested at 10a.m. Poised to sound in the event of a tornado or other dangers, it’s a long, shrill sound, starting up like an air raid signal, swirling and filling the sky. I’ve lived here in the suburbs of Chicago for most of my life, so I barely notice the test. But this morning when it broke the morning’s silence, my thoughts—though not far from it at the time—were wrenched back to Haiti, where in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a real emergency continues.
I returned home from Port-au-Prince a week ago after taking a learning tour with organizations like MAP that fight poverty in Haiti. My fellow trip participants and I heard from our hosts as well as from local technical experts about efforts to promote the health and well-being of the Haitian people. We visited a village savings and loan association in Port-au-Prince. We listened to community health workers as they counseled women about prenatal care, nutrition, and the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. We heard from mothers whose deepest desires, like mine, are to protect and nurture their children. It was an honor to meet women there; I was impressed by their strength, bravery, artistic gifts, and faith.
It was my first trip to Haiti, but not my first time traveling abroad to visit projects that alleviate global poverty. Still, despite my past experience, Haiti threw me. Its steep and rugged terrain, the lack of a solid health infrastructure, its fraught history, and the many visible (and unseen) scars from the 2010 earthquake seemed like crushing obstacles for the people to navigate.
When I got home, I told my husband I wouldn’t be ready to talk about the experience for a week or two. I needed time; there was too much to process. I had filled a notebook with statistics, snippets of conversation, ideas, and inspiring words from people on the ground who effectively promote health, economic empowerment, and reforestation efforts there. There is so much good being done in this nation, initiatives that deserve our attention and need our advocacy for continued U.S. foreign assistance.
And now, a week later, Hurricane Matthew brings the people who have endured such hardship to their knees again. I wish I could check in with the young mothers with whom I spoke last week, just to hear if their families have survived and how they are managing. I am newly invigorated to keep on, as Kay Warren says in her powerful book Dangerous Surrender, letting myself be “seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined” by the suffering in the world. I won’t look away, but will hold my gaze on Haiti.
Jennifer Grant is the author of five works of nonfiction. She lives in the Chicago area and recently traveled to Haiti. Her website is jennifergrant.com and she’s on Twitter @jennifercgrant.