October 24, 2012
Molly Lineberger is the Enrollment Marketing Manager at the Monterey Institute. This is her story about living and working in Haiti.
My story begins in July 2009 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when I arrived to work for Catholic Relief Services in their assistance to people living with HIV program. CRS had been working in Haiti since 1954, and I was honored to join this large and established organization of over 300 employees, including nine international staff members. The programs in Haiti ranged from agriculture to education to livelihood creation. Most of our projects were in the provinces of Haiti in underserved areas that had even less infrastructure than Port-au-Prince.
I quickly adapted to the pace of life in this crowded, vivid and wild capital city. I relearned how to drive a manual shift 4x4 vehicle (I'm originally from Montana) and I enjoyed bobbing along the unpaved roads to work and to our program sites. I made friends with Haitian staff, learned to eat the national dishes, and adapted my proper French into the more casually spoken Creole. I threw myself into our projects for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) and was amazed at the poverty but heartened by small signs of progress. Slowly, I fell in love with this passionate and heart-breaking country.
On January 12, 2010 I had left my office at 4:30pm and was in my car when I experienced the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that shook the city for 35 seconds, taking down buildings and killing thousands instantly. I was unharmed and quickly united with my co-workers as we immediately put plans in place to start helping those in need. I was so fortunate to be working for CRS, a well-prepared organization that had warehouses of emergency supplies stockpiled for the hurricane season. We were able to be one of the first organizations doing large scale distributions to the new spontaneous camps of displaced people who were desperate for supplies. The greatest honor I had was working side by side with some of the bravest Haitians, who had lost homes and family members - but were working all day and night to help others - even when their hearts were breaking.
I stayed for another 21 months after that, helping to be part of the rebuilding process. I worked on a U.S. Government funded program to reunite children who were unaccompanied and separated due to the earthquake. I witnessed family members finding each other again after months of searching and believing all had been lost. I believe that in this kind of situation, when people are most vulnerable, the least that can be done is to restore families. When cholera broke out in the provinces and then in the city, children were extremely vulnerable, especially those living in orphanages with poor sanitation. CRS worked with UNICEF, the Red Cross, and many other organizations to combat cholera - a preventable, treatable disease. Too many people were dying so fast, especially after having just experienced the calamity of an earthquake and months of terrifying aftershocks.
It was on one of those days, on a site visit to the dusty city of Gonaives in western Haiti, that I realized it. That I loved Haiti no matter what. For richer of for poorer, in sickness and in health - I was utterly in love with this devastatingly beautiful place. A place where you experience humanity at its most raw, where you see everything that is wonderful and everything that is horrible about life right in front of your face. And I am grateful to have been there for a turning point in the lives of Haitians. It certainly was a turning point for mine.