Remembers Haiti One Year After Devastating Earthquake
Israel News Agency
Israel ---- January 18, 2011 ...... Its been one year since Israel
dispatched a search, rescue and an advanced IDF field hospital
to Haiti. I remember. I was there.
a messenger, as a journalist, I have been trained to capture images
not just through a cold camera lens click, but also from those
around me who whisper, cry, laugh, touch, smile and breathe. It
is for the people, the children of Haiti that I remember. That
I write to take pride in what it means to be an Israeli.
you shall remember and know the Haitians deep suffering and continue
to take humanitarian action.
To remember the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who
volunteered to risk their lives among earthquake aftershocks,
falling ruble, disease and street gangs.
I first visited Haiti when I was 12-years-old. My parents would
take me on luxury cruise ships every Christmas to the tranquil,
fun, blue Caribbean. I never forgot the poverty though, the dirt
in the streets and the white smiles of the black children who
came to the clean, tall docked luxury cruise ships and dived along
side our ship to grab the silver coins we would throw into the
Not corrupted by commercial concerns. Very basic. Very Israeli
in the sense that the world has seemed to have forgotten them
in their poor misery. Palestinians grab headlines with oil rich
backed PR as their warehouses over flow with food in Gaza, but
one does not hear of Israel children, or Haiti children wallowing
children of Haiti have been victims sentenced by cruel fate and
then tossed about again by both human design and the unlimited
forces of nature. They remain victims today. Though not sitting
among their dead parents, brothers, sisters and children and babies,
but remembering their lost love ones as they continue to starve.
Sitting next to their own fesis.
The 2010 Haiti earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time on Tuesday,
January 12, 2010.
24, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been
recorded. An estimated three million people were affected by the
earthquake catastrophe Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive
recently stated that over 220,000 people had died and that 500,000
Bellerive also estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial
buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged.
Jocelyn Lassegue, a native of Haiti who always wore a warm smile
and worked as an English to French translator with Israel Flying
Aid, describes the morning of January 12.
"I was on my bike (motorcycle) on my way to work. I sell
mobile telephones. As I was riding on one of the main roads all
I started to see was dust. Dust rising from the ground. The ground
was shaking violently, so strong that it threw me off my bike.
As I lay on the shaking ground I could see cars flying in the
air as they turned over in every direction. Three people who stood
just a few meters from me and started to rush over to help me
were hit by falling cement blocks. They died where they stood.
All I could hear was the sound of people screaming and crying.
I made my way back home to discover that it was no more. Just
rubble. My wife Ruth and two young children were inside. My wife
and kids were watching a popular TV series. They were killed where
they were sitting. I could do nothing except cry myself to sleep."
Jocelyn-Lassegue adds: "As the morning sun rose I started
to remove the cement and bricks. I pulled my family out and dug
a big hole next to the house. That is where they are now. With
Within hours of the earthquake, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu
gave the orders for the Israel Defense Forces IDF Homefront Command
Search and Rescue and medical teams to leave for Haiti. Within
72 hours the IDF had established the first field hospital in Port
au Prince. Within 6 hours, the Israel Defense Forces were saving
lives as they opened their operating rooms to hundreds of Haitians.
In the two weeks that the IDF served the people of Haiti, they
treated over 1,000 people and delivered one baby.
Well before the IDF were unzipping their kit bags in Haiti, I
sought means to get there. The IDF had only 4 slots open for the
Spokesperson's Office and I was not one of them. They suggested
that I speak with Israel Flying Aid. By coincidence, I had the
pleasure of meeting Israel Flying Aid founder and director Gal
Lusky, SEO optimized their Website a few years ago and thoroughly
enjoyed a colorful fund raiser.
Israel Flying Aid invited me to join their delegation to Haiti.
This was with only two days notice. When asked "when are
we flying out" the only answer was a tentative Thursday morning.
Wednesday night I attended a final briefing at their Tel Aviv
headquarters. Hours before I received injections for tetanus,
typhoid and malaria and picked up an emergency satellite phone
At the IFA headquarters, large, black kit bags with our names
attached on white labels lined the halls. Our luggage contained
a few things. White and blue Israel Flying Aid Disaster Relief
T-shirts and hats to be identified by, head flashlights, a brown,
plastic spoon and fork. And dozens of alcohol gel packets to remove
our hands and faces of the germs and disease we were about to
Next to our bags lay open bags of hundreds of small, white, fluffy
dolls. Soft, smiling bunny rabbits and tigers and cats. All providing
a glimpse of the humanitarian mission that we had before us. To
treat the children of Haiti for severe trauma, shock and rape.
The tragedy that is Haiti was very well illustrated by Deborah
Sontag, a reporter in a front page news story of the International
Herald Tribune. This reporter spoke with an American, Dr. Elizabeth
Bellino, a US Pediatrician who was treating a 12-year-old before
his leg was amputated.
him, she broke down in tears facing an unlimited, depressing burden
of children suffering around her. The young boy comforted her
and told her to attend to the other children who were more sick.
She regained her composure and gave the boy a kiss. Two days later
she left for Rwanda for another humanitarian mission, but her
mind always went back to this little boy in Haiti. The reporter
found both Elizabeth and the little boy. Elizabeth said that she
planned on returning to Haiti within two weeks and wanted to know
what the little boy wanted. Upon hearing this from the news reporter,
the little boy in Haiti quickly responded that he wanted a bicycle
to ride to school and to church.
Then he took
his hand and hit his head, saying: "I forgot."
Israel's efforts to help children in Haiti by donating to:
Israel Discount Bank
Account # 57797
Lastly, we signed several insurance forms, actually three insurance
policies that would provide something to our families if we didn't
return. We signed waivers releasing both Israel Flying Aid and
the State of Israel of any responsibility for the humanitarian
volunteering we were about to jump into.
If anyone had the slightest notion that we were heading for a
holiday, that idea came to an abrupt halt hearing Gal say: "please
do not wear any jewerely, they will cut off your fingers for your
For going into a war and or disaster zone, we wear different colored
clothes. Our work clothes when carrying an M-16, helmet and flak
jacket is green, we wear gray when carrying a laptop, mosquito
spray and bottles of alcohol gel.
With only 8 hours to departure time, I and a good friend who helped
me to prepare for this trip to Haiti, Gayla Goodman, ventured
into a huge supermarket. We were not there to buy Pringles but
rather 12 underpants, shirts and three pair of cargo pants. As
we were counting the minutes, I actually tried on the cargo pants
in aisle 5. No one noticed. There was to be no washing or drying
machine where IFA was going. We needed to be able to change clothes
every few days into whatever we brought.
Now with my large, black kit bag in hand, my laptop, one satellite
phone, two digital cameras and one day pack, I made my trek to
Ben-Gurion airport before sunrise.
Israel Flying Aid and the Israel Defense Forces were to work together
at the field hospital in Haiti. They were also planning to visit
orphanages in Haiti to decide which was the neediest.
For our first week in Haiti the IFA team would divide its time
between providing medical clowns at the IDF Field Hospital and
going to several orphanages in Port-au-Prince where we would park
our vans for a few hours each and provide shows for the children.
Israel Flying Aid and Orange Israel Telecommunications announced
that they had planned to aid humanitarian efforts in Haiti by
creating an orphanage which would immediately accommodate up to
This would be the first of three stages of establishing an orphanage
which was expected to absorb over 200 children in Haiti.
The orphanage would be staffed by both Haiti and Israel volunteers.
These volunteers will provide primary medical care, educational,
social services, nutrition and trauma treatment working in cooperation
"Israel Flying Aid is based upon the Jewish principles of
the prophet Isaiah to: 'Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend
the cause of the widow, and in doing so we do not discriminate
by race, nationality or religion," said Gal Lusky, CEO and
founder of IFA.
"From showers to electricity and computers, from water, food
and clothing we will rebuild this orphanage," said IFA team
member David Avner, CEO of Orange Israel Telecommunications.
today we will take a yard and put up tents as it is unsafe for
the children to remain in these cracked and unstable buildings."
IFA and Orange Israel are presently seeking to raise between 1-2
million dollars from the Israel business community for this humanitarian
project in Haiti.
Avner, who lives with his wife and three children in Haifa, Israel
and has served as CEO of Orange Israel for four year, says that
the challenge will be the continuation of the orphanage for many
years to come.
"The IDF came to Haiti to save lives, we have examined over
1,000 people at our Field Hospital", said Lt. Col. Tarif
"We have been very successful in saving many lives but there
is still an enormous amount of work to be done in Haiti, but the
IDF is designed to work in disaster and war zones whereby we provide
primary care treatment. We embrace the many doctors and nurses
who have left their homes in Europe, the US, Canada, Columbia
and several other countries, the US military which has provided
a hospital ship and will remain behind to provide primary care
needed. The IDF has transferred all the hospitalized patients
who need further treatment to other facilities in Haiti which
are now operative at full capacity. I am very proud of being part
of this IDF delegation and appreciate all of the IDF soldiers
both in career and reserve service who took part in this difficult
The IFA team consisted of a nurse, Linoy, from Schneider Children's
Hospital in Petach Tikva, Israel, 3 medical clowns - Dudi Barashi,
Shuli Victor and Hamutal Ende, two logistics experts - Gal Lusky,
the founder and director of IFA and Sima, a photographer - Ariel
Shruster, the CEO - David Avner and COO of Orange Israel, our
ground crew - Israelis living in the Dominican Republic, a translator
I found myself
to be the only professional public relations, social media consultant
and English speaking journalist embedded to be among these doctors,
nurses and rescue personnel. Most of my job had already been accomplished
as CNN, FOX, BBC, Sky News and many others came to realize
that Israel had the only advanced field hospital established in
Haiti. My job was to make sure that the headlines kept pouring
out of our base camp so that those back in Jerusalem would know
and appreciate what we were doing. That the world would know the
heart which is Israel.
That we would
be able to stay longer in keeping the children alive, fed with
warm and safe beds.
In our flight to Paris to catch our connecting flight to Haiti,
we slid deeply into our own thoughts. This was no ordinary trip
to the sleepy Caribbean. Long, white sandy beaches, rum laced
drinks and the sweet sound of steel drums was not awaiting us.
Going through security at Paris was something I would never forget.
a frequent flier and knowing EU laws, I was told that I could
not take a bottle of Scotch that I bought at Ben-Gurion duty free.
It had to be 100 mls or less or drank on the spot. I became really
upset knowing that they knew that was a transfer flight and rather
than keeping the Scotch, let's take it away from these ignorant
tourists and have them buy in our French duty free stores instead.
Something to lift my spirits in this far away tropical Island
had been taken from me.
Now adding insult to injury, they grabbed my Polo Explorer cologne.
I argued that I did not buy it en route - this green bottle came
directly from my bathroom! They responded that I could spray myself
as much as I wished before they took it. Fuming, but smelling
good, I headed for the departure gate.
As I arrived
at the gate, I realized that my blue hat with the Israel flag
on it was not on my head. I made a u turn and walked as fast I
as could back to security.
"I want my hat," I said. One of the French security
guys just shrugged his shoulders as if he had no idea of what
I was talking about. Again, I demanded louder: "I want my
Another security guy reached into a draw and took it out in less
than a second.
Many of the French may not like Israel, but they do not need to
steal our hats as souvenirs!
On board this 11 hour flight to the Dominican Republic were several
search and rescue teams from nations including Greece, France,
Turkey, Switzerland, Netherlands and Spain. It was almost like
going to the Olympics and seeing the many colorful uniforms with
the names of the country inscribed on the back of their jackets.
But this was not the Olympics.
If anything, these were true heroes about to risk their lives
among falling buildings, disease and perhaps gangs of thieves.
Upon arrival in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, all appeared
very normal in the tiny airport terminal as we filed out our arrival
and custom forms. We then made way to our hotel for our last night
sleeping with air conditioning on a normal mattress with clean
sheets and running water. This I knew. Lack of running water was
something I had never experienced except on camping trips. This
It was now summer time in the Caribbean. No different than the
night before a major and challenging march in the desert with
the IDF, we enjoyed a really good meal. Kinda of like the Last
Supper as we had no idea of what to expect the following day,
the following weeks.
After taking three portions from a large American style breakfast,
we left with heavy security on a two lane country road over and
through villages, hills and dense jungle to the Haiti border.
I remember speaking to a journalist who was sitting next to me
in the hotel dining room. He looked exhausted, stressed and pretty
much burnt out. I wondered if that was how I was to look in two
weeks. I had little idea of what he saw and heard, but it was
It seemed rather romantic as we trekked over dirt, bumpy roads
and eyed the tall volcano shaped green mountains on our left and
right. We had no problem crossing into Haiti. There were many
seeking to cross from Haiti into the Dominican Republic at the
border. They walked around, they sat holding office documents,
they sold canned food.
As we approached Port-au-Prince we looked for cracks in buildings.
The first sign that a powerful earthquake had been there before
us were a string of wooden electric poles leaning like the Tower
of Pisa. Then we saw homes without roofs.
As we entered a turned and torn upside down city, a thick smoke
masked the many fires, that we passed. We had instructions to
keep the doors and windows closed and locked. From the little
that I could see behind the black tinted windows were a mass of
people wandering around. Many wearing white, surgical face masks
to block out the stench of dead bodies, while carrying freshly
cut wood and black charcoal in their arms.
We had no idea that wood was to replace electric lights, ovens
It took us a while to find the Israel Defense Forces Field Hospital.
It was dark, road lights were out and not many knew where it was.
Finally we saw what appeared to be an IDF jeep. Two Nahal IDF
soldiers stood at a small, red metal gate at the end of narrow,
dirt road among dozens of Haitians trying to enter.
Once inside you would never know that you had left Israel.
This was an
IDF base no different than any other IDF base in the Golan Heights,
outside of Jerusalem or the Negev. Even the soil, the rocks and
the trees looked identical.
We were told that dinner was being served at the Heder Ochel -
the dining room. As we entered this IDF dining room which had
transformed a tennis court into 6 long rows of blue and white
tables, I stood in awe.
Just minutes ago I was in a scene out of the Twilight Zone
or the Night of the Zombies and now sitting directly in
front of me were over a hundred soldiers in IDF uniform singing
I must have stood in amazement, smiling in pride for at least
My smile would not fade.
I was never so proud to be Jewish.
To be an Israeli.
Never so proud of the Israel Defense Forces for having traveled
half way around the world to help people who were not Jewish,
not wealthy, not selling defense equipment or food to Israel.
These Haitians could not help Israel in any manner whatsoever.
But we were there to help them.
had voted for Israel to become a state back in 1948, but that
truly did not make a difference as Israel would have been there
all the same.
After a tasty dinner served with traditional humus and some Shabbat
wine, we set up our two man tents and air mattresses on a football
field. The grass under and around our tents had turned from green
for the next day was to unleash our smiling medical clowns to
the traumatized children who were bleeding with lost arms and
legs inside the IDF tent hospital. But the clowns would not wait
for the hours to pass. They put on their colorful costumes, their
long, leather shoes, red plastic noses and made the kids smile.
The sight of all of these children, many crying for their parents
who had died in the earthquake was heart breaking.
One of our clowns could not hide his tears after the first night.
No one who witnessed these children writhing in both physical
and emotional pain could not find a means to distance themselves.
The IDF is trained and used to caring for wounded soldiers, now
some of the most respected doctors, nurses and medics in Israel
were treating men, women and children with every kind of trauma
associated with falling buildings, disease and starvation.
We awoke to the sound of a dozen roosters at sunrise. Our two
man blue tents were set up next the grandstands, about a 2 minute
walk from where IDF doctors were operating. The loud IDF PA systems
announcements and constant roar of US military helicopters flying
low over the hospital reminded one of the TV and movie series
But this was
not TV. This was MASH.
What was totally absent for the rest of the day, the remainder
of our mission, was the sound of birds chirping, singing. A sweet
noise that I did not hear until landing back in Israel.
My job was to document and report. To allow the world a unique
and real view of Israel. An Israel which would travel around the
world saving lives. In Israel, a majority of government and private,
commercial concerns after creating a great product and or service
would say that if the product was so good, people would come and
This marketing approach has proved about as successful as the
Titanic. But in this particular case, the IDF had flown into Haiti
within 3 days of the earthquake, had began operating within 6
hours of landing and that itself was the most powerful viral marketing
that one could wish for.
And Israel had not come to Haiti seeking positive PR. Israel is
so used to being bashed no matter what it does, having professional
public relations at this IDF Field Hospital would not make one
degree of difference in world opinion. But again, Israel was wrong
to have thought that. Not having sought professional PR, crisis
communications or even event marketing - just the very news that
Israel had the only and most sophisticated hospital up and running
made the news from CNN, FOX and the BBC to Reuters, AP and SKY
My job was mostly done. But the remaining challenge that confronted
me was shelf life. Yes, Israel had done well. But could we keep
Haiti in the news for the people of Haiti and for the people of
Israel long enough to stave off the oil rich PR pros from Iran,
Syria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia who seek Israel's total destruction?
The IDF provided Internet access to reporters under a make shift
tent. In fact, it was not even a tent, it was some large canvas
that stretched from the side of a caravan to the 3 or poles in
the ground. I began getting out news releases through PRWEB
and Rush PR News - online, new media, Web 2.0 services
that provide news release distribution to every media outlet around
the world. I forsaked using my own Israel News Agency for
I had feared that during an upload or download if the electricity
went out, the entire INA site could crash.
I was able to get the news releases out and push them out to Google
News, Twitter and Blogger. All was working except for Facebook.
My Facebook account had been disabled the day that I entered Haiti
with over 4,500 friends including governmental, humanitarian and
media contacts. I had not broken any of the Terms of Service of
Facebook, yet someone appeared to have hacked into my Facebook
account and or made false abuse complaints. This was three weeks
My Facebook account was only restored about two weeks after having
arrived back in Israel. My disabled Facebook account did not hurt
me but it did hurt getting logistics from and to other NGO humanitarian
contacts I had on Facebook.
This disabling action may have cost the lives of some trapped
and hungry children. Something that the Islamic cyber terror hackers
would have embraced. It was only after I got back from Haiti that
someone had pointed out to me that a Facebook group with 700 members
was created with the sole purpose of taking my account down. The
name of the Facebook group was a very innocent: "Save Gaza".
International reporters came and went to the Israel Defense Forces
Field Hospital but only two Israel reporters stayed throughout
the entire time that I was there. A female reporter from Yediot
Ahronot - YNET and a photographer from StandWithUs.
After only a couple of days, one of our team members fell ill.
It was one of our medical clowns who was always in close contact
with the sick and sneezing children. He started to vomit one evening
and by the next day he could not move. Fortunately we were surrounded
by doctors and nurses. After two days, he was back on his feet
and ready to be evacuated back to Santo Domingo with one of our
nurses. Not more than a few hours would go by that we did not
wash our hands in Dr. Fischer alcohol gel.
During the time we spent at the IDF hospital, Gal Lusky was gathering
logistics on an orphanage where the children had little if no
food. After two days, they found the orphanage and started to
supply it with food and water. As the IDF closed their field hospital
and began folding their tents after two exhausting weeks and handed
it over the US Airborne Army, our delegation set out for the orphanage.
It was to be our next home for at least a week.
From USAID on February 15, 2010 we learned that the estimated
deaths totaled over 212,000. People displaced by the Haiti earthquake
was over 700,000.
As of February 14, 2010 only 42 percent of the population has
received basic shelter and food.
As we arrived at the orphanage we were greeted by smiling nuns
and curious children. Many of these children had large stomachs,
bloated from starvation that the nuns mistook for over eating.
The small children were receiving only one meal a day until we
arrived. Our first task, get food into the mouths of these sweet,
innocent and loving kids.
Prior to the whole delegation's arrival, representatives from
Israel Flying Aid and the Israel Defense Forces visited the orphanage
in Haiti where they examined 50 children who were suffering from
Seeing many of the children with bloated stomachs, was something
that Jews had not seen since the Holocaust.
An IDF Lt. Colonel and three nurses began to vaccinate the children,
while professional clowns which were brought to Haiti by Israel
Flying Aid, provided the children with treatment for trauma.
The children quickly grabbed and ate the fish, rice, beans and
fresh milk that IFA had brought to them food that they
had not seen for almost two weeks.
Twenty children had been kidnapped from the orphanage just days
prior to the arrival of IFA and sold to human traffickers.
Our photographer, Ariel Shruster, mentioned to me just an hour
after arriving at the orphanage, was it not kind of strange that
the children were not showing any interest in us. It took me a
minute to realize that he was right. Something was very wrong.
These sweet, little children were traumatized.
I immediately made myself child friendly placing a small white,
furry bunny rabbit with two large pink ears strapped to my black
satellite phone case. The satellite phone case, bottle of mosquito
repellent, alcohol gel packets, my blue neck hanging bandana (ready
to be used as a tourniquet and catching sweat as it rolled off
my forehead), two digital cameras, and my red Swiss army knife
replaced any need for a M-16.
It was this equipment which remained glued to my body, not far
away from much money tucked away in places that only I and the
cockroaches could find.
We would wake early but no earlier than the nuns who would be
praying several times a day. Occasionally one of them would use
a small, hand held metal bell in their kitchen to let us know
that breakfast was ready. Forget the eggs, coffee and croissants.
We were eating the food that we had brought with us - pasta noodles
As part of our team was coordinating the purchase and delivery
of tons of food, the other members were out recruiting construction
workers from the tent cities which covered every park in Port
Israel Flying Aid was determined to rebuild the orphanage with
the financial help of Orange Israel Telecommunications before
we left Haiti. Until now, the children were sleeping outside next
to garbage and cockroaches as they feared staying inside a building
that they and the Nuns thought would fall on their heads.
Gal's idea was to build a wall for security and then inside an
adjoining field, build four strong walls from cement and cement
blocks and provide kind of a Sukkah roof. Easy and fast to build
and none of the aftershocks would send cement blocks hurtling
downward towards the sleeping children.
Gal is a very attractive, personable and sensitive human being
who speaks a number of languages. But behind that warm smile lays
nothing less than a truly focused tigress. With the organization
of an elite IDF combat officer in a firefight, she would demand
and get total respect from the IFA team.
Where I had grown up in New York where it was fashionable to be
a bit late, here you were warned that you would be left behind.
Their was no nonsense with this team leader. Not a minute would
pass that this real life "Macgyver" was not working
on and getting accomplished what she started out for.
At one point, two men from the Pinson Foundation in Florida had
driven two hours to find us to donate a mobile, electric generator.
Now we had the generator, the oil and the fuel. All that was missing
was the funnel.
"Joel, can you please give me one of the news releases,"
Gal asked. I wondered why in the middle of putting together this
electric generator did she want to review one of the news releases.
Without questioning, out of my gray cargo pants pocket, I unfolded
a news release and gave it to Gal. She then took the paper and
shaped it into a funnel. The generator now had both oil and gas.
Never had I seen operations and public relations integrated so
quickly and intimately.
One of our team members who came as a medical clown now took on
the job of logistics coordinator given his large size and strong
frame. The children and nuns would smile and call him Jesus as
he did look the part.
Gal and "Jesus" (his real name is Ohad) searched for
and found ten construction workers in a mere two hours. Within
three days a building stood to provide shelter, safety and warmth
for the children.
The orphanage was located in a residential area of Port Au Prince.
This was an area where both shacks and large, elegant homes coexisted.
What they shared in common were dirt roads with sewage streaming
down the sides. There was no pavement, just garbage with a new
element added to it. The gray cement rubble of the homes which
had either totally or partly collapsed from the earthquake.
Not having any wireless Internet, I set out searching for it.
With the luck of the gods, I found an Internet cafe just two blocks
away - without the cafe.
The small store had about a dozen computers powered by solar panels
and a mobile electric generator. Joel, the Internet shop manager
who spoken a bit of English, told me that many of the computers
were down. After about 2 hours I got them back up and running.
But what most came to this store for was to recharge their cell
To and from this Internet store named Strac, I would pass men
sitting and playing Monopoly. I thought it was rather a strange
paradox that they were buying and selling buildings when all around
us was either down or cracked. The women sold toiletries and some
canned foods. There was even some meat and fish out, but whatever
was open was covered by a blanket of flies.
One young, smiling barber who spoke English without missing a
note, had his small, steel caravan store doors open for business.
The haircut that he gave me was the only normal taste of civilization
that I experienced while in Haiti.
Walking alongside me on the cracked, dirt roads were the skeletons
of dogs, pigs and goats. Many had open wounds for which flies
attacked. I wanted to find a vet for a dog whose eye was bleeding,
but in this chaos I had to remind myself that the children I was
staying with came first and foremost. In Haiti, man's best friend
- dogs - were expendable.
One would see very few cats in the street. When I asked about
where were the cats, I was told they were being eaten. When I
finally found a few, their owners made sure that they never ventured
out to far from their homes.
Our young drivers were from the Dominican Republic. They spoke
Spanish as they flirted with French speaking Haitian women. Normally
those from the Dominican Republic and Haiti had very little in
common - in fact they did not like one another.
Perhaps it was a clash of Spanish and French cultures. But the
earthquake changed all of that rapidly as hundreds of rescue and
medical volunteers poured into Haiti from Santo Domingo. These
two neighbors, who were once separated by different languages,
were now united in a language called humanity.
We ate very little. Our first meal inside the nun's kitchen consisted
of rice. It made eating uncooked, combat food - Luf - in the Israel
Defense Forces seem like a delicacy. But I sat there chewing it
and smiling all the same as not wanting to offend the nuns who
were also eating it. One of our team members must have helped
them with the recipe because by the next day, it was edible.
I joked that there was Weight Watchers and there was Haiti. I
was now on the Haiti diet and was very thankful for the cinnamon
granola bars that I had taken with me. For the Kellogg's cereal
that we had bought and brought with us from Santo Domingo. As
for water, we drank from mineral water bottles. And we made sure
that we always had a bottle or two near us or on us for reserve.
After two days of not showering and really being in a combat,
camping mode, the nuns announced to me that my "shower"
was now ready. I knew there were no showers and looked at them
with a questioning face. Through a translator I realized that
they had warmed up water over a fire and had a large, warm bucket
of water waiting for me in a tall, closed wooden stall.
At first I refused. But then after realizing the effort that they
had made, and the use of valuable water, I put on my orange Crocs
and made my way to a prehistoric shower where I poured about a
dozen cups of water over my head. I completed this ritual with
giggling nuns sitting and standing just outside. I must admit
that it felt good but headed for the bottles of alcohol gel to
finish the process. I was also pleased that I made their (the
While in the "shower", I took great pride in finding
and slamming humongus cockroaches with my Crocs. Knowing that
there was one less cockroach that would disturb these beautiful
Our team could not be more diverse. As some of us supervised the
physical rebuilding clowns were inside the orphanage teaching
the children to use crayons and paper again. Within 24 hours the
walls of the orphanage looked no different than the walls of any
modern elementary school with orange, pink, blue and yellow drawings
clinging to the grey and white cement walls.
By the end of our humanitarian mission, the government of Haiti
thanked Israel Flying Aid.
"We have been watching you and your team work 24 by 7 since
you arrived at the orphanage. Your quick, professional and modest
humanitarian action in caring for these very small and sick children
has saved many lives," Haiti Minister for Culture and Communications
Marie Laurence Jocelyn-Lassegue told Gal Lusky.
"The efforts of Israel Flying Aid should be used as an example
to the world that Haiti children can be protected, cared for and
provided with everything from essential supplies and housing to
children movies and loving hugs."
There are now two types of victims.
Those living in Haiti and those who came to aid them. The stress
and pressure which affected this American doctor in Haiti, affected
us all. No one can witness this living nightmare without suffering
from some degree of PTS. Every doctor, nurse, medic and volunteer
who went to Haiti during this disaster was and is nothing less
than a hero for risking their lives among falling buildings, aftershocks,
disease and violent gangs.
"You have raised human spirits and elevated the name of the
State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces," Israel Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the returning IDF team. "As
many plot against us, distort and muddy our names, you have shown
the real IDF."
Chief of Staff has told me that the other militaries were astounded
by how quickly Israel arrived at the scene and began to work,"
added the prime minister. "Those who have seen the IDF over
the years, operating under seemingly impossible situations and
missions, are not surprised."
"Many have tried recently to tarnish our image," Ashkenazi
said in his welcome. "With your deeds, you have proven that
the opposite is true."
"Facing this massive catastrophe was an exceptional group
of people from the Home Front Command and the IDF Medical Corps,"
Ashkenazi said. "This group was a source of pride for every
One of the Israel Flying Aid medical clowns, Hamutal, worked nonstop
with the small children. Her creative, loving energy appeared
endless. Drawing, singing, dancing, blowing balloons and playing
She once asked me if I wanted to join in and in minutes I was
teaching them the words to the Sound of Music. I wanted
to cry but quickly found relief in their smiles.
As the director of Fathers for Justice in Israel, fighting for
equal access to be with my children and only being allowed nothing
more than being labeled a visitor for 2 days a week, here I had
over 50 children who were hugging me and I hugging them day and
our last evening with the children, we set up a projector and
a DVD player next to the warm light of the kerosene lamps. The
Jungle Book was soon being animated with sound on one of the
once cold white walls. The children were given bags of crisps,
reassembling Bamba - that we have here in Israel.
As we would lay down to sleep, first one, then two, then four
or five children would take my hand and lie next to me. As with
my own children, I made sure that the sheets covered them and
scratched their backs as they fell asleep.
As we awoke to our last day in Haiti, again it was the roosters
saying good morning. The children and our team members melted
together. Their new sleeping quarters were up and the cement was
One by one, the children were led by the nuns to their new house
as IFA team members greeted them with a selection of soft, colorful
dolls. They were all crying. Clutching onto our clothes, begging
us not to leave. I never fought so hard to keep my own tears from
I remembered to breath deeply.