August 13, 2012

Helping in Haiti

Photo credit: Hollis Rafkin-Sax
by Jayne Lipman
co-chair, JDC Ambassadors
member, JDC Board of Governors

There is something addictive about helping in Haiti.

During my recent trip with JDC Interface, I met volunteers from all over the world who told me that they came to help in Haiti and never left, or that they couldn't wait to come back again.

It's a strange thing to say in a country that has been so devastated - not only by the 7.0 earthquake, which occurred on January 12, 2010 and immediately hit the front pages, but also by decades of corruption, questionable foreign interventions, revolutions and coup d'├ętats that have eroded the once beautiful countryside and stolen the hope of so many of its people.

But that's precisely how outsiders fit in. Relief organizations bring equipment and know-how, but also a stubborn imported optimism.

I saw JDC's operations, in partnership with several impressive Haitian organizations, and the people who work and volunteer there. The premiere destination for prosthetics and physical therapy in the country, they are overrun, but totally committed and energized. Person by person, patiently, they are helping and making a difficult reality better.

In the process, these representatives of a unique American Jewish-Israeli partnership are also nurturing the spirit of the Haitians they serve.

We met George, the former top Salsa dancer in Haiti. Now fitted with a prosthetic limb, he is back on his feet, learning to dance for the second time in his life. George’s demeanor was quiet, almost shy, when we met – it is his dance (see amazing video - story of George at 3 minutes, dance at 6:50) that expresses his renewed passion for life.

And that joy, in return, strengthens those who do relief work. It's like a cycle of light emerging out of the darkness, where those serving and served feed and build up each other.

Our conversation centered on Jewish giving in the world. For my part, I felt immensely proud of the work I saw, which leverages JDC's long experience in disaster relief and the unique know-how of Israeli doctors, medical professionals, educators, trainers, and more. Helping thousands of individuals in Haiti have access to a second chance at active life feels to me like the perfect embodiment of my Jewish values. How fitting that a Jewish organization should also realize those values on the ground.

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