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Ask Dr. Elia: Dr. Elia: Finding the spirit of hope in Haiti

It's been a week since I returned from Haiti, but the memories will last a lifetime. There are very few experiences in life that truly change us from within. What I witnessed in Haiti is a humanitarian crisis far worse than has been shown on TV. Perhaps it's unrealistic to expect that the reports coming in can do justice to the actual reality when, most likely, none of us have actually seen anything similar in our life's experiences.

According to the United Nations. there are 1.2 million Haitians who lost their homes in the Jan. 12 earthquake. Such an immensity of homelessness has never been experienced anywhere in the Western Hemisphere — at least not in recent memory. In talking with several people in Port-au-Prince, the biggest worry for the displaced population is the upcoming

rainy season, which starts in April. Undoubtedly there will be flooding, and there's great concern about an outbreak of disease. This is inevitable, given the nonexistence of any kind of sewer systems; how widespread it will be remains to be seen. According to the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs office, 25,000 portable toilets need to be delivered in the next six months and an additional 7,000 pit latrines need to be dug. This will provide the biggest defense against the spread of diseases.

In the midst of all the trash, lack of basic sanitation, limited electricity, the nonexistence of clean running water, adequate shelter, or healthy food, unbelievably, I saw hope.

Feb. 12 marked the one-month anniversary of the deadly quake. Haitian President Preval declared it a national day of mourning. As we drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince early on the morning of the 12th, I noticed people everywhere walking at a brisk pace. Most of them were dressed in Sunday best clothes, with men wearing white shirts or T-shirts and the women wearing white dresses. One of the things that struck me the most was that they walked with such dignity and grace in the midst of such destruction.

I asked our driver, "Where's everyone going so early in the morning?" He replied that a lot of them were going to the places where they have lost loved ones. Others were going to churches to worship in open Masses, since many churches have been destroyed.

__IMAGE3__As we got closer to downtown, we witnessed thousands of people praying, clapping and singing. When I inquired what they were singing about, the driver said, "They're saying 'God be near us, don't leave us.'" Hearing their beautiful voices singing and seeing them praising the Lord with such humility was very touching! The sweet spirit emanating from the people in the streets of Port-au-Prince is one of my most cherished memories; I will never forget.

I felt like if the Savior was here on earth today, he would be walking those same streets, healing them with his hands and comforting them with his unconditional love. In the meantime, in our limited way, we can continue to offer our prayers, resources and time in assisting our brothers and sisters in Haiti. My biggest concern is that another calamity might strike somewhere in the world in the next few months and that the world's attention will shift away from Haiti where it is so desperately needed — both now and for years or even decades to come in order for Port-au-Prince to be rebuilt. I hope we can maintain our focus and resources for the long term. This is not a sprint but a marathon of patience, assistance and love.

Finally, I wanted to thank all those who contributed and supported my trip to Haiti. I could not have done it without your help. I will be going back to Haiti and hope to assist in the new Foyer de Sion orphanage that is under construction. For more information as to how you can help, go to www.foyerdesion.org. Whatever your contribution might be, either financial or in goods, it will be greatly appreciated!

May God continue to bless his children in Haiti during this most difficult time.