ITVS Staffer Reflects on the Earthquake in Haiti

Posted on February 9, 2010

Nearly a month ago, Haiti experienced its strongest earthquake in more than two centuries, which caused massive destruction and left hundreds of thousands homeless and an estimated 200,000 dead. ITVS’s Voleine Amilcar, a Haitian American, was at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles when the earthquake struck. Read her personal account below about how the tragedy impacted her family and how she remains optimistic about the recovery efforts.

It has been almost a month since the massive earthquake in Haiti and the glare of the media is dimming but for many Haitian Americans the shock and deadly impact of the earthquake still haunts us. As a Haitian American, I was deeply affected by the massive earthquake in Haiti that occurred on January 12. I was in Los Angeles for work to manage a press conference for an upcoming Independent Lens program, Dirt! The Movie, when I received news of the 7.0 Earthquake. But I didn’t understand the enormity, the level of devastation the quake had caused until I was able to turn the TV to CNN. 

The epicenter of the quake was situated about 20 minutes from where many of my relatives lived in Haiti. Immediately I called my parents who live 30 minutes outside of San Francisco to find out if they had heard from family members in Haiti. They had not been able to get through to anyone on their cell phones or house phones. Then the waiting game began and the agony set in as I watched endless images and footage of collapsed buildings and bodies being pulled out of those very familiar cinder block homes and buildings. My mind couldn't stop racing with the awful possibilities. 

A wave of despair washed over me when I saw images of the partially collapsed presidential palace. Despite a myriad of corrupt inhabitants, the presidential palace was for many Haitians a source of pride. But the symbolism, a defeated government, could not be ignored. And I thought, Haiti has been brought to its knees. Three days after the earthquake we received word that my cousins and uncles had survived the quake. One of my uncles lost his home and was transported to the Dominican Republic for an operation on his broken arm. Another cousin sustained a broken leg. 

Most of my relatives were now homeless. Everyone was accounted for except for a dear woman named Madame Alexi who helped raised me when I lived in Haiti. For days, a dark cloud hung over me as I waited to hear about Madame Alexi's whereabouts. Was she alive? And how would we ever know if whether she was one of the thousands buried under the rubble? Ten days later we were able to connect with Madame Alexi to confirm that she was safe. Her dream house, which included the room she had prepared for me for my visits to Haiti, collapsed entirely. And now she is among the thousands who are homeless, living in her front yard with the rest of her family staying close to what remains of their house because bodies still litter the streets.

Just five days before the earthquake my husband, an IT professional, returned from a volunteer trip in Haiti after setting up a computer lab in Carrefour-Feuilles, a town right outside the capital. He made it back safely but the library where he had set up the computer lab is now partially collapsed. And we have since received updates that some of the children that frequented the library have not survived.  

Most people are relieved for me when they discover that my family survived the quake as if that’s the end of it. But the grief and trauma is not any less for me or for my family here in the states. While we have lost nothing, we still walk on shaky ground. The Haitian community is grateful of the enormous generosity of the global community to bring relief to Haiti. But even with the steady stream of aid coming into the country, food distribution is slow and medical aid is still scarce if not non-existent. The devastation is widespread and the devastation is enormous and unimaginable. 

Haitians since ousting the French in 1803, resulting in the only successful slave insurrection in history, have shown remarkable capacity to prevail and survive. The country has withstood endless natural disasters, political instability, and even major acts of exploitation by other more powerful nations. But nothing seems to manage to kill the spirit and resiliency of the people. I have a belief –– and have to maintain this belief –– that the country will spring back even stronger and better than before. But we will need strong acts of will, resolve, and resources to prosper and to become independent. In Creole, (the indigenous language of Haiti), we have a proverb that says "Men anpil, chay pa lou," many hands, make the load lighter. The Haitian people have a heavy load and we will indeed need many hands to rise up again. ? 

- Voliene Amilcar ITVS Publicity Manager

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