Terrence J's letter to Haiti

Published August 12, 2010

Her sweet voice was originally what caught my attention as she walked by us on a Port-au-Prince street singing Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”  In the midst of such destruction and chaos, here 15-year-old Sophia was, plowing forward, taking odd jobs to support herself and her 4-year-old brother and providing them shelter and food.  Never could I have guessed that just six months ago she had lost both of her parents, and had been trapped under rubble for three days in the January earthquake that rocked Haiti .

Meeting Sophia last week made me realize just how blessed my life really is.  And while I talk about issues on TV and preach to others to go out and make a difference, lately I’ve been asking myself, what am I really doing to make the world a better place?

I just got back from a three-day trip to Haiti with four of my friends to see firsthand the hardship compounded by the devastation from the earthquake, lend a hand where we could, and figure out what we could do on a larger scale going forward.

The trip was nothing short of life-changing. I thought I had seen poverty before, but what we saw in Haiti was on a whole different level. In a country of 9 million people, over 1.5 million (that’s 17 percent of the population!) were displaced by the earthquake, and the widespread damage has not much improved in the last six months.

Close to one million people are now living in extremely cramped conditions called “tent cities” all over Haiti without basic human needs – shelter, food, clean water, and the ones we take for granted – bathrooms, showers, clothing and beds.

The stalls in the cities reserved for bathing are hotbeds for rape and there are no outhouses, so people just go to the bathroom right out in the open next to where they sleep. According to the directors of the tent cities that we spoke with, there has been no food and water relief from the government and many people are starving. One of many heart-breaking moments came when a pregnant woman approached us for food and we had to turn her away because we had passed out all the granola bars and trail mixes we had brought from the States. The look of defeat in her face will stay with me forever.

We drove to a plot of land three hours outside of the capital to help a private citizen named Annie from California build two model homes, and teach the people in that tent city to build their own going forward. Like the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for one night, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life.” However, the building supplies she shipped were being held at a port in customs. The main boss at the port was looking for a payoff and whatever she was offering clearly wasn’t enough. As a matter of fact, a lot of the supplies and aid that people have sent down for relief are being held in containers in customs, basically for ransom. As if an already poor country getting hit by a major earthquake wasn’t enough, many well-intentioned relief efforts aren’t even making it to the people in need because of the blatant corruption.

There is so much to be done and I’ve been asking myself what some bigger next steps can be. So next week I'll be taking some time off from “106” to travel back to Haiti and also to Europe to meet with UN leaders and ambassadors to better understand how we can help from a global perspective.  One thing I can do in the interim is reach out to people via forums like this to challenge you to try to make a difference in your own communities. With a roof, food, clean water, and clothes on our backs we are more fortunate than millions. If you are reading this online, you are one of the privileged. Please ask yourself, what are you giving back to the world for your blessings?  You don’t have to be Oprah, Wyclef or Angelina Jolie to make a positive impact on others. If it’s making an extra sandwich and giving it to the homeless person you always see on the subway, or volunteering with children whose parents can’t afford tutoring, you and your friends can create your own personal missions if you just try.

And take my word for it, whatever you give, whatever you donate, your interaction with people less fortunate than you will make your life that much richer. I went on this trip to help the people of Haiti, but came back feeling like they helped me. I am a better person today than I was last week. Before, I did things for money, I did them for fame, I did them for the "look." Today, I’m doing this for the Sophias of the world. Join me...

Written by Terrence J, 106 & Park

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