MY PERSONAL REFLECTION:
MY JOURNEY BACK
To start my story, I need to tell you who I am. My name is Hope Lennartz, the Volunteer Executive Director of the Friends of St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Fifteen years ago, I founded a non-profit 501 c 3 to provide service and support to the children and staff at the Center. St. Vincent’s Center is the only residential school for handicapped children in Haiti.
Where were you when you heard about the Haiti earthquake?
A moment of time….I was at work as a RN in a detoxification center when my partner called. I rarely received calls at work. She told me the news that Haiti had a BAD earthquake. I did not know how bad it was until I heard the National Palace had collapsed and part of The Montana, a five star hotel on the side of the mountain, had fallen and some of it slide down the side of the mountain destroying houses in its way.
So we waited to get any messages about how bad it was at the Center. It was very bad. Seven of our children and three of our staff died and most of the major structures were gone. To rubble … bright blue shiny painted pieces of cement.
I felt powerlessness over this event. I felt the pain of our friends and the earthquake stories went on for weeks and weeks.
I received messages from all over the world asking questions, requesting information and extending help.
For years I had taken groups down to Port-au-Prince to work with the children and staff at the Center. Due to my personal health and the earthquake, I had not returned to St. Vincent’s for a while. It had been 1 ½ years since the earthquake. Physicians for Peace asked me to return to see what steps were next for the Brace Shop and Physical Therapy program.
St. Vincent’s Center is a very special holy place where handicapped children and adults are celebrated and helped to be the best they can be. It is a tight family who invites you in so you can use your talents and give your love. It was time for me to return.
My first hours in Haiti included the AIRPORT experience which does not seem to change over the years. I saw and smelt the gray haze hanging over the city caused by the burning of the trash. I knew I was in Haiti again. We were taken to the center of where the national government had functioned… We looking through the green metal fence to see the National Palace toppled over and I heard myself say “Oh my God”. I had seen pictures on CNN for months. I knew it was real in my head but now it was real in my heart. I felt the sorrow in my soul upon seeing the city of tents … blocks after blocks… one and half year old tents with logos …. USAID, Republic of China, Save the Children and many others. The green parks were gone. My memory of the old Haiti was a ghost. I had trouble figuring where we were but only after seeing the tip of a historic statue over the tents did I get my bearings. Some folks estimate there are 500,000 people still in tents.
I had embarked on an incredible, wonderful journey to see old friends. I finally let go what was and turned it into what it can be. I let go of the old memories and faced the new reality that we can still make a difference. We, together in partnership, can move programs forward and help the handicapped children in Haiti.