Friday, March 26, 2010


Things in our memories (especially timing of when things happened) are not as clear after our first five kids left. We were sleep deprived, emotional, and things just started to blend together. As best we could, we've pieced together some of the things that happened Friday through Sunday. I don't think I can keep them completely chronological though.

By Friday night at 6pm our kids made it to DFW to be picked up by Britt and Chris. They took a police-escorted bus ride from the New Jersey Airforce base to PA to catch flights to DFW. Paige reported that the day was exhausting and she does not really know how she held it together - Britt reported that Paige looked like a freight train hit her when they finally locked arms in Texas. When the kids talk about it now, they complain most about how cold it was. Other than that and how loud the C-130 was they say very little about their evacuation experience.

In the days immediately following the earthquake twitter went crazy. I am not telling you anything you don't know. We had no idea how often Troy's face was popping up on news outlets and that his tweets were being read by so many, had we known that we would have been freaked out - I am glad we were oblivious. That whole thing is still very crazy to us.

On Friday around 4pm a phone call came in on our internet phone from the USA. A man told me that he got our number of off the internet and that he had a friend who had been walking for a day without food or water. He said his friend was vomiting and ill and needed a place to stay for the night and would be going to the Embassy to evacuate on Saturday. He asked if we could go get his friend. Troy was not home and phones were still barely working (one in twenty calls would go through) - I told him we had no way to go pick his friend up. In a day and age where anyone can find you the call did not surprise me that much but my response did. Without any qualifying I said, "sure" and gave this stranger on the phone the location of the gate into our neighborhood. After I did it I realized I was kind of stupid. Or really stupid. I started to wonder if I had just given some bad guy information and I let my imagination run wild. I reigned it back in and decided that if the guy made it to our gate we needed to let him rest and help him get to the Embassy. The man in the USA called a few more times and sent me an email photo of the person walking toward our house. Eventually he said his friend was too tired to walk anymore and would be sleeping south of Port au Prince.

People from all over the world were sending us messages via twitter and email with urgent and frightening requests. They ranged from asking for help to dig someone out at an assumed location, to delivering food and water to orphans, to helping the elderly that were being eaten by rats. If one thing kept me from sleeping it was laying down at night and picturing helpless elderly left alone to fend for themselves against rodents.

Most of the time the emergency messages came in without information about where the information originated and at what time the request was first made known. Most requests also lacked a specific location or address. That is not surprising in that even before the earthquake finding things in Port au Prince was a challenge. Once you know your way around it is not that difficult, but the tips were coming from abroad and the people giving the tips would say things like "near Delmas 33". Saying "near Delmas 33" is a lot like saying, "near Manhattan" - it is far too broad.

In a few instances we received 30 to 40 requests to go help the same people. The hard part was trying to understand if we were hearing a new need or an old need or a totally fabricated need. It got difficult to know what to do.

Troy was asked by John to be careful with diesel. As of that moment on Friday we had not found any to buy and we had no idea when we would. Some of the places we were told had dying people waiting on help were more than an hour away from us.

The situation was heavy and we tried to be open to any request and ask God what to respond to. We knew we could not physically respond to most of the requests. We definitely prayed and asked God for mercy on the suffering with each email. We have recently gone through all of those messages in search of loved ones, we now know that many of those folks you emailed about did not survive the earthquake. We extend our deepest sympathy and prayers for those who mourn.

Troy ended up feeling strongly about responding to an orphanage near the Caribbean market. We heard they had no water and no food and no way to get it. We had friends that have adopted kids from there so we knew sort of where it was from being there months before. The problem was, a lot of fallen buildings blocked the usual routes. With very little diesel in the truck he and John went to try to see what the situation was. They tried to get there a bunch of ways but kept being blocked by large crowds of people or by rubble.

Eventually John said they needed to give up and Troy left the area without having accomplished his goal. He came home very upset and tried to figure out another way to get back up there. In the meantime CNN had showed up there and someone wrote us to tell us that. We decided if CNN was there it was probably not something we needed to worry about anymore.

The next day we again got dozens of messages about that one location. A lot of them seemed based off of the CNN report but we could not imagine that CNN would show up, do a report, and then leave without the situation being rectified.

In the end we made phone contact with the girls at that location and while they were telling us by phone that they were fine and had what they needed at the moment -- we were getting multiple requests telling us they were not fine and PLEASE would we get there ASAP. That played itself over many times in the coming week. We called and checked on them and each time they told Troy that they were okay. We went with the on the ground information and tried not to stress about the frantic emails. We are certain that twitter and social media helped save lives in that first week or two. The benefits far outweighed the mis-communication and confusion it caused.

Mid-day Friday we met together with everyone associated with Heartline to discuss what our next step was as a ministry. At that time, the (expat) adults and young adults in Haiti were: John McHoul, Lisa & Don Buxman, Joanna Thiele, Jonna Howard, Britney Gilbert, Vivien Ingram, Megan Haug, and Troy and I. Our Haitian staff was also in attendance.

Heartline has been on the ground in Haiti for 20 years, but it was obvious we needed to come up with a plan of action that addressed the current overwhelming (overused word? there needs to be a stronger word) need. During that meeting we talked a lot about not wanting it to be "show business" - this is a John phrase meaning, we need to do it well ... really well.

Thinking back on this meeting and what became of our little desire to meet needs well, and to avoid "show business", I cannot help but point out that no single person made this happen. The coordination that went into throwing this together was utterly crazy and the number of people that helped make it happen is mind-numbing. People that screened volunteers and dealt with fundraising in the USA need to be recognized for the role they played. God completely blessed the efforts of this little known NGO and we're grateful to Him for that.

We divided up tasks for Friday and Saturday and believed that on Saturday a team of volunteer docs and nurses could begin arriving. At the time of that meeting around noon on Friday, we had no supplies and no idea how to run a clinic in a developing country that had just been rocked by the worst natural disaster of our time. Of the people in the meeting, we had zero doctors and zero trained medical clinic administrators. It was the truest degaje moment of our time in Haiti.

During that meeting it was also decided that our area of Port au Prince had done well enough in the quake that we might consider going to get our patients in worse off areas with our big group truck. A plan was made to go to Simone Pele on Saturday to assess the need in that area. We chose that area because we already had relationships there due to our Prenatal outreach each month. From Simone Pele we also eventually went into Cite Soleil, Wharf Jeremie, Cite Militare, and surrounding areas. It quickly became clear that the need was great in those very poor areas, we stuck with that all the way through the response.

At the end of the meeting Dianne Sawyer showed up to do a story on Heartline's kids - we met her and got out of her way. We scattered to start on our assignments for the day. I made lists of things we needed and lists of the personnel we thought we would have to work with based on the people on the ground and the word of mouth about who was coming to us from Florida. Our needs included everything from heavy duty trash bags for medical waste (a weird thing to deal with in a country that dumps its trash outside of the city in a field) to wound care supplies, to food to feed volunteers.

In the USA Beth McHoul, who was in Florida at the time of the EQ, was working with others to buy as many supplies as the private chartered planes would hold. They took calls and emails from us all day Friday and Saturday with new requests and new thoughts ... the calls often went like this, "We just remembered that the lighting in the room we'll be doing small surgeries is very poor. Can you buy some sort of flood light?" and "We need small gasoline generators, can you buy that?" "We are not sure about the availability of propane for cooking, can you bring lots of dry and ready to eat food?"

I was not on the USA side - but I know from talking with Beth and Dr. Jen that it was insane for them. They spent two days in Wal-Mart and Home Depot. The Docs had rallied for medical donations and came with lots of things to get started.

Sometime on Saturday we sent Kristen and Erin's sons back to their respective homes, we felt bad doing it but we were totally ignoring them and we felt they might be more secure and loved in their own environments. That left us with just two kids in the house. Tipap and Jeronne also left sometime Friday to go check on their family and loved ones about 30 miles away.

Even before the Docs showed up, God provided through the Zachary family. Friends Lori and Licia and Zach have been running a medical clinic for years and showed up on Saturday with incredible amounts of supplies to begin getting set up - as we unpacked it and organized it we marveled at all the stuff they gave us to use.

We attempted to design a use of the Womens Program building that made sense. We made the sewing machine room into the operating room. The classroom for literacy into the recovery area. The "Heartline store" where we sell the purses the ladies make was an office and supply area. Upstairs was a giant pharmacy with everything organized and labeled. People with great organizational skills were highly valued. Thank goodness for type As!

Getting the place set up with tables, chairs, supplies and a system took all of Friday afternoon and Saturday and the morning of Sunday. We learned early on Saturday that the flight with the first Doctors, Dr. Tom McKnight, and Dr. Jen Halverson would not be given a slot to land. They were bumped back.

In my memory it was a Monday when they landed, but as I look back on old posts I see it was Sunday. Every day felt like Monday for about three weeks.

On Sunday we all worked nervously wondering if the planes would be allowed to land. That day around the time the planes were to land a man named Scott Salvant showed up in his unassuming way and delivered precious diesel that he had found for us in the D.R. His timing was perfect and all of us at Heartline viewed him as God's angel to us in that day and in the coming weeks.

Two planes landed with our people and supplies on Sunday, I probably cannot accurately list every person that came in to start the hospital/clinic, but Jen wrote about it all in detail here and here. After they got in there was much more to unpack, organize, and label. Sunday was spent discussing how we thought it might work and getting ready for Monday's start of clinic.

On Sunday night the buzz about Humanitarian Parole made it to our ears. We'd not really thought much about Phoebe or Annie (for new readers - Annie lived with us 26 months during her adoption process, she is now with her forever family) getting out - not that we did not want that - just that we were way too focused on everything else. The Heartline kids had their cases being worked on by Tim Pearson, an adoptive Dad. Megan helped gather paperwork and it seemed that most if not all of the Heartline kids might get an opportunity to go to the USA on Humanitarian Parole.

On Sunday late afternoon John pulled me aside to talk to me about Phoebe and Annie. He told me they could go that night. It was a replaying of Thursday afternoon with the other kids. I burst into tears trying to decide if I was going to leave or stay. Jen had just arrived. I was scared to leave Troy. There was work to be done. The girls needed an escort. Sunday night was more irrational behavior and trying to decide things that were impossible to decide. In the end the girls and the other kids in the Heartline group did not leave until Friday (five days later) but right away on Sunday night Megan agreed to escort our girls to meet my family. I packed the girls Sunday night. Their bags waited ready to go for whenever we got the call.

In EQ P4 - The clinic opens - The first truck load of injured arrive - More kids come to town to stay with us while waiting on parole - We see many miracles and horrifying destruction - The frustrations of getting our hands on supplies - people show up for shelter - Some of the kids get Humanitarian Parole - Anger and frustration and how we let it affect us - The overview of days 6 to 12 post earthquake.