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American Red Cross Haitian Staff Members Share Memories, Hopes, Concerns

The American Red Cross operations in Haiti involve hundreds of Haitians who work on a range of earthquake response and recovery programs. While most have only been involved for a period of time since the earthquake struck, a handful of Haitian staff stand out because they worked for the American Red Cross before that dreadful day in January 2010.

When the earthquake hit, these Red Cross employees lost friends and relatives, their homes and a sense of security, just as hundreds of thousands of other Haitians did. Despite their personal losses, though, they tried to carry on helping people around them—providing emergency first aid, driving injured people to the hospital and generally meeting the needs of their fellow Haitians.

Each of the employees has vivid memories of where they were just before 5 p.m. that January day.

Ermine Civile, an accountant, remembers diving under a desk in the American Red Cross office, where an outside wall fell and dust filled the air. “Everything was white because of the dust,” she says.

When she and her colleagues climbed out to survey the damage, they saw collapsed buildings, downed electrical lines and injured people all around them. After administering emergency first aid for hours, she eventually walked the several miles home. Although her house was still standing, it was damaged and—like many other Haitians—she and her family slept outside for days.

Bisewood St Eugene, who was working on an American Red Cross health program at the time of the earthquake, now oversees a warehouse that has managed about $6 million in materials for various programs in the past two years. He was in Petionville on the afternoon of the quake.

“It was very strange to see the houses moving like trees and the cars bouncing like a basketball,” he says. Then it got dark, and he remembers hearing injured people “calling the name of Jesus because they were still alive.”

Annilysse Olynes, a driver who joined the American Red Cross in 2006, found that his house was crushed in the disaster.

“Everyone was in the street crying,” he says. “Many people were trapped in their houses, there was no opening to get out.” Several of his family members were injured in the quake and his elderly mother still has trouble walking.

These longtime employees have seen the team expand over the past two years as a surge of Red Cross colleagues—first the emergency response units, later dozens of international colleagues as well as hundreds of Haitians—have joined to staff a variety of recovery programs.

Militza Michel, the administration and facilities manager who has worked for the American Red Cross for seven years, reflects that the dramatic changes were inevitable. “The growth has been exponential,” she says, noting changes in size and structure over the past two years.

Yet there has been continuity too. Michel’s work on HIV/AIDS prevention is still going on, for instance, as are programs in disaster risk reduction.

“If I can change one thing for one person in Haiti, that’s a big accomplishment,” she says.

These staff members know that although things have improved over the past two years, their nation’s recovery will take more time.

“Haiti was perfectly destroyed, especially Port-au-Prince,” says Olynes. “That’s going to last a long time.”