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An Emotional Return to Haiti: 5 Years Later

January 12, 2015

Haiti is spread out like a colorful blanket below us as our plane descends towards the runway.

This place is rugged, mysterious, and soulful. And my heart carries a bit of it with me every day.

Five years ago I flew over this same stretch of water, over these same mountaintops, and saw the raw anguish painted across many of these same faces.

A devastating 7.0 earthquake had just struck Haiti, killing more than 230,000 people, severely injuring hundreds of thousands more, and heaping misery on millions.

Five years ago I was in Haiti only briefly. As part of my job in Corporate Contributions at FedEx, I accompanied a group of doctors who were returning from heroic volunteer work amid chaotic scenes of unimaginable human suffering.

Sometimes a few hundred miles can feel like the distance between entire worlds. I remember seeing the endless tent cities and tarps used as makeshift roofs for homes. I remember rubble everywhere. Everything was broken. It was utter devastation. I remember a harbor filled with military ships who had come from all over to provide aid. 

But amidst all this destruction there was an indomitable sense of hope. I could clearly see that the sense of community was still there. Even 5 years ago. But there was so much work to be done.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I joined one of my colleagues, Lori, to return to Haiti near the 5 year anniversary of the earthquake. 

Lori and I visited Haiti as a part of a group from the American Red Cross and other corporate disaster relief representatives. FedEx provides yearly disaster relief to several organizations around the world, including American Red Cross, Direct Relief, and Heart to Heart International.

The situation is extremely difficult in Haiti and recovery will be slow. Painfully slow. This is very apparent as we meet people who still have no house; they have had to choose between spending their time rebuilding a home and finding a job to provide food for their families. The infrastructure, which was crumbling before the quake, has been pushed well beyond its limits. Construction materials must be carried by hand in most places. The roads simply can’t handle the burdens. 

But what we saw gave us hope.  Through assistance provided by the American Red Cross and many other organizations, Haiti is quite literally rebuilding their country block by block to be cleaner, safer, and healthier. Housing, sanitation, and access are all being modernized as Haiti rebuilds for a brighter future. 

Entire communities are reimagining their best structure, land distribution, and risk reduction. Even small things are being changed nationwide, such as using wheel chair accessible ramps inside 3 story buildings instead of elevators. 

Haiti was a pretty rough place before the earthquake. The quality of bricks was generally so poor that they just crumbled in the earthquake. The American Red Cross is working with local builders to improve these materials.

We were so impressed that the Red Cross in Haiti is not just providing a rubber stamp aid package, but has worked with local community to really make changes that are for the genuine betterment of the Haitian community.

Many Haitian adults have never had disaster training, so disaster response materials have been provided not only to schools, but also those same materials are made available to entire communities. 

Disaster preparedness is in our DNA at FedEx.  Only a few companies in the world have the ability to reach places all over the world as quickly and efficiently as we can. Because our network allows us get to places like this that have been impacted by disaster, it falls on us as a responsibility to continue to use our resources and expertise to give back where we can.  

So five years after the earthquake it is encouraging to see how far things have come, but we know that this huge rebuilding task still has much to be done. 

My colleague Lori commented, “There has been more progress here than I expected. Haiti has a fantastic sense of community and pride, and is having a say in how they receive help. They have been able to maintain their culture, which is very important to keep a sense of community.” 

Lori rightly observed, “This is a culture that obviously never lost hope. They have not given up.”


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