• Little can be done to prepare for one’s maiden disembarking in Haiti. I (Dr. Naftali Haldberstadt) made the stepwise transition from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion to Madrid where the Spanish Starbucks helped facilitate a shift in mindset. From there, the overnight stop in Santo Domingo marked the beginning of significant culture shift, but touchdown of the 25-seater turboprop in Port Au Prince was a step through the looking glass.

    The intensity of equatorial midsummer heat that accompanied me into the hanger-turned-arrival terminal abated only when I again landed in Santo Domingo airport two weeks later. The lack of luggage trolleys is perfectly consistent with the lack of a pavement outside the terminal.  I momentarily feared that the sea of greeters, drivers and would-be day workers would forever obscure me from my waiting compatriots but the connection was made and we drove off towards town.

    The perception of destruction I experienced in those first minutes was numbing. Later, I saw much beauty in many shades of color, hope, resilience, pride and self- efficacy, but along those first kilometers it was all rubble. Rubble not confined to the destroyed buildings on the sides of the “roads,” but the roads themselves and most things on it: the rows of huts and tents lined up as dwellings on the road divider; the throngs hanging in and off the sides of the pickup trucks-turned human-transporters and the tent cities themselves. There was one remaining green area in Port au Prince: that behind the fence surrounding the collapsed Presidential Palace. But every other patch of open space, the green that breathes life into London, New York and Jerusalem, is now a ground cloth to tarp-touching-tarp tent cities.

    But soon I began to feel the life and the energies which characterize Haitians. Not only do people emerge from those tents every morning, cross the rubble and set off in a direction, they do so with an indescribable air of purpose, resolve and pride. The children are immaculately dressed in their school uniforms, the adults in clothing pristine as in Milan.

    This is the spirit to which volunteer organizations must connect in order to contribute anything of value to Haitian recovery. Of the some 6000 not-for profits operating in Haiti today I fear too many come with their own agendas and their own perceptions of what Haiti needs.

    I was sent as part of a Trauma Response and Community Development training team by The Israel Trauma Coalition and Natan: The Israeli Emergency Response Coalition. It was done with the backing of the AJJDC International Development Programs – the division of “the Joint” that supports non-sectarian disaster relief. The strength of the program lay in the fact that the organizers did not send us there with clear instructions on what to teach or even with whom to work. This emerged from the needs we heard from the students and professional we eventually worked with.  I believe that because of this approach we received the following kinds of feedback:

    Now we know how to help ourselves, and after that how to help others.

    I like the way the trainers encouraged us to participate at the seminar.  It was mostly dialog between us.

    I know now when someone is traumatized, because someone can be traumatize and not even be aware of it.

    We should have got this formation earlier, if we had it, we would had perceived the earthquake differently.

    Our lives have entirely changed. Our relationships with others, the way we understand ourselves, we have become more self-confident.

    Tikum Olam is the Jewish value that most inspires my life: professional and personal.  My experience in Haiti reminds me that meeting another with compassion and sincerity leaves both enriched.

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