by Richard E. Robbins

Dear All-

Haiti is beautiful and weird and vibrant. The people have an incredible sense of pride in their culture and in their country—the first black-led republic in the world, and the second nation in the world (after the US) to have overthrown colonial rule.

But it is also by far the most broken place we have visited for 10x10. Obviously I can’t speak to what it was like before the earthquake, but now it is a very dark place, full of despair and trauma and violence. Somehow, its proximity to the US makes this all the more tragic and disorienting.

And the girls… well, these girls are the definition of resilient. They are not the Nepali girls building a quiet revolution. They are not the Cambodians building a new nation. They are not the Ethiopians overcoming centuries of second-class citizenship. But they are surviving, dreaming of a better future, and keeping the spirit of hope alive in the face of the most daunting challenges. And they smile and play and laugh… and in spite of everything they are vibrant and alive.<!–more–>

They have all suffered from one form of violence or another. I’m not sure if you have had the time to read Paul Farmer’s (the founder of Partners in Health) writing on Structural Violence, but it is a concept that profoundly informs my thinking about the work we are doing. It is, fundamentally, what it sounds like - the way the structures of a society do violence against the poor, women, children.

So we met a girl of 12 whose parents were both killed in the earthquake. Afterward, she was taken in by a man who basically made her a domestic slave,and seems to have raped her as well. When he finally took her to a police station to try and formally adopt her as his daughter, she found the will to tell the police that she did not want to go with him. We met her in a home for orphans and street kids that Plan supports. She shows plenty of signs of trauma, and yet still seems like a 12 year old girl who has hopes and dreams for the future.

The trauma in the girls reminded me so much of the soldiers I interviewed for Operation Homecoming. I have never really studied PTSD but I know what it feels like in the interview chair. It feels like an elephant in the room. It feels like a horrible truth that the girls (or soldiers) are praying they will never be forced to confront, but at the same time they are praying that you will somehow find a way to make them. If you open the door for them to talk about what has happened to them, they look away and change the subject. And if you ask them if there is something else they want to talk about, they will say no, and stay glued in their chair. They are quietly begging you to MAKE them tell the truth. Ask just the right question and then it might all come flooding out in a rush of words and tears. But maybe you can’t ask just the right question and they just sit in front of you, suffering. It is hard not to suffer with them.

I don’t know what it means that in the face of all that we had a great trip (and I was there for less than half of it). Learned so much. Felt so much. Saw so much. I don’t know who our girl will be, but I promise she will break your heart. Just like Haiti.

Support the work of Plan International in Haiti and around the world.

-Richard