From Dr. Farmer

Posted on 06/28/10

Last week, we posted letters from a 6th grade class at Gage Middle School in Huntington Park, CA. PIH co-founder Paul Farmer recently sent them the following letter in response.

To the students in Mr. Drugge’s 6th grade English class:

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful letters. It means so much to me, and to my friends and colleagues in Haiti, to know that you care so deeply about what is going on there. Partners In Health has been working in Haiti for more than 25 years, and we intend to be working there for many more years—so we need lots of people your age to get involved.

You are right that this has been a heartbreaking and difficult time in Haiti, especially for children like Mystil and Jean Alexis, whom you read about in The New York Times. I have not met them yet, but I have met many other girls and boys who were hurt or lost family members in the earthquake. Many of you wrote that you admire these kids for their strength. I do, too.

You asked some great questions. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can:

Alejandra, Anthony, Ashley, Frank, Eddie, Bianca, and Ixtli: I was not in Haiti during the earthquake on January 12. I had just left Haiti after spending the holidays there with my family. I returned three days after the earthquake, and many of my friends were already working to take care of people who were sick and injured and who had lost their homes. It was a very sad and difficult time, but we worked together to do as much as we could. We continue to help our Haitian friends and coworkers rebuild their country.

Valeria, Yenicka, Kimberly, Alexis, Kevin, Andrew, Erika, Edwin, and Bianca: you asked how it feels to be a doctor working in Haiti. I love being a doctor, and Haiti has been the best teacher I’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot). It is really hard to see all of the injured kids and adults in Haiti, but I am grateful to have the training and the tools to be able to help them. I am also glad to see how many people—mostly my Haitian colleagues and friends, but also volunteers like Dr. Elizabeth Bellino from the article—are there to help.

Maria, Kevin, Richard, and Michelle: you asked about reconstruction, and what will happen when the storms come. So many people lost their houses in the earthquake. Today, almost a million Haitians still live in tents in large camps. This is very dangerous; rainy season has already started, and hurricane season is just around the corner. The Haitian people, their government, and the other countries that are helping are racing against time to build new houses strong enough to stand up to wind, rain, and even earthquakes. We also have to create good jobs so parents can provide for their families, rebuild schools so that kids can learn, plant trees to protect the environment, and support farmers so that everyone has enough to eat.

Aime, Maria, Ixtli, and Yessenia: you asked why the January 12 earthquake in Haiti caused so much more damage and loss of life than the February 27 earthquake in Chile. There are many reasons for this, but one is that in Haiti the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s biggest city, where three million people live. Another reason is that most Haitians are so poor that they could not afford to build sturdy homes. There is a good chance that there will be more earthquakes, so we have to work to make sure that new houses and buildings are stronger and designed to withstand earthquakes.

Jaime, Diana, Ixtli: you asked how you can help. You already have helped: I will share your letters with my friends in Haiti, and your friendship will give us strength for the long road ahead. Keep reading and studying with Mr. Drugge and your other teachers: we need smart and hard-working people like you to help us fix some really tough problems. Americans did amazing things in the days following the earthquake. One-half of families in the U.S. donated money to relief and reconstruction in Haiti. Today, there is still so much work to do, and students are helping out by organizing bake sales, community races, art shows, and performances to raise money and teach their communities about Haiti.

Jose, I will tell the kids in Haiti that you say hello. You are so right when you say that Haiti’s people are strong. The nation of Haiti is almost as old as the United States, and they have been through many difficult things that they did not deserve. But you said it well: they never give up. We need to remain friends not just after an earthquake or a hurricane, but forever.

Thank you for your solidarity and friendship with the people of Haiti. I hope you will continue to learn more about the country and its people. With your support, we will keep working hard so that the children of Haiti will have the same opportunities that you have had and that all children deserve.

Yours,

Dr. Farmer

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