By Cate Oswald, PIH Program Manager for Psychosocial Support and Mental Health, Haiti


Patients and PIH/ZL staff in Port-au-Prince commemorate January 12.


On this most difficult of days after this most difficult of years, I witnessed and participated in a truly beautiful celebration of remembrance, reflection, and hope today in Port-au-Prince.

On January 12, 2010, all of our lives changed. We all began to think in a different way, see life in a different way, understand things in a different way, and comprehend the true meaning of love.  Strangers and neighbors and families alike all came together to save each others’ lives and work to rebuild a battered country. I began to understand in another light the meaning of the Haitian national motto L’union fait la force (“Unity is strength”).

Today’s memorial service, organized by a group of patients with earthquake-related injuries that received treatment in Cange with PIH/Zanmi Lasante, and who had formally organized themselves into a youth organization (Union des Jeunes Victimes du Seisme 12 janvier 2010), integrated solemn prayer and songs of remembrance with stories of courage, survival, and strength. Held at the St. Charles Rehab Center, a place many of our ZL patients have been receiving ongoing physical therapy since returning to Port-au-Prince, the day’s events often felt more like a family reunion than a solemn memorial.

As one earthquake survivor after the next stood up to bear witness to their struggles of the past year-- incredible stories of survival--each story culminated with a common theme: “God wanted us here for a reason--he spared our lives so that we can work together to rebuild Haiti, to finish our studies and walk and work and live just as anyone else.”

Tatiana Therosme, our PIH/ZL psychologist from Cange who has worked with many of these families over the past year, shared her reflections on finding the strength within all of us to continue to work together to overcome physical and mental disabilities. And through compassion and love, we will continue the efforts to rebuild Haiti.

As the day concluded and the tears of sadness turned into tears of joy as everyone posed for “family” photos, standing and looking as beautiful as ever, it was hard for me to imagine these were the same people that just a year ago were struggling to survive at our overcrowded hospital in Cange. How far we have all come in this ever so difficult of years.