Mission - Giving Aid

Serving with the U.S. Navy Haiti humanitarian response, Adam Cole reflects on the hurt and the healing that he experienced there

Haitian children receive candy from USS Normandy sailors © Adam Cole 2010

A gaggle of children pose for a picture in Au Parc, La Gonave, Haiti. © Adam Cole 2010

Adam Cole posing with a handful of kids from Petit Trou de Nippes, Haiti ©  2010

Their situation, one that is lacking any sort of opportunity in a world full of wealth and prosperity, will stick with me. The kids, their future hopes resting on escaping their village and their country, yet so full of joy even though they have nothing, will stick with me, too. A drop of clean water, a balanced meal, luxuries for these people, will never be taken for granted again.

I didn’t expect to be sent to Haiti, not like this, not on a U.S. Navy warship whose primarily mission is air defense, to help those in need. I certainly didn’t expect, either, for Haiti to be facing a time of crisis that went bigger than poverty. God has the bigger plans, always, in my individual life, in humanity as a whole.

A 7.0-magnitude shook Haiti Jan. 12, crumbling just about everything that resided within the capital Port-au-Prince.

International relief workers rushed on scene and so did a military contingency from a number of different countries was sent as well. My ship, the USS Normandy, was sent along with an aircraft carrier, a handful of Marine-carrying amphibious ships, and a hospital ship.

I watched the news and reports very intently once we got orders to go and was even more intentional about following the reports once we started moving that direction. I could feel the pain as so many people struggled to get basic needs met…the whole city was in ruin: there were no viable services available.

Lifting up the plight of the hurting to the Lord is something that I try to do regardless of how connected I am to a particular tragedy or situation of struggle. With Haiti, I found myself woven even deeper into the process of intercession than ever before. I found myself trying to empathize with the hurt…so many people trapped, without homes, lost loved ones…all grasping desperately for peace, for healing, for God to make a way for things to settle out. Lord, be with them, was constant prayer.

Normandy with me on it arrived three days after the quake struck, ready to help. Everything was chaos on the ground…so much aid was rushing in but no one knew how to get it out and to get it to the right places. There was no possibility of ground transport and the air port had become a virtual bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. I could sense the hunger of the Haitian victims, waiting for someone to come forward with help.

It felt like the relief effort took a big leap Monday morning, Jan. 18, just in the way that relief workers and military personnel were collaborating to get aid from the central location of Port-au-Prince to needed areas. On Normandy, our two attached helicopters from Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 46 Detachment 3, flew from our flight deck into Port-au-Prince and got the food and water where it needed to be, as well as taken injured victims to places of medical refuge. Helicopters from the carrier were doing the same. In my heart, in a lot of hearts of those on my ship, and I’m sure so many other's hearts throughout the globe, a sound of rejoicing was let out as what was the first big wave of relief got to areas where it hadn’t in the last few days; though much work lay ahead, at least steps were being taken to go from wreckage to rebuilding.

Moving food/water distribution and medical treatment became the focus of the next two weeks and continues still. Distribution points became more and more legitimized and so did the process to get people the resources they needed—the U.N. eventually came out with a coupon system to guarantee women and children were able to get food. God was moving, little by little.

For most of the effort taking place, as I sat on the ship far away from the rebuilding, I continued to be an intercessor, praying for the relief workers and military personnel engaged in helping the victims and praying for the victims as they tried to regain a sense of life, even as so much of it had been torn to pieces.

On Jan. 23, myself and others from the Normandy got our first opportunity to directly aid those in need, as we were directed to visit a small coastal town on the northwestern coast of the country’s South “claw.”

We arrived to Petit Trou de Nippes via a RHIB boat, a rigid hull inflatable boat much like a motor boat but not quite as fast, navigating through sporadic coral reefs to pull alongside the town’s pier. The people were hesitant at first, asking us, “Why are you here?” We responded: “To help.” We ended up giving the town a small portion of food, medical supplies, and about 20 gallons of the fuel to give the town electricity for a couple days; our ship’s medical personnel also treated a handful of patients while there.

Through the process of helping this town, we were able to build connections. The children found special connection with us, delighting in holding our hands, grabbing the candy we offered, and playing around with us. Though it wasn’t much, I would say, Bonjou, Creole for good morning, to everyone I met, and would ask the kids, “Koman yo rele ou?” to mean what is your name? Every little kid stared at us with wonder…but were definitely not camera shy; the kids lighted up when you put the lens toward them and then showed the digital image of themselves using the playback function.

The people of this town and others we visited were very friendly, and I had a chance to sit down with some on the ledge of one of their homes. Through one of the people from the village that spoke English, I listened to their concerns about work and purpose. The young adults were ready to do something, to make a productive life, but they just could not find a job to do such, especially now with the earthquake. To lighten up the mood, I broke out an orange I had in my backpack and shared it with the people around me, primarily the kids that were so intrigued by a person like me in their town. I could sense the tastiness of the slices as they sucked the juices out and then took in then ate the slice. Moments like that needed no translation.

As sundown struck, it was about time for us to head back to the ship. The mayor and a contingent of people escorted us back down to the dock. The kids held our hands, as they had throughout the day, while we made our way to the harbor. The mayor was overly appreciative, exclaiming great praises for our work and attention to his town. In my heart, I reflected his praises back up to God, who delivers all things.

Our ship visited a handful of other towns like Petit Trou de Nippes, most of them on the island just off the Haiti coast called La Gonave. We were able to give them the relief aid we had been given to distribute, primarily special dehydrated meals from U.S. non-profit called “Kids Against Hunger.” All of the people of those towns were grateful for the food we brought; they had not been able to receive supplies from Port-au-Prince since the earthquake struck and were in much need for those resources.

I was able to go ashore once more, at the end of our series of humanitarian visits, to a town called Au Parc, on the southeastern edge of La Gonave. It wasn’t a town at all, but just a bunch of makeshift ‘houses’ made out of a few sticks and a bed sheets or corrugated steel for a roof. The children looked like they were very malnourished, yet displayed smiles and other signs of joy. When we brought out the water, the people brought empty containers that looked like they hadn’t been filled for a weeks; the town’s water supply was a mile away and was said to be polluted. I knew the food would fill them, probably for a couple weeks, and hopefully then their lifestyle of fishing and trading would be able to resume in full flux. I knew that like the first town, the young adults wanted to move on and move out, take their lives somewhere; but for most others, they were not going anywhere, happy to fish and live simply, watch the sun go up and sun go down, letting life drift by with the calmness of the ocean that the bordered their village.

Just after visiting Au Parc, our higher headquarters told us that we were being detached (sent home) from the military component of the relief efforts; the hospital ship and amphibious ship were staying there to continue to heal and give aid. Though heading home, we all felt deeply connected and concerned for the Haiti people, their recovery as a nation and their individual lives. As I stared at the Haitian coastline for the final time, I said a prayer for the Haitians and for the aid workers, as I did every day while we were there: Lord be with them, continue to move heal.

I will never forget my experience in Haiti, particularly the kids that I was able to meet when I went ashore. I will never forget their smiles or their joy, even in the face of hardship. The devastation of Haiti will remain with me, too, yet more powerful still is the hope brought there by people who cared more about others than about themselves. It gives me hope for Haiti, in general, because I know that there are others willing to lift up those in need.

I continue to pray for Haiti, for our benevolent God to work through people to restore the country from its brokenness.