Crisis-once-removed: A personal reflection on the Haiti earthquake

I remember where I was for Hurricane Katrina and the South Asia tsunami. I will remember where I was for the Haiti earthquake too, though for quite different reasons. This time, I am working at a UN-affiliated organization. And I will remember what it feels like when a colossal system beats with one heart as one of its own collapses.

The news clips exude grief, but they also show resilience. The elaborate UN system -- the same byzantine body often caught up in process and posturing -- is built for this precise challenge.

No wonder the separate agencies and partners didn't blink when the news broke. Instead, they deployed. And under one coordinated umbrella, they are covering food, safe water, sanitation, medicine, telecommunications, and much more for the Haitian community.

Cut to me in my cubicle, many hundreds of miles from the epicenter, doing little more than watching the news. There I'm writing about how UN staffers who survived the quake carry on with their mission, even with the knowledge that they might pull the bodies of their friends and colleagues from the rubble.

I stop.

I think.

Would I have the strength to save a country? A city? My coworker?

I can't (won't?) answer. Because answering forces me to acknowledge that I'm not as brave as I like to think I am.

I'll remember that about the Haiti earthquake too. About how one situation captured the truest essence of a complex model by bringing its people to light.

My career will likely never hold such import. Thank God the peacekeepers' work does.


Honor the commitment of all the men and women delivering aid to Haiti right now. Donate to the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund, and help the UN help in time.

[Note: This post reflects my personal opinions only, and not the views of my employer.]