Flying into Haiti two months after the earthquake devastated the country, the first thing that struck Mark South was the vast swathes of blue below.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake left 1.5 million people homeless and killed 220,000 people. Those left homeless made shelter in whatever way they could, often beneath blue tarpaulins distributed by aid agencies.
“The camps that had been set up in Port-au-Prince were a big mix,” said Mark, who was deployed to Haiti as a Red Cross communications delegate to work with the media.
“It wasn’t a nice place to live, people were getting on with their lives, but the thought of actually having to live there was pretty horrendous.”
Four years later, Haiti is a country still scarred by the effects of the earthquake, but much progress has been made.
As any aid worker will tell you, steeling yourself to face death and destruction is not easy, but in Mark’s case, the fact that Haitians were trying to get on with their lives helped him focus on his job.
“I guess I was lucky by the time I got there, the very worst had been cleared up to a degree, there were no longer bodies lying in the street,” said Mark.
“Haitians were not sitting around lamenting the terrible things that had happened to them. They were too busy getting on with their lives.
“It made me feel that if I come here and I’m sitting there crying, what use am I? So if everyone else is getting on with their lives, and I’m there to help them get on with their lives, that’s what I have to do as well.”
Hope and recovery
The Red Cross response to the earthquake was unprecedented. Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the world responded to the call for help.
The Red Cross emblem became omnipresent in Haiti, so much so that it featured in the artwork of local artists.
“Along the street you would see artists selling pictures, it’s one of Haiti’s big industries for the few tourists that do go there,” recalled Mark.
“Within the pictures you could see the Red Cross emblem, very positive depictions of the Red Cross emblem, showing it in camps as a symbol of hope for people.”
Return to Haiti
Mark returned to Haiti in 2012 to help inform communities about cholera prevention, first aid, sexual health, hurricane warnings and much more.
A twice-weekly radio show allowed people to pose questions and get answers; a sound truck would drive around camps broadcasting music and information; posters and leaflets were distributed while dedicated phone lines were set up to field questions from the community.
It was a two-way flow of communication, with information being provided by the community as to the issues that needed resolving.
Mark acknowledges that it will take years to resolve the underlying issues in Haiti, but he looks forward to returning again to see the progress.
“Haiti is still a desperately poor place, it still has cholera, it is still recovering from the earthquake and that will take years,” he said.
“But at the same time, I know the work that I did with the Red Cross, and the work other people did with the Red Cross, has made a huge impact with the recovery from the earthquake.
“That does give me some pride and I hope that one day I will be able to go back and see Haiti further down the road to recovery and I really look forward to seeing that.”
Read more about recovery in Haiti.