Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Disaster Relief in Charleston

Good deed for the day!

Last Wednesday I was asked/told I was needed down in Charleston for the disaster relief. Haitian-Americans were being flown into the Charleston International airport and we were needed. It is made very clear to DSS employees that if there is a disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake etc) we are to be available to help, no choice, no excuses. So when I was told about this, I halfway volunteered because I knew that I could stay with Lindsey and they wouldn't have to spring for a hotel. You know we have to make cuts! :)

Wednesday afternoon I had enough time to get in touch with my Junior Woman's Club for donations. I was also able to get some donations from some of the Columbia employees of Gateway. It was very last minute and I was surprised what ended up on my front porch. Everyone was very generous!

Thursday was an early morning. Me and another co-worker, Ebony Thomas met at work at the wee hours and left for Charleston around 4:30am or so. Walking into the station that was set up to receive the Haitian-Americans was strangely over whelming. It was the same feeling I got when I was on the interstate during Katrina and saw SCE&G trucks, one after another going down the highway to help. It makes you proud! I didn't have time to stop and take all of it in, we were quickly escorted to sign in, meet the "guy in charge" and sit down for a debriefing with all the departments. The departments included, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, DHEC, DSS (Several divisions including ours, Child Care Licensing), A Medical Team and I know there were more that I was not able to see. Everyone was ready, waiting for the first flight, "smiles everyone, these people have been through hell and back."

Homeland Security level is 'Orange' right now, which means secrets. We didn't know until 30 minutes before the plane landed if a plane was landing, how many people were on it, number of children, number of military, number of civilians etc. That made things very difficult. We completely understood, but it was still very hard. Thursday's flight did not have any children. We didn't have a chance to do any kind of dry run. It did leave us time to set up or station they way we needed it. We had our make shift changing station. We had porta-cribs set up and a cozy area. We had games and coloring books and markers for the older children. We were ready.

We left the airport at 5:00pm and we were told, "your on-call, next flight is scheduled at 2am." There is always a chance that the flight a) has no children on it, b) is full of military or c) doesn't even come in. Since I had been up early that morning anyway, I tried to go to be early. 1:15am, the phone rings, "ok, I'm on my way." Splash some water on my face and honestly put a little bit of make-up on because I have never seen so many good looking law enforcement and military in one room in all my life. I wasn't going in there looking like death with my natural Lebanese dark circles and bags from so little sleep. With a fresh Mountain Dew in my hand I was ready to work!

A 10 yr old named Patrick was our first child! We were all very excited and may have actually scared him a little. He was great! He spoke both English and Creole. People in Haiti speak both Creole and French. We had interpreters there but as you can imagine they were being pulled in every direction. Patrick came to us around 2:30am. He stayed with us until his flight at 12noon the next day. We had 17 children that day. We had only one child acting out. He was being very aggressive towards the other children as well as towards the staff, mainly me. He bit me twice on the hand, two separate times. It didn’t break the skin; he didn’t have enough time to. Unfortunately with situations like this caregivers/volunteers are very leery of correcting the children. Earthquake or no earthquake, we don’t bite people. And I was the only one who would do this. So I was assigned this child. The funny part of the story is this; he and his mother spoke Creole. She kept calling him Garson’ (imagine with a French accent) so that’s what we called him. Turns out that means “boy” in French. So what she was saying was “BOY, you better stop it” or whatever. So all day long we were calling him boy, poor child. Found out later his name is George. We also found out that they were traveling here to Columbia and he will be in a child care center in Richland County. So I may see him again!

Amazing things from that day: children that didn’t speak a lick of English singing, in English a song that came from a play Backyardagins guitar. Actually one that Lindsey and Tab gave Trevor for his birthday. Sam donated it. You press a button and it sings a song. They were singing it, amazing. The hugs and kisses I got from these 10 year old boys when they left for their flight to Miami. It was a lot harder to say goodbye then I thought it would be. And then Patrick, who I had grown close to, he was my buddy all day! I’d look over at him during the day and see him shaking his head saying, “Haitians?” The minute I was getting a little sad that he was leaving Patrick said with a French accent, “Jennifer, I’ll see you when I’m 21!” He was a hoot!

It was an amazing experience. I was lucky to have Lindsey and Tab there to stay with so I could help all weekend. I got back to Columbia late Sunday night. I have volunteered to go back whenever they need me and I am looking forward to it!!


  1. Wow. Very cool experience, too funny about "The Boy" won't forget those teeth, and you may encounter then again!

  2. What a great read. Such an experience.