Thursday, January 14, 2010

Working in the Dark

It's a bit of a challenge to hear from someone in a place with no working cell phones, Internet, or power. I think its hard for most of us to imagine what that's like in this day and age. If we were to add to that situation the extreme distress of over 3 million people we might be a bit closer to understanding the experience of being on the ground in Haiti right now. We can't know for certain until we're in that situation no matter how vivid an account you get from someone first-hand.

My organization is still wrestling with basic issues. Is all of our local staff okay? As far as we know yes, but we haven't heard from all of them directly. Can we get around to do an assessment? Yes, but who knows when we will reach a point on the road we'll have to turn around. At the headquarters level two of our most important tools at this stage are Twitter and Skype. Satellite phones are great until everyone tries to use them to coordinate primetime television coverage in the field for US audiences.

Everyone wants to help. I mean everyone. I don't know if they've had a chance to check out Wikipedia before but Haiti was not the kind of place I'd send any type of volunteer on Monday nor on Tuesday. A lot of our time was spent today showing people how to help - not a bad way to spend time but something that can be managed easier with the right messaging. We shine a bit of light on a dark situation.

You also hear stories as the day goes on. One aid worker who comes back to whose home community only to find several family members have passed away. A mid-air collision of VIP transport just narrowly adverted while other planes taxi in the air for hours trying to land in Port-au-Prince. The stories remind you that everyone is coming into this with a few knowns and a lot of unknowns - just hoping for a little light to be shed in the right spots.

Image above courtesy of Associated Press via New York Times.

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