|Completely isolated, Kay and her teammates
could do little the day after the quake but calm
the orphanage children and move them away
from structures in case of another tremor.
By Kay Walla MEd '65 EdD '77
On Monday, Jan. 11, our team of nine with Family Health Ministries arrived at the beautiful mountains and valleys of Fondwa, Haiti, to paint classrooms and add electric lights to the local school and orphanage. On Tuesday we visited the school and met the children and teachers. After sanding the rooms we intended to paint the next day, we walked back to the guesthouse about 4 p.m. Five of us headed for the showers (cold, of course).
My husband, Gary, and I had just gotten dressed, except shoes, when we heard a tremendous sound like a jet hitting our roof. Gary shouted, “It's an earthquake! Get down as low as you can against the outside wall.” He spread-eagled over me as the building swayed and tilted, and light appeared through gaping cracks. We grabbed our shoes and left quickly through this new opening in the wall. Teammate J.D. caught me as I jumped from the ledge of the now-mangled house. We got as far away from the building as we could, up on a rise in the road and reassembled with our teammates, who reported the orphanage withstood the shock and the children were physically OK.
Unfortunately, one of the novice sisters and a 2-year-old orphan who lived with her behind the guesthouse were not. We heard tapping noises for a short time and then nothing. They did not survive. Our youngest and halest team member ran down the mountain to learn that the school had collapsed and two building workers were trapped. One was dead. One died later that night. Had we been at the school, all of us and the 450 children would be gone.
We began to plan survival strategies, deciding to ration what snacks we had. We got clean water from the orphanage. Aftershocks occurred for a long time. As darkness approached, we sat on the ground in the middle of the road. At midnight we decided to lie flat, jellyroll style, using each other's bodies for warmth. It was the longest night in the world. But the heavens were filled with beautiful stars and our faith gave us strength.
One of our greatest concerns was that we had no way of letting our families know we had escaped injury. There was little we could do except calm each other and soothe the children. We gathered courage and went to the devastated guesthouse to retrieve mattresses and sheets for another cold night on the road. As we sang “Amazing Grace,” we heard the Haitians echoing in Creole.
On Thursday we held a funeral for the novice sister and Baby Jude and grieved with our Haitian friends. Then a blessing came down the mountain on a motorbike. It was one of our Haitian Academy doctors who had graduated last year. After tears and hugs all around, he went to the injured, setting a leg and an arm with sticks, cleaning out wounds. Dr. Vlad then returned to his clinic and reached our daughter by phone. She had not heard from us for 48 hours.
We slept little that night, too excited about getting up at 4 a.m. and hiking the mile up the mountain to rent motorbikes. The climb was strenuous for some of us, but we made it.
We went to the village of Leogane, which was 90 percent destroyed. Our contacts offered us a ride in the back of a pickup to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince Saturday morning. They also had one MRE package of spaghetti and offered us nine forks. We each took two bites. We had managed to have a banana along the road, so we were OK. We slept on the grass with a hundred Haitians. Their singing lulled some of us to sleep.
Arriving at the embassy at 6 a.m., we looked like the refugees we were. We stood in line seven hours. Once inside, all of the team members except Gary and I were processed on to the airport. Because our passports were buried in the guesthouse rubble, we had to wait for travel documents. We finally left at 9:30 p.m. for the airport, where we stood in line until midnight. After two and a half hours on an Air Force transport plane, we landed at the Air Force base in Homestead, Fla. They bused us on to the Miami airport where we got a flight through Chicago. We arrived in Indianapolis about 1 p.m. to the welcoming arms of our biological and church families.
We are alive and well, sleeping in our comfortable bed, but we ache for all Haitians. They are a warm and friendly people whose compassion accommodated us. We are raising money to send food and medicine to five different clinics, schools, and orphanages supported by our Hearts and Hope for Haiti organization.
The Haitians can survive on the ground until rebuilding occurs, but without food and medicine, they will die. We believe we have been spared to help.
Kay Walla MEd '65 EdD '77 taught in the McGuffey Laboratory School and Miami's Department of Teacher Education 1965-85. She and her husband, Gary, both retired, are heavily involved in service projects. The preceding comes from a letter Kay wrote to family and friends after she and Gary returned home.
"One more thing" is a place for you to share your own reminiscences and observations about everyday happenings. Submit essays for consideration to: Donna Boen, Miamian editor, "One more thing," 208 Glos Center, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056 or e-mail to Miamian@muohio.edu. Please limit yourself to 700 words and include your name, class year, address, and home phone number.