Walking into the series of tents that had been hastily erected in the aftermath of the ’09 earthquake on the Port Au Prince airport tarmac to serve as the Medishare field hospital for the first time was an experience that will forever be seared into my mind and body… The air was a sticky, sickly sweet mixture of sweat, misery and death. There was very little noise. Muffled voices and the occasional low moan of pain or grief were barely discernible above the hum of the diesel generator. True suffering is most often done in silence.
I shuddered with the guilt of an interloper who was being paid what would amount to a small fortune here in Haiti to document the ongoing pain of a long-suffering people. I told myself the easy, self-assuring lie that my photographs might change something and proceeded to hide behind the lens and its blinking shutter.
I saw the young girl from across the room. A flap of the tent had been folded open in a feeble attempt to let some sunlight and fresh air in and the acrid stink of misery and death out. She was staring out at the sliver of blue sky from her bed with a look of longing and lost innocence.
Her shy eyes met mine with an honesty and openness that shattered any language barrier along with my carefully crafted journalistic detachment. I smiled and mumbled a few words in broken French as I approached. Her name was Julienne and her left arm was missing.
Amongst the chaos, destruction and death her smile spoke of courage, defiance against overwhelming odds and the power of the human spirit. It remains to this day as one of the most powerful things I have ever seen…