The Global Health Program at Rush and the Zhou B Art Center have teamed up for a Sept. 9 benefit, Art for Haiti, to help provide health care in impoverished communities. Jennifer Towbin, MD, a hospitalist at Rush, helps spearhead the program.
By Jennifer Towbin, MD
On Jan. 12, 2010, the largest earthquake on record hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It claimed the lives of thousands, devastated the city and impacted the lives of everyone there. Little did I realize that it would affect me too. Soon after hearing of the earthquake, I knew I wanted to be there to help. Luckily, with the help of the Rush Global Health Program’s counterparts in the Dominican Republic and Dr. Stephanie Wang, 10 days later I found myself traveling to Haiti.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The destruction and devastation were indescribable. The pictures shown on the news only partially prepared me for what I saw. The air was thick with dust and debris. One building was leveled to a pile of rubble, while its neighbor was standing untouched. Intermixed with the piles of garbage that lined the streets were makeshift tents and blankets where people were living. They were too scared to be indoors.
Yet, what struck me the most was not the rubble and ruins. It was the citizens of Port-au-Prince. Despite the annihilation of their homes, city and loved ones, the people of Port-au-Prince that we encountered were genuinely resilient men and women. It seemed as if they had said to themselves, “We have a choice; we can either wallow and be bitter, or we can pick ourselves back up and get back to living.” People had resumed their streetside vending. Only now, it was located on top and in between the rubble. People were out with brooms and hammers trying to clean away the debris. Life was not stopping.
There are multiple stories that I could tell to show how touched I was by the Haitian people and how kind and generous they are. One night, we were driving home from caring for patients in a tent city. There were eight of us in the back of a pickup truck (our mode of transportation while there). The front left tire fell into a sinkhole over 4 feet deep. The streets were pitch black; there were people lining the streets; and I thought for sure that we were in for trouble. Yet, I was incredibly mistaken. Haitians from all directions ran into the middle of the street. Some started directing traffic around us, while the others helped to get the car out of the sinkhole. They asked for nothing in return. We gave them bottles of purified water as a thank you. They were just being selfless good humans; they were following The Golden Rule. I had great pause that night as I realized that I am not sure that the same thing would have happened had the earthquake hit Chicago.
I have since been back to Haiti two other times to provide support for local communities trying to establish medical centers. We provide primary medical care and medications and educate locals on preventive medicine and public health issues. It is truly a symbiotic relationship. Yet, it is so much more fruitful than that. I can say with certainty that they show us what is truly important in life. It is not about the size of your TV, the style of car you drive or the amount of money in your bank account. These are all materialistic things that can be taken away without even a moment’s notice. Rather, it’s the people you chose to surround yourself with and what you chose to do with what you have that really matters. I can only hope that in coming to Haiti three times a year, we are showing the people of Haiti that they are not alone, they are not forgotten and they will not be left behind.
The Art for Haiti benefit, featuring music, art, food and performances, will be held Sept. 9 from 6 to 11 p.m. at at the Zhou B Art Center, located at 1029 W. 35th St. in Chicago. The suggested donation is $25.