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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The earthquake which had turned Haiti upside down

Graffiti in Haiti

24.3.2010: The earthquake which had turned Haiti upside down by Fern Georges, Haitian Environmental Journalist. Port-au-Prince, Haiti  

Like hundreds of Haitian entrepreneurs, I was greatly affected by 12 January’s very deadly earthquake.  Listening to a Haitian evangelical radio station, waiting for two visitors while taking a nap in my cosy little office at the Haitian Environmental Reporters Network (REHPE), I heard some weird noise and felt some strong vibration which lasted about thirty seconds.  In fact, I thought that my office building was collapsing from exhaustion because it was very old - some 120 years old.  It usually shook up whenever a big car or truck passed by.  All of a sudden, I had an idea firmly rooted in my mind to exit my place by jumping out of the first storey, with my bare feet, which I did!  Being on the first floor, I was questioning my business colleagues about what happened. They told me that it was an earthquake.  

Everybody was shouting, especially women not being able to control their emotions.  A wide mass of dust filled in the air. People became dirty. They looked ugly with grey powder finely spread over their faces, heads and bodies.  It was a big disaster. Several houses, schools and state buildings in my area were destroyed.  With a lot of caution, a few minutes later, I had decided to re-enter my still-standing work place to rescue some important materials such as electronic items, office supplies, files etc…  Fortunately, I was by myself in my office. All my employees had already left. So I could feel guilty if one of them had to die or be hurt because of me.  

Mars and Klein Psychiatry Hospital

On my way back home, I was just counting corpses, running people, demolished residences and broken vehicles. My soul was quite invaded by dismay, anguish, anxiety and fear.

Unlike my office building, my house was not affected by the quake because it was built on the rock – in the mountain.

Losing my agency, my job, some close friends - and feeling sorry for many people, I had to cope anyway with my new living condition. Luckily, I had joined as an interpreter, guide and assistant in the Mental Health Department of the International Medical Corps (IMC), a well-known organisation which came to Haiti for the International Disaster Relief Team / Haiti Emergency 2010 program. Hence, I met Dr Peter Hughes, one of my supervisors, an Irish psychiatrist based in London who had politely asked me to write this article for his blog. Meanwhile, I have been looking for assistance to re-establish my business organisation – which is just a pain in the neck!

Finally, as an Environmental journalist, it is obvious that the 12 January natural disaster had completely turned Haiti upside down. The thinking and acting way of the Haitian people along with their international good friends and sponsors must change by developing a new sense of responsibility in future.

The quake had publicly unveiled the nudity of Haitians and their foreign partners. Nothing really important has been done in Haiti for the last 206 years such as a lack of a good infrastructure system, no project had been implemented with a long-lasting development and management goal and so on...

Of course, Haitians cannot help themselves. Billions of dollars have been spent in Haiti. Nevertheless, for decades, the islanders have been splashing around an awful misery under the monitoring and/or with the agreement of their international fellows. Let’s say that on the one hand, Haiti has always been located in a very troublesome ecological region. Thus, the earthquake was just a fact – not an event! Awareness was raised and warnings were given by many specialists from different skylines.

Since last year, the Haitian Environmental Reporters Network (REHPE) has been carrying out an Environmental Education Campaign throughout the country for which it has gotten no support of any kind! On the other hand, we can only count the days we are living on the island. So wisdom is a must – what about common sense?

Fern Georges, Haitian Environmental Journalist

See also 'A Plea for Haiti'  by Sienna Miller, Global Ambassador, International Medical Corps  



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About this blog

Dr Peter Hughes - consultant psychiatrist








Dr Peter Hughes is a consultant psychiatrist based at Springfield University Hospital, London. He has an interest in international psychiatry and has been travelling to Africa over the last five years doing short-term assignments in mental health. He has recently flown to Haiti to work on a mental health programme.


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Dec Haiti Earthquake Appeal


Dec Haiti Earthquake appeal