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Amid catastrophic loss, two people find themselves as Haiti bounces back from 2010 earthquake

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 1:02 p.m. MDT

During the day he works closely with Lynn Samsel, the emergency coordinator for LDS Church Welfare based in Salt Lake. Samsel led the church's relief effort in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in which hundreds of members poured in to Louisiana to distribute food, rebuild houses and remove fallen trees with chain saws. Over the years, Samsel has overseen similar efforts in places like Ethiopia. In most cases, he's amazed by what's already been accomplished by members. They open up boxes of food storage to share with their neighbors and their doors to people who need shelter. "It's our job to relieve suffering wherever we find it," he says, "and to help people whether they are members of our church or not."

Samsel's been coming to Haiti every couple weeks, rotating in and out a team of LDS doctors and mental health officials. But lately he and Berthony have been talking about moving beyond triage. Hundreds of members have lost homes. Dozens have lost jobs. Schools were destroyed. There is no way to fix all of that, but they can do something.

It takes Kathleen three months to get to Haiti. At first she's overwhelmed by her work in the Boston mayor's office. There are hundreds of Haitian refugees in the city who need her help connecting with family back in Port Au Prince, and dozens more evacuated to live with their families in Boston.

Usually by 9 a.m. there's already a long line of refugees outside her office waiting for help. Some have been staying with relatives, but now need a new place to live. One mother tells Kathleen, "I was airlifted with my five children and now I don't have money to feed them. What can I do?"

Kathleen does her best — reaching out to private charities, networks of friends, government agencies — but sometimes, all she can do is listen.

Through tears one man tells her that a school collapsed, killing his son. They never found him and so they held an impromptu funeral right there on the rubble. "When you hear something like that," Kathleen recalls, "you just listen. I said to myself, 'I'm here helping these people, at least there are resources here. I can only imagine how much harder it is in Haiti.'"

Every night when she gets home, she scans the Internet, hoping to find a job with a humanitarian organization in Haiti.

In April, she arranges a quick trip to Haiti to visit her uncle, who works in the ministry of public health, to see if there's anything she can do.

It isn't the homecoming she imagined. In the year after the earthquake, millions of dollars in aid poured into the coffers of relief organizations — $500 million to the Red Cross alone. All told, an estimated one in every two American households donated more than $1.4 billion to help Haiti, but none of that is apparent yet. To Kathleen, it looks like the earthquake just happened. Tent cities have sprung up everywhere — on roadside medians, in soccer fields, in vacant lots. The roof of the National Palace remains in shambles, and across the street, at the Champs de Mars Park, 10,000 people have pitched tents in what has become a dangerous shantytown.

All over the city, human waste clogs open sewer lines, pigs root beside small muddy rivers and piles of rotting banana peels fester in the gutters. Most troubling, massive piles of rubble remain on every corner. An estimated 8 million cubic meters bury the city, enough to build a bridge from Haiti to Los Angeles and back. Kathleen's childhood home has been destroyed. She worries the country will never be the same.

Back in the U.S., a college friend reaches out to help. He works for a medical supply company that has a warehouse full of antibiotics, bandages and other supplies they'd like to get in to Haiti. Problem is, no planes are allowed in to Port Au Prince for the time being, and they have too many supplies to truck them from the Dominican Republic. The only way in is by boat.

This is the sort of opportunity Kathleen has been waiting for. She finds out that Royal Caribbean is still docking in Port Au Prince, and so she calls the vice president of public affairs.

"We have a warehouse full of medical supplies, and we'd like to get them in to Haiti, how can we make that happen?" she asks. Royal Caribbean agrees to haul the supplies to the dock, and Kathleen's uncle at the ministry of public health arranges for a caravan of trucks to unload the boxes and then haul them to the city's still-operating clinics.

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