Little by Little
Thanks to a connection from an old friend's mother, I was so fortunate to spend a few hours talking with Sue Walsh, founder of Little by Little in Haiti, an organization based in Chicago that brings nurse practitioner students and other health professionals in volunteer medical teams to a clinic in Gramothe.
She's written a book called Walking in Broken Shoes, a signed copy of which I am now a proud new owner (thanks Sue!) about her experience during the earthquake. It has now jumped to the top of my reading list, due much in part to how much Sue's passion, enthusiasm, and general warmth and down-to-earthiness (is that a word?) struck me during our conversation.
We talked about everything from grief to Haitian politics to how to start a non-profit to sustainability in development to just how backwards/tough Haiti is and, of course, our own earthquake stories.
I cannot tell you how good it feels to have a conversation like this. Mostly because I have stopped expecting to find people who truly understand Haiti and the earthquake that are close by enough to chat over coffee in my university's student union building (although Sue is from Chicago, she was visiting Seattle and graciously drove down to meet me during my break in classes- again, how awesome is she?!). But also because even when I spoke with the other volunteers when I was in Haiti this winter, there is still a bit of a barrier there.
I feel that those still living in Haiti that dealt with everything in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake still need to have a bit of a wall up in talking about the earthquake, and only by removing ourselves from Haiti for awhile and truly dealing with everything are we really open to sharing without it feeling so overwhelming. I was able to have some great conversations in Haiti, but sometimes it's easier to talk about something when you're not still stuck in the middle of it and living it day in and day out.
Another topic that Sue and I discussed, about the difficulties of living in Haiti and how incredibly draining it is and how easy burn out comes, has stayed on my mind. I have felt burnt out in just two and a half weeks of relatively relaxed work in Haiti. And I felt awful for it. But Sue validated how hard it can be to maintain compassion even for the most altruistic. It helped a lot to hear that from someone else.
I do want to make sure that even though I felt so much joy and relief to chat with Sue today, that is not to discount the support of those who have tried to be understanding and present for me this last year. Thank you for everything. But it's true; we can never truly put our feet in others' shoes and it feels validating and so much less isolating to meet someone with such a similar experience and tie to the earthquake.
Sue told me that I have now joined a club that I never really asked to join, but if there are more people like her in it - and I know there are - sign me up!