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Coming home after Haiti

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Coming home after a deployment can be tough. I always feel guilty that I couldn't have helped more and for my ‘privileged’ life in the UK. It can be hard to talk about my experience as well meaning friends and family weren’t there and simply cannot comprehend the hardships I’ve seen vulnerable people endure and the complexities of the situation. Frustratingly, rather than ask about the work I did one of the first questions I’m often asked is “did you feel safe?”. My immediately answer is yes, I never felt unsafe. Even when there were riots going on in town and burning roads blocks with angry crowds protesting about their situation I never felt like I was at risk. I felt protected by the Haitians who we’d gotten to know and worked alongside.

The second question I’m usually asked is ‘wasn’t it awful for you to see such hardship?” Yes, it was, but I don't want that to be the focus of our conversation, after all, the deployment wasn’t about me, I want to highlight the plight of the Haitian people and tell them about the welcome we received. We were a humble but skilled, small team who often travelled on foot carrying all the materials and tools we needed that made it immediately clear that we were there to help and not just gawp. All interactions were of genuine curiosity from both parties and even without translators present, communication was never a problem with a smile and a common goal.

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I don't think anyone can walk away from an experience like Haiti without reflecting upon their own lives and making changes. After seeing the orphanage I found it grotesque to walk into my sisters home and see the excessive mountain of shiny plastic toys my niece and nephew barely noticed next to the other massive pile of shiny plastic toys. I haven't bought them any gifts since I’ve been back. Instead I make their birthday cakes and give a donation to a children’s charity on their birthdays and pay for their swimming lessons, an essential life skill I think all children need.

In the first couple of days at home, I excessively appreciated the small things, like being able to drink water from any tap knowing its safe. I laid in bed on my first night at home, badly jet lagged, and thought about what a comfort it was to be dry, warm, safe and clean. When hungry I’d pause and stare at the contents of the fridge until the alarm sounded and I’d close the door without taking anything out. I felt guilty and just stood in the middle of the kitchen, my appetite lost. I barely bought anything on my first food shop, I wondered around the supermarket in a daze, overwhelmed by the volume of food so easily available that I couldn't make any choices. I’m much more conscious of the most basic human needs that I saw so many denied.

In those first few days at home, life felt complicated and I struggled to motivate myself to do anything. There were too many little decisions of no importance to make and no urgency or purpose to spur me into action. I wondered how the communities we had met were getting on, I thought about the children and wondered if they had enough to eat. I wondered what they would think of my life if they could see me now in my nice London flat. I tried to manage my guilt and emotions by writing about it, publicly and in my person diary. Admittedly, the texts are wildly different, my personal being more emotional and honest than I feel can share with the wider world. Moving forward, I focus on the positives, of which there are many.

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