27 September 2005
by Myrna Domit
UN Volunteer Myrna Domit (right, wearing blue hat) with international press during an interview of a Haitian schoolgirl in Cite Soleil.
(Photo by UNV)August 16, 2004:
"Myrna Domit, you have been accepted to work as a UNV Public Information Officer. Please report to duty station, at the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, in two weeks."
On what started out as a typical workday at the UN in New York, I checked my email to find this message from the UNV office in Bonn. I re-read it several times until it finally sunk in: in just two weeks, I was to pick up and move to Haiti. Everything I knew about Haiti came through newspapers or UN documents; usually they described Haiti as a country rife with chaos, poverty, and violence.
I was excited, curious, but also scared. In just a few days, I would be dedicating my life to re-constructing the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Instead of reading about Haiti in the news, I would be making the news.
14 days later:
I was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. The weather was warm but not overbearing, with ample sunlight shining down over the mountains and into the clear Caribbean Sea. A small band played local songs. Clearly there was thriving potential, pride and even hope amongst the people of Haiti.
As my car pulled out of the airport, however, the mood changed quickly. Hundreds of young children approached my car, begging. Older men looked at me with scepticism in their eyes, as if to ask what I was doing in their country, and how could I possibly understand their misery, let alone help them.
September 2004 - August 2005:
As a Public Information Officer, based in Port-au-Prince, I quickly discovered both the northern and southern regions of the Caribbean island. I was assigned to work with the international and local press, providing information about MINUSTAH's role in Haiti.
The media has a strong daily presence in Haiti and depend on the Mission's Public Information Office to receive facts and status reports about MINUSTAH?s various units. My role was to work with the spokesperson and attend to the needs of the press, including patrolling with soldiers, interviewing the Special Representative to the Secretary General in Haiti and other Chiefs in the Mission, and travelling throughout Haiti to cover specific events.
My experiences were varied, exciting, and fulfilling. After Tropical Storm Jeanne destroyed much of the northern Gonaives part of Haiti, killing over 700 people, I escorted reporters from the BBC, CNN, and other agencies to examine the devastation. I frequently took journalists to the impoverished slums surrounding the city of Port-au-Prince. I also accompanied the press to electoral registration booths throughout the country. I used my language skills to act as translator between journalists and Haitian soldiers, residents, and government officials. In addition, I helped inform the local and international press about the numerous humanitarian activities conducted by the military and civilian component of the Mission, which improved MINUSTAH's relationships at home and abroad, fostering the reconstruction of Haiti.
I don't refer to my experiences in Haiti as my past -- they colour every aspect of my daily life and shape my decisions. After living among people for whom everyday survival is a struggle, I feel immensely fortunate. I also feel a tremendous sense of responsibility. I like to think I did my part in helping the people of Haiti come a bit closer to realizing the potential I observed when I first landed in Port-au-Prince; I also know I will spend the rest of my life doing what I can to help in similar situations around the world.
Myrna Domit served as a UN Volunteer Public Information Officer with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) between September 2004 and August 2005.