As a reporter for WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Jaccii Farris believes in practicing objective journalism. She seeks to remain impartial, state the facts and not get emotionally involved.
But Farris found it almost impossible to remain detached when she traveled to Haiti after the January 12th earthquake. Farris and photojournalist Lee Jenkins made the trip with 13 volunteers, including three doctors from Allentown’s Life Church.
Last Thursday (Feb. 4), Farris, Jenkins and the volunteers came to Lehigh to discuss and show video of their trip. They were accompanied by a nurse and a senior from Allentown’s Parkland High School.
In Haiti, the journalists and the volunteers visited two locations. The first was the Love A Child ministry, an orphanage in Fond Parisien 45 minutes outside the capital of Port-Au-Prince, one of the areas most devastated by the earthquake. The second stop was in Port-Au-Prince, where Life Church has its own orphanage. The church had learned shortly after the earthquake that the building was no longer habitable and the children had to be evacuated.
“I tried to stay out of the story, but as the story developed, as we watched the doctors deal with tremendous injuries, I think we all became emotionally attached to the people and to everything we saw,” said Farris.
“Being a journalist, you have to take yourself out of the situation and be objective. I tried to do that as much as I could, but we had to get footage and that’s a whole lot different than what you see on television. [The Haitian people] weren’t on a screen. They were right there in front of us. They had wounds and they were crying out to us so we basically had to report it in breaks.
“It was the most catastrophic thing Lee and I had ever experienced.”
Tragedy wasn’t the only thing on the minds of the journalists and volunteers. Their sentiments focused more on their admiration for the Haitian people and their ability to recuperate after the earthquake.
“I think everyone here would agree that we were not the heroes,” said Dr. Scott Rice, a pediatrician at Lehigh Valley Hospital. The Haitian people “were just amazing. Their ability to endure suffering and their resilience toward pain...they were gracious, thankful and full of faith, amazing in that sense.”
This attitude almost came as a shock to them, the panel members said. Before making the trip, they had been warned of the dangers of going to Haiti. They were nervous about their own safety while they were there, but surprised by what the situation was actually like. Jenkins said he knew the situation in Haiti was sensationalized by the media, but he wasn’t sure to what extent.
“The media had been portraying the situation as dangerous but really, although the borders were dicey, everything else was fine,” he said.
In fact, panel members said, the Haitian people often cheered “USA, USA!” when they saw the group’s caravan pass by.
Once the team put their fears behind them, they got to work. The clinic set up by the Life Church doctors was the only station in its area providing medical care. Trucks delivered a steady stream of patients, and the three doctors, working with certified nursing assistant Christine Dewhurst and a Haitian pediatrician, learned quickly how to deal with what could have become an overwhelming situation.
“I was just so glad to be able to help,” said Dewhurst, “but I also received so much back. I learned so many different things. I delivered a baby for the first time!”
While Dewhurst doesn’t speak Creole, the language of Haiti, she was able to learn a simple sentence, “M ap priye pou ou,” which means “I am praying for you,” to which her patients would reply, “Merci, merci.”
The panel discussion was sponsored by the Global Union, the Community Service Office, the Dean of Students Office and the Global Citizenship Program.