Photogenic volunteers in Haiti exposed

For doctors who travel abroad to help save lives, it certainly should not be considered in bad taste for them to smile. But some doctors who looked a little too happy in the pictures they posted on Facebook have turned a humanitarian mission aimed to aid Haitian earthquake victims into a major embarrassment and political nightmare.

These medical staffers probably should have thought twice about saying cheese, especially considering the compromising nature of the moments these photos captured — doctors swigging alcohol, mugging for cameras and brandishing firearms — all the while surrounded by the devastated country.

Despite the tragedy that has consumed the country during the earthquake and its aftermath, there are still small triumphs that give Haitians and international volunteers cause for joy.

When Elizabeth Josaint, a three-week-old infant who was trapped and buried for a week in the rubble of the quake, was found alive in the collapsed remnants of her home, her mother and the child’s rescuers found reason to smile. Elizabeth’s mother, Michelin Josaint, said all she could do was give thanks to God, who she credits with protecting her baby.

Others can be found grinning despite the tears streaming down their faces; despite losing a roof over their heads or a place to sleep, these people can take solace in the fact that they’ve been given a new lease on life.

But in the context of the doctors who waved guns and flashed toothy grins, the smiling and seemingly celebratory mood is unwarranted and inappropriate.

These doctors are not jovial because of the knowledge that they will save lives. Rather, these medical staffers acted carelessly and without sensitivity to the suffering that was happening right around them.

Oftentimes the suffering was even on display within the photographs — as witnessed by the small, nearly naked boy cowering behind a doctor in scrubs who is raising up two bottles of brew in an ignorant toast.

Now, it shouldn’t be mandatory for volunteers to submit to the gloom and sulk that surrounds them during relief projects. All the scenario calls for is a level of sensitivity — while volunteers are encouraged to remain optimistic while providing aid, they must draw a line in order to pay respect to the lives taken by the tragedy.

The mere fact that these doctors were flown overseas for the purpose of saving lives should indicated to them that the needs of the victims should have been their first priority. Their noble efforts to help in the relief efforts should not place them on a pedestal above criticism.

It was not wrong for these doctors to crack a smile; the tragedy is that these photos now serve as a concrete example of how the doctors actively chose to waste valuable time. They could have used the time spent guzzling scotch to save a boy who was bleeding to death from a head injury sustained during the earthquake or to assist a would-be mother struggling through childbirth despite her own life-threatening ailments.

Another troubling question of causation arises by observing the military in the photographs — why would soldiers give their guns to untrained civilians? Those involved on the medical staff as well as the military need to be disciplined because it is this disrespect and lack of judgment that detracts from the honorable efforts of many to provide real hope through medical care in Haiti.

Beyond tarnishing their own credibility and that of the mission, some of these same doctors compromised the privacy of patients by taking photos of victims in hospital beds. The doctors disrespected the victim’s vulnerable state and snapped a photo of the patient who was naked from the waist down except for a thin strip of cloth covering the genitals.

Because this particular mission was coordinated by Puerto Rico’s Senate, the embarrassment for the government is even more sensitive. Some of these doctors have already been fired and the repercussions of these careless acts are sure to follow them throughout their medical careers.

Though it is disappointing that such an event transpired, we can’t put all of this blame on the doctors, as human nature dictates that those in the most stressful of situations probably deserve some sort of down time.

The only way we will be able to provide Haitians with constant support is through a groundswell of participation from many individuals who make a personal commitment to contribute to the relief effort.

Whether this personal commitment is to assemble a first aid kit in a zip-close bag or to travel to Haiti and provide firsthand care, it is through bold efforts such as these that a worldwide network of volunteers will be able to help Haiti rise from the rubble.

Despite incidents such as these, the crisis in Haiti has proven that, even in the midst of tragedy, there is still cause for joy. The people of Haiti are giving thanks for the small series of miracles that unexpectedly saved a few homes, churches and orphanages.

These buildings that stand confidently above the rubble serve as a sign of hope, as a sign of the faith Haitians harbor that the aid of both time and caring volunteers will guide Haiti as it starts down the long road to repair.

Kelsey Clark is a sophomore majoring in print journalism.

1 reply
  1. J. Nolla
    J. Nolla says:

    Agree with your comments.

    These further details have been reported locally in PR regarding these doctors: (1) apparently only the pictures with earthquake vistims were taken in Haiti, the rest appear to have been taken in the Dominican Republic, when these fellows were on their way back to their homes; (2) their apologies ran almost immediatly on the most prominent pages of the local newspapers in Puerto Rico; (3) folks in PR were distrubed and disgusted by the lack of civility by taking such pictures with the victims.

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