Feed Your Soul

Feed Your Soul

Leigh Behrens, President and Editor-in-Chief of the Personal News Network, tells her personal story about leaving her social media start-up behind in favor of helping women in Haiti after the Earthquake – and the inspiration she found among the chaos.

By Leigh Behrens

At first, my colleagues didn’t think I was serious. People were struggling to get out of Haiti – why would I want to go to a place of such desperation, now further devastated by an earthquake?

The bigger question for me was how could I not go? There was never a doubt in my mind. I’d already been volunteering there with a non-profit that was well-established, and the group was uniquely qualified to provide immediate relief. Miraculously, our Friends of the Children of Haiti Medical Clinic was undamaged by the disaster – though everything around it was destroyed. And our patients needed us now more than ever.

So I scrambled to go, and our group found private pilots willing to fly us to the tiny town nearest our clinic, an area now resembling a war zone, with injured flooding in and collapsed structures everywhere.

I fully realized the risk to my business: I’d miss key events and that would result in lost opportunities. With startups, constant networking is essential for success – and survival – and I’d have to drop out.

But my loyal community of bloggers were behind me, sending me encouraging messages. They understood the commitment I’d made to support the progress of women and families in Haiti already facing so much hardship as the Hemisphere’s poorest country. Clients were also supportive and even donated to our group – and they knew there was no certainty of when I could return.

So I followed my gut – and the result has been the most soul-nourishing experience of my life.

Working side by side with Friends’ doctors, nurses, EMTs and other medical professionals (we stayed in the spartan living quarters of our clinic), my experience was totally immersive and tested my ability to cope and focus amid overwhelming tragedy, grief and suffering.
 Being there was a humbling gift, and I knew I needed to use it wisely. I’ve been trained by our expert medical professionals to assist in wound care, lab testing and other treatment. On this trip, providing compassion to those who’d endured such staggering loss was foremost, and I did my best; some wounded needed acute critical injury care; others still, in complete shock from what they’d survived and witnessed, just needed someone to sit beside them while they wept.

One man just kept wailing – he’d lost his daughter, a police officer, in the quake – and the veteran nurse tending him starting tearing up as well, though she continued to assess him. All around us similar sounds and sights fed our already high emotions. The aftershocks of the quake also continued – sending terrified Haitians running, sometimes in the middle of procedures. And who could blame them?

I’ll never forget Rose Iris La Fond. Her 10-year-old son, Charles, pulled her from under rubble in Port-au-Prince. Her ear had been severed and her leg was severely damaged. Charles couldn’t free his father or brother, 9, and they both perished. Rose Iris had endured her initial injuries then horrific pain in getting over the mountain roads to get to our clinic and care that would save her ear. Her wounds will heal, but her heart will be forever broken.

And yet, she’s remaining strong, enduring so much with so much grace. It’s that memory of the incredible resilient spirit – despite the chaos and catastrophic loss – that I’ll carry with me.

I’m humbled by my experience. And I’m more determined that ever to incorporate more of that pure sense of purpose into all my pursuits. It’s been a long-time career goal to align my work with my passion to make a difference – and this has accelerated it. Life can be changed – or gone – in an instant.

A mentor once told me something that’s stuck with me: “All that matters is what’s true and truly felt.” This has been the ultimate expression of that. I had to have the courage to be true to myself and take the risk to go and contribute in any way I could. I’m haunted by what I saw – but I’m also profoundly inspired. And my life will never be the same.

Leigh Behrens is an award-winning journalist and nationally recognized new media leader. She is the President and Editor-in-Chief of Personal News Network, known as the global water cooler for women.

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