The earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010 left more than 220,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless. Countless families were broken up and 750,000 children were directly affected. UNICEF staffers were there as well, suffering through the situation. Below is the story of Gabrielle Lafortune, a driver at UNICEF Haiti.
During the earthquake, I was in a public transport with one of my sons. In a panic, I wanted to take refuge in a nearby building, but my son held me back saying: it’s an earthquake. By the time I realized what was happening, the house I was headed to for refuge collapsed. My son saved my life.
At that time my only concern was my other sons and nephews at home: had they survived the disaster? I started walking toward home. The whole population was in stress as I walked; there was debris everywhere. I said to myself: My God! All the children are dead. Fortunately, the house held up, it did not collapse.
I was very lucky, I lost no loved ones.
Once hired, into the field
I heard about UNICEF hiring female drivers from my cousin. She knew driving cars was my passion. I did all the steps, completed my application form and passed all the practical and theoretical tests. In June 2010, I got the job. At that time, it was UNICEF Haiti Representative, Françoise Gruloos-Ackermans, who gave women the opportunity to work for UNICEF as drivers.
In less than a month, I went to the field. There was so much work that we had to start as soon as possible. We went to Léogâne, with two other colleagues because the city was deeply impacted and there were many needs. I spent 5 days there and gradually integrated into the team.
I can’t even imagine UNICEF’s work without the drivers. It’s impossible. Drivers go everywhere, to remote places and on very dangerous roads where you need a lot of composure and skill. It is the drivers who bring other colleagues to deliver the aid and assist the beneficiaries. We facilitated transferring the aid during these difficult times because the country was at a standstill and it needed everyone’s help.
The driver’s job is a mission
My most memorable experience was the day when a colleague with reduced mobility and I had to go to Anse-à-Pitre in the south-east. We left Port-au-Prince at 6 am and arrived at 7 pm, more than 12 hours later–I could no longer feel my legs. We were so tired, but what mattered was getting the job done. We had to visit all schools in the area.
We got near and the road was in very bad condition. Before us, a truck had fallen into a ravine. But I managed to get through. I was shocked when I saw the plight of the people who lived there. They had no access to any services. It was the first time a car had arrived in this area in a long time.
Without drivers, UNICEF cannot operate normally
The driver’s job is not easy. In some parts of the country, it really takes courage, because the roads are very dangerous. We even almost got caught in quicksand once. It was the residents of the area who alerted us.
The love of the job is always stronger than anything. We must arm ourselves with will and self-sacrifice in our task. As a driver at UNICEF, I know it is my mission to work for the well-being of children.
Gabrielle Latortue is a UNICEF Haïti driver. She’s been working at UNICEF for 10 years.