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Who can ignore Haiti now?

By Diane Lane, Special to CNN
  • Diane Lane visited Haiti and met Father Rick, American doctor who cares for poor
  • Lane: Help him and others restore damaged hospitals and schools
  • World has ignored desperation of Haiti for too long, she writes
  • Now is the time to help Haiti rise out of its poverty, Lane says

Editor's note: Diane Lane is an actress who appeared most recently in "Nights in Rodanthe" and will appear in the upcoming movie "Secretariat." To learn more about Artists for Peace and Justice, click here.

(CNN) -- My visit to Haiti last year was an unexpected gift. I was one of a group brought together by director Paul Haggis, who founded Artists for Peace and Justice and Brand Aid. We were deeply touched by the scope of one amazing man's work.

He is the Rev. Richard Frechette -- Father Rick, an American Roman Catholic priest who became a doctor to care for the poor of Haiti, especially its children. (He has also worked with children in Honduras and Mexico with the nonprofit Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International, Our Little Brothers and Sisters.)

From Father Rick's eyes shines the sanctity of human life. He has worked in Haiti for more than 20 years, and the hospitals he helped build save lives every day.

The now-damaged St. Damien Pediatric Hospital, in Port-au-Prince, is the only free children's hospital in Haiti. Two others are the also damaged Kay St. Germaine Rehabilitation Center and a now-destroyed hospital in Petionville.

During our stay at St. Damien, we visited and brought supplies to his orphans -- some disabled, some sick, some abandoned by parents who hoped they could find a better life than they could offer. We held the babies and comforted the mothers. This was compassion, not pity.

When we arrived in December, Father Rick took us through the slum of Cité de Soleil, where he seemed known by all.

We stayed past dark, riding through the other-planetary landscape, where its citizens live and have no choice but to accept a scavenger existence amid trash and open sewers. We smelled the burning garbage -- at night, the people's only source of light.

The children there greeted us with sparkles of curiosity in their eyes; anyone Father Rick brought to visit them was not to be feared or endangered. Spontaneous glee erupted; they had visitors! Were it not for trucks regularly bringing potable water, this also thanks to Father Rick and others, I don't know how they would survive at all.

Haiti's poverty is depersonalizing and cruel. It chokes off education, and ignorance is the gasoline of injustice. Father Rick has created schools directly amidst the slums to chip away at the hopelessness and offer the counter-measure of investing in the value of education. The simple dignity of a school uniform can be armor against apathy.

Closer to the U.S. than the usual vacation-island destinations, Haiti has long languished. Finally, focused aid is rolling in from a horrified world that has seemingly been content to ignore this nation.

Who can ignore Haiti now? Send money to rebuild these hospitals better than ever. Amid the tumult and despair, this is a long-overdue transformational opportunity for Haiti. They say you can't have a miracle without a crisis. I believe there will be many miracles rising from Haiti's tragedy.

There is the potential for Haiti to rise out of this devastation into a comparatively glorious creation. It will be through our attention, our collective will, all of us helping the Father Ricks of the world who have already created more than hope. They have produced a tangible effect for the better.

But for now, there is struggle. Here is part of a letter from Father Rick, written in the aftermath of the earthquake, as he assessed the damage:

"Stories of deaths of people who are dear to us keep coming in. We spent the rest of the time managing the countless people with serious and severe wounds, coming to our hospital.

"We are doing our best for them, under trees and in the parking lot with ever-diminishing supplies. We will work throughout the night and beyond. No stores are open, no banks are open.

"Diesel is running out. Will be out in two days if we don't find a solution, which will mean no power at all. The hospital is without water since there is some broken line between the well and the water tower.

"Structural damages to the hospital seem superficial at first glance, but about half the outer perimeter walls have fallen. The old hospital in Petionville is in ruins.

"WE HAVE NO INTERNET. OUR PHONES DO NOT WORK. IF A CALL DOES GET THROUGH WE CAN'T HEAR OR BE HEARD. Robin has Internet access through a satellite. I asked her to send this message for me, and to read my e-mails and answer them as best she can for now.

"Please continue to pray for us. We pray for you too."

Help those who have served in Haiti long enough to know best how to care for her.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Lane.

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