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Scout takes comfort in Haiti relief work

By Moni Basu, CNN
"I love the way we work together," says Joanie Yestin of her efforts with her fellow Girl Scouts in the Logne, Haiti, area.
"I love the way we work together," says Joanie Yestin of her efforts with her fellow Girl Scouts in the Logne, Haiti, area.
  • Many of Haiti's 10,000 Boys and Girls Scouts contribute to earthquake relief
  • "It is important to involve young people right from the start," CARE official says
  • Scouts help even though they have lost homes, family members

Léogâne, Haiti (CNN) -- Joanie Yestin walks through a small alleyway to what used to be home, now a pile of concrete and crushed belongings. A plastic flower arrangement still hangs on an exterior wall that didn't collapse in the earthquake. One wooden bathroom cabinet survived.

Standing amid the rubble, Yestin, 23, recalls that horrific day: She had just returned home from her job as a secretary at Léogâne's Cool FM radio station and was preparing to take a bath when the earth started rumbling. She rushed out in time, stood with her mother and watched showers of concrete.

When the ground became still, she went back in to search for her father. A block had fallen on him. He died almost instantly.

After she buried him, after she found a small plot of land outside a local school to set up temporary shelter, Yestin thought about what she might do to mend her broken soul, her broken nation.

She put on her salvaged Girl Scout uniform -- a tan cotton blouse and skirt and a green scarf twisted around her neck.

Yestin, like many of Haiti's almost 10,000 Boys and Girls Scouts, decided to contribute her share to the earthquake relief effort.

"It's important to have Haitians involved in the recovery," said Georges Clement, the Scout leader in Léogâne. "We want to help."

Full coverage of Haiti earthquake

Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1980s, Haiti has created many civil society organizations and groups, but none has been particularly strong in the midst of political and economic turmoil, said Sophie Perez, the country director for the humanitarian agency CARE, which has worked in Haiti since 1954.

It was vital to involve grass-roots groups in the earthquake recovery process, she said, because local people are the ones who have the biggest stake in the future. The Scouts have one other advantage: They are young.

"It is important to involve young people right from the start," Perez said. "They can learn values of solidarity and good governance."

Video: Haitian Scouts help rebuild
  • Haiti
  • Earthquakes
  • Disaster Relief

But as determined as Yestin is to help, this particular community chore is hardly easy for her Scout troop. In Baussan, a village near Léogâne, about 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the Scouts lined up to distribute essential hygiene items trucked in by CARE.

Yestin and her friends broke out in a song about being together; it was the only way to get through life's tribulations. She smiled and laughed with the others. And yet not one among them had been unscathed by the terrible tragedy that befell Haiti on January 12. Many had lost a family member or a home. By day, few are in school. By night, they sleep under the stars. No one's lives are the way they were anymore.

The missing, the found, the victims

Yestin handed out red, green and blue buckets filled with soap, toothpaste, towels. She tore open the plastic-on-foam mattresses and blankets to hand out to the needy. She tried not to think about her own loss at that moment.

"It was God's will" that her father died, she had said earlier. "I will do my very best to help others because that is what I have been trained to do," she said about her five years in the Scouts. "Up until now, I haven't really had the opportunity to help others."

Yestin passed along one CARE bucket after another. She did not cry like she did when the earth shook. Or worry that her education was in peril. She had wanted to attend university, study communications.

But it was her father who made a living as a mason. Who will pay her tuition now? Who will support her 5-year-old nephew? His unemployed parents depended on her for a few extra dollars.

She often feels scared these days when she is alone.

"I love the way we work together," she said of the Scouts. So on this blazing afternoon, amid the despair of the needy, she simply took comfort.

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