5Q :: Catching up with Julie ‘Jitterbug’ PearceThe Budgeteer checks in with Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce, the Northland’s NewsCenter anchor who gave up her post to help out in Haiti with the post-earthquake relief effort. PLUS: An interview with J.P. Rennquist, who is co-organizing the “Jitterbug for Jitterbug” event, which will benefit the nurse’s continuing aid efforts.
For those of us safe at home in the Twin Ports, it’s hard to imagine that it’s been nearly four months since the mammoth 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti. For Julie “Jitterbug” Pearce, former Northland’s NewsCenter personality, it’s a little harder to forget, as she’s been there for more than three months now.
When the Hispaniola island nation was struck its devastating blow Jan. 12, it didn’t take long for Pearce, a registered nurse, to famously abandon her anchoring post in order to provide aid to the Haitians. Following a few last-minute awareness-raising interviews about her mission — including such high-profile spots as NBC’s “The Today Show” and Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” — she was down there helping out.
In anticipation of the upcoming “Jitterbug for Jitterbug” fundraising event (see attached link), the Budgeteer caught up with Pearce via e-mail late last week:
Budgeteer: First of all, for our readers who maybe missed the other coverage about your trip, how are you helping out down there?
Pearce: I arrived in Haiti three weeks after the earthquake. I immediately got to work using my nursing skills to provide direct care to victims of the disaster. I have spent more than two months working at the CDTI hospital in Port-au-Prince. The first half of my journey here was filled with a focus on medical care specifically. I’d often find myself thrust into the role of doctor diagnosing and treating minor injuries or illness. Sometimes, I’d find myself teetering on the role of anesthesiologist as I’d have to provide moderate sedation to put people under so we could perform minor procedures on them. With 10- to 12-hour shifts, the days were long; 95-degree heat from the sweltering Haitian sun was exhausting; and the extent of injuries and despair many of these people are experiencing was heartbreaking.
The second part of my journey down here, I started to focus on providing psychological support. More specifically, I developed a grief therapy program specific to the earthquake, the culture and the language. It was targeted to children and adolescents. For the last few weeks, I’ve been facilitating these groups at CDTI hospital, the Ministry of Health’s Psychiatric Center, the largest hospital in PAP General Hospital and various orphanages.
The results have been amazing! I’ve seen children go from kids who are withdrawn and cry all day to children with laughter, smiles, an enthusiasm to play music and sing and communicate with each other about how they are feeling.
Whether it was medical care or psychological support, there have consistently been more positive outcomes than tragedy. We’d see people die, but we’d also see babies born. We’d see onset infection, but we’d also witness healing. We’d see children abandoned, but we’d see others find new homes. Though there were tears, we’d always find laughter; in despair we would find hope; in tragedy we saw some find opportunity for new fresh starts in life.
Many of us have seen photos of the devastation, but personally how would you describe the overall feeling down there? Is it safe? Was there a lot of looting like there was in New Orleans post-Katrina?
A heightened sense of security has become obvious over the last few days, despite the fact that most of the military has already pulled out. Last week there were two members of the Doctors Without Borders group who were kidnapped at gunpoint, held hostage for a ransom and then later released. Apparently, another kidnapping was attempted or something along the road outside our hospital. This has everyone on edge and making policies about not walking anywhere alone and so forth.
Granted, I’m not going to start walking places alone, but I have continued to walk with my translator about four to five miles a day to the various facilities I’m providing therapy to. Personally, I have not felt threatened in any way yet. I walk with mace strapped on my shoulder that I can easily access it in a one hand grab, change up my route and stay continually vigilant about my surroundings.
Looting has not appeared to be a problem, although it does have the potential to become one. Any of the grocery stores, restaurants, banks or stores starting to reopen all have guards standing out front with massive shotguns. The [United Nations] is still driving around town in their big tanks, in full riot gear with guns drawn. That is a bit intimidating. When it comes to looting among the rubble, you’ll see the occasional pile where people are digging through the debris trying to find something of value, except there’s nothing that is worth anything. It’s all been destroyed. The only things people can salvage are pieces of steel, broken pieces of furniture and pieces of scrap that are mostly going to reinforce their makeshift homes in the tent cities.
As far as other violence is concerned, there has been an increase in the number of gunshots. Every night, you can hear at least a couple rounds unloaded. Just the other day a 7-year-old got shot in the crossfire during a pawn shop robbery. Another man was an innocent bystander who was shot by a thief trying to steal a bag of rice. We had a Franciscan priest in here a few weeks ago who was shot and robbed while walking out of the bank. The stories go on. It’s not a safe place, but, then again, it never really was a safe place.
For those who plan on attending the upcoming “Jitterbug for Jitterbug” benefit, where will their donations go? In other words, how will they be helping out through you?
The donations that filter into the Julie Pearce Medical Relief Team will continue to be used to fund my presence in the country and direct relief through supplies here. There’s the cost of translators, occasional transportation, food, water, etc. Additionally, we are purchasing and coordinating the distribution of large quantities of tents, tarps, diapers, antibiotics, clothing and other medical supplies. Out of this disaster response, this non-profit organization was formed and will continue to serve Haiti and other disaster zones as an organized coalition of medical professionals who wish to self-deploy in an organized fashion and provide supplies and relief.
Is Facebook the best place for our readers to keep connected with what you’re doing down there? On that, what kind of stuff do you post from Haiti? Is the content “safe” for all ages — nothing they wouldn’t see on the nightly news?
Facebook is the best place to receive regular updates from what is going on down here. It is also the best place to see photos right from the heart of the disaster zone. I’ve uploaded at least 4,000 pictures at this point. There are some pictures that might be too graphic for kids to see, but it is the reality of what’s happening down here. I haven’t censored any of my photos or writing because I want people to really understand the reality of what is still going on here. I want them to have a glimpse into the desperation that follows these people every moment of their day. For good insight into the real accounts of day-to-day life here in Haiti following the disaster, you can follow my blog at www.tsjitter.blogspot.com. I’ve written at least 80 pages of stories and experiences. Many of them are the stories you’ll never hear make it to the media.
Finally, how long do you think you’ll be able to stay down there and help out? Are you getting funding from somewhere that allows you to stay, or is it all out of pocket?
I was supposed to leave April 1. However, CDTI hospital had to close and we have had to go around and start discharging and transferring patients. I rescheduled my flight for another couple weeks so that I can assist in the process, fly one of our orphans up to Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti so I can get him settled in, and continue facilitating the grief therapy program I designed with children and adolescents. I should be back in Minnesota before the end of April. Future plans for Haiti include the deployment of more resources including a ton of tarps and tents. I’d like to locate some vaccines for shipment as well. Funding to be here has come partially out of my own pocket and through the generosity of folks and their financial and material donations to my organization. I officially obtained non-profit status early in February. Anyone that would like to continue to make a tax-deductible contribution can send money to:
Julie Pearce Medical Relief Team
8430 Bay Springs Dr.
Orlando, FL 32819
For more information on Pearce’s organization, visit www.juliepearcemedicalreliefteam.com. Or, for daily updates on what she’s up to, check out her blog at www.tsjitter.blogspot.com.
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