Most people wouldn’t know who Molly Hightower was. That’s because until January 12, 2010 she was just an average American woman. However, on that fateful day she became one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the deadly earthquake that rocked the island of Haiti, a country that has the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. While I was sickened by the sheer number of deaths that had occurred, the devastation that was yet another cruel blight on this poor struggling nation, Molly’s death deeply affected me since in many ways I was her.
We were two years apart in age and grew up on opposite sides of the United States, yet I shared countless similarities with Molly. We were both interested in languages; I majored in Spanish, she majored in French (along with psychology and sociology). We both loved to travel and had studied abroad during college; Molly studied in Paris for the summer. We even both had the same peasant style green skirt that we often wore with black tops. But what made my invisible connection to her so strong was the fact that we both volunteered for the same organization following our respective graduations from college, Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (NPH) which means ‘Our Little Brothers in Spanish (in French its name is Nos Petit Freres et Soeurs). It’s a non-profit that began its operations in 1950s Mexico, offering homes to orphaned and abandoned children throughout Latin America.
For my volunteer experience, my Spanish speaking background took me to the organization’s home in Mexico, while Molly’s French speaking background took her to Haiti where French is one of the island’s two official languages. She specifically worked with special needs kids at an outpatient facility there. While I certainly endured my fair share of trials and tribulations from living in Mexico, a developing nation (periodic power outages that sometimes lasted for days, spoiled expensive groceries from said power outages, plumbing issues, scorpions in the shower), nothing compared to the unfathomable things that Molly witnessed on a daily basis. Molly had to bury kids each day whose only crime was being born poor, being born with a physical disability, being born in a country where medical facilities are beyond lacking and so these children are often left abandoned and without much hope for the future. She devoted herself fully to all of the children she saw and helped and loved them all. She once wrote about one of the children-“Watner, who was found burning in a pile of garbage as an infant, wanders over from the kindergarten looking for a treat. He only has half his fingers and scalp.”
I’ll always remember another volunteer telling me a sobering fact about Haiti. He had spent periods of time in Nicaragua, an impoverished nation in Central America, and yet he said that as poor as Nicaragua is, nothing compares with the poverty found in Haiti. One can’t believe it.
When I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti, my thoughts immediately went to the NPH home there. Although NPH is one of dozens of non-profit insitutions/NGOs operating in Haiti, my personal connection was with NPH. I went onto its website hoping there would be some news of the home, its residents, and especially its volunteers who come from around the world to help. Initial reports on the website didn’t offer much, simply saying that while some personnel were safe, others had not yet been accounted for. However, it wasn’t too long before it became known that Molly had died; her body had been found amongst the rubble of the completely decimated seven story building where the volunteers lived. The brother of another volunteer who had been visiting his sister had also been killed.
As the media coverage of the earthquake increased in the days immediately following the devastation, I learned of Molly’s blog, appropriately entitled 525,600 Minutes which is the number of minutes in a non-leap year, made famous by Jonathan Larson in his award winning musical, Rent (another similarity, we both loved musicals). Molly had planned to volunteer in Haiti for the year. Reading her posts of the last seven months were heartbreaking, reading what she had been through and seen. However, nothing was more sad than when her family members signed on for a final post, “Molly is no longer able to add to her blog, her body was recovered from the wreckage of the Father Wasson Center in Petion-Ville, Haiti following the January 12 earthquake.”
My heart breaks when I think of all the people lost in the earthquake. It’s estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died (the actual number may never be known), hundreds of thousands had been injured and more than a million had been made homeless. Sadly, some of those are still living without a home, three years later. However, my heart breaks the most for Molly, a young woman who had given so much to the world in the short time she was alive, and a woman who would have given that much more had she lived.
On the three year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, remember Molly and all of the other victims. Their stories are too often forgotten once media interest dies down and moves onto the next groundbreaking story. And yet the losses always remain to those who knew them.