We are here today to honor eleven people whose lives were lost in the earthquake in Haiti. Each was working in his or her own way to help Haiti on the path to a better future.
Victoria DeLong spent nearly 30 years in the Foreign Service, serving in 10 countries on five continents. She made friends everywhere she went, many of whom flooded the State Department website with memories of the book club she organized in Kuala Lumpur, the local artist she encouraged in Kinshasa, the shells she collected around the world as a deep sea diver, how she charmed an airline worker into checking three overweight cases on the flight to her posting in Bonn. In Port-au-Prince, she was doing work that she loved – preserving Haiti’s cultural treasures. She helped digitize Haiti’s historical archives and expanded educational exchanges, giving Haitian students the chance to learn English and study at universities in both Haiti and the United States. One school, St. Michael’s College in Vermont, has created a scholarship for Haitian high school students in Victoria’s honor.
Diane Barry Caves was 31 years old. A lifelong athlete, she hiked the Andes and the Alps, devoured books, spoke French, and doted on her husband Jeff and their dog Preston. Last year, she won the Atlanta Federal Executive Board Employee of the Year Award. She was in Haiti with the CDC working on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Laurence Wyllie was an artist and writer who got involved in the local arts scene wherever she lived, whether DC or the DRC. Through her husband Andy’s job, they explored the world with their sons Evan and Baptiste. Last fall, they moved to Port-au-Prince, where Andy was a UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance, on secondment from the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration here at State.
As I expressed to Andy in January, the families of our staff are members of the State Department family. And each serves in his or her own way. But it is their love and support that make it possible for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs every day, far from home. Laurence, Evan, and Baptiste made Andy’s work possible. His mission was their mission. And this family’s happiness and love for each other was evident to everyone they met, and the entire State Department shares in Andy’s loss.
U.S. Air Force Major Kenneth Bourland was a helicopter pilot and Caribbean desk officer at Southern Command headquarters. He was in Haiti advancing the visit of General Ken Keane. Major Bourland spent much of his career working with military counterparts in Latin America to strengthen democracy and human rights. His wife Peggy, sons Charley and Andrew, and stepson Chance remember a man who loved to fly, even taking hang-gliding lessons in high school, and he was detail-oriented about everything, spending hours on Google to find just the right television to buy his family. He’s been posthumously honored by the Air Force for his work and sacrifice.
And then there are our local staff. Joseph Fontal worked for the U.S. Embassy for more than 13 years. He won the Extra Mile Award in 2008. Jean-Daniel Lafontant and Olriche Jean had worked as guards for the Embassy since last summer. They joined Jacques Josue Desamours, a guard and former archivist for the Hospital Francais. Laica Casseus was also a guard. She studied accounting at the University of Port-au-Prince, where she was when the earthquake struck. And Racan Domond was a trained social worker who was hired as a guard in 2006 and was recently promoted to senior guard. He was also a student at the university studying business.
Each of these stories is part of a bigger story. A story of public service, of our partnership with Haiti a story of the good that our country does around the world, and the people, both Americans and citizens of other countries, who make that work possible.
In the days and weeks after the earthquake, there was so much work to do, and not enough time to stop and let the full impact of these losses sink in. But now, the mission in Haiti has moved from relief to recovery and rebuilding. And we must also take the time to recover and rebuild.
We can never replace the men, women, and children who lost their lives in the earthquake – Haitians, Americans, and others from around the world. But we can remember them. We can celebrate them. And we can honor them as we continue our mission in Haiti.
As Ambassador Merten said, “Our nation’s investment in Haiti has only deepened since the earthquake.” We will not allow this tragedy to steal Haiti’s future. We will not let Victoria and Diane’s hard work fade away. We will not let the mission that brought the Wyllie family to Haiti be abandoned. We will not walk away from the country that our local employees loved and supported.
So we will stand with the people and Government of Haiti and with our friends and partners around the world to work together to build a better future so that all Haitians have the chance to reach their own God-given potentials.
To the members of the Embassy staff in Port-au-Prince who are joining us today by videoconference: Thank you. Thank you for your heroic work to save lives and reunite families. More than any speech or policy statement, your actions showed the world what the United States stands for and you showed the best of America.
Last week, my chief of staff Cheryl Mills was in Haiti, and she took a helicopter ride to the Citadel, the largest fortress in the hemisphere, built by the newly independent Haiti in 1805. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is nearly inaccessible atop a remote mountain near Cap-Haitien. Preserving and restoring Haiti’s cultural heritage was Victoria’s passion, and it is our goal to pick up where she left off, by exploring ways to help the Haitian people revive this treasure and make it easier for others to experience its majesty.
And we will look for other ways as well to continue the work of the diplomats, development experts, and volunteers who came from many nations to help Haiti achieve a safe, healthy, prosperous, and vibrant future.
There is a Creole proverb heard often in Haiti: “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.”
Little by little, we will help rebuild streets and buildings stronger, safer, and better than before. Little by little, businesses will reopen and students will return to school. Little by little, Haiti will progress. Little by little, our hearts will heal, and our work will go on.
God bless those whom we lost. God bless those whom they worked with and God bless those who they served. Thank you. (Applause.)