Thursday, January 31, 2013

Veteran Job Fairs February & March 2013: Washington, D.C. area

Washington DC Career Fair
Thursday, February 14, 2013
11:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Holiday Inn Rosslyn
1900 N Fort Myer Dr
Arlington, VA 22209

What to expect...

You'll meet face-to-face with hiring decision-makers from some of the areas top employers. Dress professionally and bring plenty of resumes, because they're here to hire.

Just walk in and start interviewing, it's that simple. You can save time, money and effort interviewing with multiple companies in one day at one location. Many of these companies have several openings and are eager to meet with you. You're no longer just a piece of paper, you can get right in front of the decision makers attending this event.

For more information, including registration:

Washington, D.C. Veteran Job Fair

Thursday, February 21, 2013
11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Washington Hilton
1919 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009

For more information:

Arlington Job Fair

Monday, March 25, 2013
11:00 AM to 2:00 PM
Holiday Inn Rosslyn
1900 North Fort Myer Drive
Arlington, VA 22209

For more information:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Responder Trauma

Eerie sounds of cell phones amid disaster adds to first-responder toll

By Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 4:42 PM EST, Mon January 28, 2013

 (CNN) -- 

The dead can't speak. Their cell phones do.

And, for police, firefighters and paramedics, the incessant chirping, bleating and incongruously cheerful boom box beats of victims' cell phones comprise a soundtrack of disaster.

It happened at the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, a commuter train crash in Los Angeles the next year, the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, last July and, again, at the night club fire in Brazil that killed 231 people on Sunday.

The incessantly ringing phones and the realization that someone is desperately trying to reach someone else who is now dead, short-circuits the psychological defenses first responders need to do their jobs, said Jim Crabtree, a registered nurse who helps train them for the Los Angeles County Emergency Management Services Agency.

"It starts ringing and it becomes an instant reminder that this person is human, that they have friends and family who care," he said.

It also leaves responders with an uneasy feeling they're keeping a secret from the victim's loved ones, Crabtree said.  Crabtree first ran across the issue following the Virginia Tech shooting, in which a lone gunman, a student, killed 32 people.

Some first responders couldn't get the sound of ringing cell phones out of their ears, psychologists Christopher Flynn of Virginia Tech and Dennis Heitzmann of Penn State wrote in a follow up journal article.

"As police and rescue workers removed the bodies of the deceased and evacuated the survivors, they reported haunting memories of cell phones ringing in body bags as parents and friends desperately called their loved ones."

Los Angeles first responders dealt with the same issue when a commuter train collided with a freight train in 2008.

Hundreds of firefighters and other first responders flooded the scene, clawing through the mangled wreckage to get at the bodies of victims. All the while, Crabtree said, dozens of cell phones kept ringing.

Aurora police Officer Justin Grizzle spoke this month during a court hearing of entering a theater where 12 people died in that shooting rampage.

The things he noticed: blood running down the steps and the sound of cell phones ringing.

It was the same Sunday night, when firefighters rushed through a hole punched into the wall of the Kiss nightclub by people who had escaped the building after it caught on fire.  They found dozens of bodies of club-goers who died of smoke inhalation. And they once again heard the sounds of ringing phones.

Milton Neves, a reporter from Radio Bandeirantes, said some 800 to 900 mobile phones were going off at the same time. One alone had 104 missed calls.

Hundreds of family and friends were desperately trying to reach loved ones who were at the nightclub in the Brazilian city of Santa Maria when a fire swept through early Sunday, killing at least 230 people and injuring hundreds more.

"It was a really complicated scene. A lot of smoke, a lot of shoes that were left, cell phones, because everybody tried to get out of there running," Glauber Fernandes, a reporter for CNN affiliate Band Newssaid.  

"While we were there, we saw the cell phones were ringing. It was parents, friends, trying to know about what was happening and nobody was answering."

Few, if any, agencies have policies on what to do about the multitude of ringing phones police and firefighters frequently encounter at disaster scenes, Crabtree said.

He said he tells trainees turning off the phones can help save their own sanity, but says some agencies could view the act as tampering with evidence.

He favors policies that would allow responders to turn the phones off, but says most commanders haven't yet come to the same conclusion.

"It's a 21st century problem," he said.

But it's an issue emergency agencies will have to deal with sooner or later, if the experience of first responders Crabtree has spoken to is any indication.

"They don't talk about it openly, but when you get them alone ... " Crabtree said, like the responders, leaving the rest unspoken.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Career Opportunity: Deadline, February 8, 2013. USDA Executive Potential Program, GS-13 to GS-15 (permanent, full-time employees) Nomination Period Re-opened

USDA Executive Potential Program, GS-13 to GS-15

Main Content
USDA Executive Potential ProgramGS-13 to GS-15 (permanent, full-time employees) Nomination Period Re-opened
Program Overview:  The Executive Potential Program is hosted by the USDA Graduate School and is designed to enhance participant’s leadership effectiveness. The core curriculum is centered around the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Core Qualifications with an emphasis on Leading Change. 
Eligibility:  All applicants must be permanent, full-time employees.
Funding:  Tuition funded through the Agency centralized training funds. The participant’s office, directorate or region is responsible for all associated travel costs.
Nomination Requirements: 
  • Current resume
  • Applicant Program Expectations (memorandum to Executive Review Board discussing purpose for applying, potential leadership ability and application of new skills and knowledge)
  • Supervisor’s Letter of Recommendation
  • Standard Form 182 Form (Request, Authorization, Agreement and Certification of Training Form)
  • USDA  program application including essays responses
Nomination Deadline:  February 8, 2013
Point of Contacts:  Dynia.Beaty, 202-212-2084 or Darren.Moten, 202-212-2082
Last Updated: 
01/17/2013 - 16:28

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What Are Your Rights During a Police Traffic Stop?

What Are Your Rights During a Police Traffic Stop?thumbnail
Speeding is among the most common causes of traffic stops.
Getting stopped and questioned by police is a reality that nearly all drivers face at some point in their traveling life. Whether the outcome is a citation, verbal warning or criminal charge, most motorists have only a hazy understanding, at best, of their constitutional rights. Knowing when to stand on those rights can make a big difference in how the actual traffic stop turns out.

Driver Responses

Acknowledging the stop by slowing down and pulling over to the nearest safe area is the driver's first response. For stops that occur at night, drivers fearing the possibility of police impersonators are within their legal rights to proceed to a more visible public place, such as a service station, for example.
Driver Responses (Photo: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Remaining Silent

Refusing to answer questions beyond providing insurance, license and registration information ranks among the most basic legal rights, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment. As long as the driver's attitude isn't misread as combativeness, there is no immediate problem from invoking this right against self-incrimination.
Not speaking to officers is a basic legal right. (Photo: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Vehicle Searches

Searching a vehicle is limited under the "plain view doctrine," which requires officers obtain warrants for looking at the interior, such as the glove compartment, or any area that's not visible at a glance. Unless the driver consents, the officer must find a probable cause to search the

Vehicle searches are governed by specific constitutional doctrines. (Photo: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Body Searches

If an officer requests a body search, he is only allowed to pat down outer layers of clothing to check drivers and passengers for possible weapons. If necessary, the officer may reach into a pocket to pull out the weapon. Otherwise, going through someone's pockets is only permissible at the time of arrest.

Body Searches (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013




FEBRUARY 20, 2013



African Passion Wines, a new South African wine making its debut in the United States, will raise funds to support human rights and social justice in Africa during “An Evening with Danny Glover,” a party and meet and greet on February 20 at 6 p.m. at Eatonville restaurant (2121 14th St NW) in Washington, D.C.

Join us at “An Evening with Danny Glover” which will include a band, heavy hors’ doeuvres, an opportunity to meet and take photos with Danny Glover, as well as a special gift for each guest as they depart. 

African Passion and TransAfrica Forum are launching the fundraising partnership featuring renowned actor, activist and TransAfrica board chair Danny Glover, who also will serve as spokesperson for African Passion wines. In addition to this fundraising event, 10 percent of the profit from the sale of African Passion wines nationwide will benefit TransAfrica Forum.

TransAfrica is the oldest and largest African American human rights and social justice advocacy organization in the United States.

It promotes diversity and equity in the foreign policy arena and justice for the African World. TransAfrica is an educational and organizing center that encourages human interest viewpoints in the U.S. foreign policy arena and advocates for justice for the people of Africa and the African Diaspora.

Some children who are accurately diagnosed in early childhood with autism lose the symptoms and the diagnosis as they grow older


Study documents that some children lose autism diagnosis

Small group with confirmed autism now on par with mainstream peers-NIH-funded study

Some children who are accurately diagnosed in early childhood with autism lose the symptoms and the diagnosis as they grow older, a study supported by the National Institutes of Health has confirmed. The research team made the finding by carefully documenting a prior diagnosis of autism in a small group of school-age children and young adults with no current symptoms of the disorder.

The report is the first of a series that will probe more deeply into the nature of the change in these children’s status. Having been diagnosed at one time with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these young people now appear to be on par with typically developing peers. The study team is continuing to analyze data on changes in brain function in these children and whether they have subtle residual social deficits. The team is also reviewing records on the types of interventions the children received, and to what extent they may have played a role in the transition.

"Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. "For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism and the role of therapy and other factors in the long term outcome for these children."

The study, led by Deborah Fein, Ph.D., at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, recruited 34 optimal outcome children, who had received a diagnosis of autism in early life and were now reportedly functioning no differently than their mainstream peers. For comparison, the 34 children were matched by age, sex, and nonverbal IQ with 44 children with high-functioning autism, and 34 typically developing peers. Participants ranged in age from 8 to 21 years old.

Prior studies had examined the possibility of a loss of diagnosis, but questions remained regarding the accuracy of the initial diagnosis, and whether children who ultimately appeared similar to their mainstream peers initially had a relatively mild form of autism. In this study, early diagnostic reports by clinicians with expertise in autism diagnosis were reviewed by the investigators. As a second step to ensure accuracy, a diagnostic expert, without knowledge of the child’s current status, reviewed reports in which the earlier diagnosis had been deleted. The results suggested that children in the optimal outcome group had milder social deficits than the high functioning autism group in early childhood, but had other symptoms, related to communication and repetitive behavior, that were as severe as in the latter group.

The investigators evaluated the current status of the children using standard cognitive and observational tests and parent questionnaires. The optimal outcome children had to be in regular education classrooms with no special education services aimed at autism. They now showed no signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication, and social interaction.

This study cannot provide information on what percentage of children diagnosed with ASD might eventually lose the symptoms. Study investigators have collected a variety of information on the children, including structural and functional brain imaging data, psychiatric outcomes, and information on the therapies that the children received. Analysis of those data, which will be reported in subsequent papers, may shed light on questions such as whether the changes in diagnosis resulted from a normalizing of brain function, or if these children's brains were able to compensate for autism-related difficulties. The verbal IQs of the optimal outcome children were slightly higher than those with high functioning autism. 

Additional study may reveal whether IQ may have been a factor in the transition they made.

"All children with ASD are capable of making progress with intensive therapy, but with our current state of knowledge most do not achieve the kind of optimal outcome that we are studying," said Dr. Fein. "Our hope is that further research will help us better understand the mechanisms of change so that each child can have the best possible life."

The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. 

For more information, visit the

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. 

For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health ®

Fein D, Barton M, Eigsti IM, Kelley, E, Naigles L, Schultz RT, Stevens M, Helt M, Orinstein A, Rosenthal M, Troyb E, Tyson K. Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry DOI: 10.111/jcpp.12037 

Project Number: R01 MH 076189

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Greater Good Science Center: The Wisdom of Babies

CORE THEMES:     Gratitude    Altruism    Compassion    Empathy    Forgiveness    Happiness    Mindfulness

By Mary Gordon | July 27, 2011 |
As Roots of Empathy gears up for its U.S. expansion, founder Mary Gordon reveals how the program has nurtured compassion around the world, one child at a time.

This month, we feature videos of a Greater Good presentation by Mary Gordon, the founder of Roots of Empathy, a world-renowned program that brings babies into classrooms to help teach emotional literacy. In this excerpt from her talk, Ms. Gordon describes the inspiration for her program and shares moving stories of its success.

For years I worked with families who were very abusive to their children. Over time, I came to realize that all of the suffering that the children collected—whether it was domestic violence or child abuse or neglect—was a result of the absence of empathy in the parent.

Roots of Empathy

There wasn’t one of those parents who woke up and decided, “Today is the day I’m going to hurt my child.” These were not monsters; these were people who I loved, actually.

I remember working with a group of teenage mothers who had all lived through sexual or physical abuse as children and were now struggling with addiction. They had great difficulty empathizing with their children. When the children would fall down, the mothers would say, “No pain, no gain.” And this could be a little toddler learning how to walk.

I saw that if you haven’t experienced love, it’s very difficult to know how to love.

So what can we do to break this cycle of abuse and neglect?

My idea was to focus on the attachment relationship between parent and child. I believe that we inherit the capacity for empathy—that we are all intuitively empathic—but this capacity can wither on the vine if a child never experiences empathy in the attachment relationship with his or her parents. So why not learn from the attachment relationship?

That idea motivated me to launch Roots of Empathy in 1996. Roots of Empathy is a classroom-based program for children in kindergarten through grade eight. Our mission is to build more caring, peaceful, and civil societies by raising levels of empathy in children.

Really the heart of the program is bringing the attachment relationship into the classroom: Every month for nine months, we bring an infant into the classroom with its parents, accompanied by a Roots of Empathy instructor. Children watch love grow over a whole school year; they watch confidence and security and emotional attunement between parent and child grow as well.

In addition to the family visits, the Roots of Empathy instructor visits the classroom days before the family visit, to help the children prepare for it, and days after the family visit, to help the children reflect on it, for a total of 27 Roots of Empathy visits over the year.

Through these visits we teach emotional literacy. Every time the baby demonstrates some emotion, the children talk about the baby’s intention and what the baby must be feeling. They are learning the language for their feelings.

I remember once when we had children in a fourth grade class talking about a time when they felt sad; we were helping them understand that we all feel sad and lonely at times, but we can help one another. And this little girl, out of the blue, said, “I felt sad when my mommy gave me away because we didn’t afford good food.”

Nobody said anything at the time. But the next day, most of the children in the class came with food. The majority of the children quietly in the cloakroom gave the food to the little girl. But what was so poignant was how some of the children said, “This is for your mommy, so your mommy can get you back.”

Clearly we’ve not begun to plumb the depths of the human heart, and I think it beats most deeply in our children. Very often little children are more emotionally literate than we are.

Roots of Empathy

I think we in North America are emotionally illiterate. We worry about our traditional literacy rates, but we should be more worried, I think, about our emotional literacy, our ability to connect to ourselves and one another. In schools, we teach children to read, but if we don’t teach them to relate to others, they will be lost in life—lost in their relationships, they will not have success in their jobs, and we will not have peace in the world. It’s our mountains and our continents and our oceans that divide us. But it is our similarities through our emotions that connect us.

In Roots of Empathy, children can see their similarities to others through the baby. When children observe every dimension of “their” baby—every hiccup, every smile, every anxious glance—they learn about the baby’s temperament traits.

For example, is the baby high intensity or low intensity, and what does that mean? The baby cries frequently, loudly, and long—that’s an intense baby. This helps the children to understand themselves and gives them permission to love themselves if they are intense, because we all agree we love the baby, whether the baby is high intensity or low intensity.

“Oh I think you’re very intense, Billy,” one child said to another after a visit from their baby.

“Why do you think I’m very intense?” asked Billy.

“Because you have meltdowns all the time.”

“Yes,” said Billy, “so I’m like our baby! Pretty cool!”

Another thing we do in Roots of Empathy is keep an emotion barometer, where the children say whether they’re feeling great, not so great, or in the middle. Then we look at the whole list and ask the children what they observe. Nobody particularly notices who said what, but they’re astounded if they are one of the children who isn’t feeling too happy that day and they see there are other people who aren’t happy. There’s such isolation in our negative feelings: It’s easy to be happy together, but it’s hard for a child to talk about being lonely and scared.

And the lovely thing that happens when children have insights into how another person feels—empathy—is that it provides a break against aggression.

Sure enough, we know from independent research on Roots of Empathy that its greatest effect is in decreasing aggression among children—a hugely important result, because aggression is the gateway to all other kinds of bad outcomes for children. Many people have applauded the program for combating bullying. I had never intended for it to be an anti-bullying program; it was a happy accident that it did reduce all kinds of bullying.

The research also suggests we are improving children’s emotional literacy. When compared with other students, Roots of Empathy students demonstrate significantly better understanding of their own and others’ emotions.

What’s more, the research shows that Roots of Empathy creates more caring and supportive children—they’re kinder, more likely to share and help their classmates. They also feel more supported by their classmate and teacher, and they feel a greater sense of autonomy than other children do.
Amazingly, students at every grade level continue to show these improvements in their behavior three years after completing Roots of Empathy.

Children in Roots of Empathy also have much more knowledge than other children about parenting and the needs of babies. So many parents with whom I used to work shook their babies to paralysis, deafness, blindness, or death simply because they didn’t understand that babies cry because of their emotional needs, not just their physical needs—they could be crying just because they wanted to be held. If children really can understand the emotional life of a baby, they can parent beautifully as adults.

After starting as a pilot program with 150 children in Toronto 15 years ago, Roots of Empathy has now spread across Canada and across the world. This past school year, more than 47,000 children participated in Canada, in about 1,900 classrooms and 1,300 schools. In the fall of 2011, every Canadian province will be taking part in the program. It is delivered in English and French and reaches rural, urban, and remote communities, including Aboriginal communities in Canada. To date, Roots of Empathy has reached more than 363,000 children across the country. We have also launched a “sister” program, Seeds of Empathy, for younger children, three to five years of age, in childcare centers.

We also have programs in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, and Germany. The program is just now taking off in the United States, with a program in Seattle and new ones launching in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area this fall. We are planning to reach other countries soon.

Roots of Empathy

When we pair some of these Roots of Empathy classrooms—when Aboriginal children in northern Ontario communicate with Maori children in New Zealand, for instance—they see how very alike they are. They say exactly the same kinds of things about their babies. They say exactly the same kinds of things about their families. They say exactly the same kinds of things about their friends.

And at the end of the year, when they make wishes for their babies, as all Roots of Empathy classes do at the end of the year, they wish for the same things. And what they wish should be on the policy tables of every country on the planet. They wish that the baby will be happy. They wish that the baby will be healthy. They wish that the baby will always have a good friend. They wish that the baby won’t have asthma—that’s clearly the little children with asthma. They wish that the baby will never be bullied—that’s some child who has suffered. They wish that the baby will have a daddy, and they wish that the mommy won’t have to go to work.

Every classroom has an armada of broken hearts, and poor teachers have such an incredible job. I had one teacher call me up last year. “I didn’t want to have Roots of Empathy,” he said. “I don’t know anything about babies—what did I want a baby in my classroom for? But my principal made me have it.”
“Really, I don’t know what to say to you,” he continued. “But I had intended to retire in June, and now because of Roots of Empathy I’m teaching for two more years to catch up on all those children I didn’t see.”

There’s no child that we should ever give up on. What Roots of Empathy offers is a pedagogy of hope, helping children find their voice—often through art—to share what’s in their heart.

Childhood is a very short season, and we know so much can be done to allow children to lead happy and productive lives. In the folds of a child’s brain, we have the potential for compassion, we have the makings of dreams, and we have without question the hope of tomorrow. Because it’s really on the breath of little children that the moral future of the universe rests.

Copyright 2013 The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley

Friday, January 11, 2013

6 Habits of Highly Empathetic People

According to new research, empathy is a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives. But what is empathy? And how can you expand your own empathetic potential?

by     posted Jan 10, 2013
people on beach by Kirsty Andrews

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential?

Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.

That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.”

Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.
We can nurture empathy’s growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation.
Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People!

Habit 1: Talk with strangers

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927. Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.
Highly empathic people expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives.
In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model.  After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his book Down and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.
Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.
But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Boy with Crayon photo by ND Strupler
Emotional Learning Brings Real Hope to Schools

A little-known movement helps kids understand the connection between the brain and heart, and improve their behavior (and test scores) too.

Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.
The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves by becoming interested in the lives of others.
Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathy initiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.

Roman Krznaric is a cultural thinker and writer on the art of living. He is a founding faculty member of The School of Life in London, which offers instruction and inspiration on the important questions of everyday life, and advises organisations including Oxfam and the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change.
  • Writing Love Letters to Hundreds of Strangers “Absolutely Healed Me”
    To cope with intense loneliness after moving to New York City, Hannah Brencher offered to write an old-fashioned love letter to any stranger who needed one. She never guessed how many people she would ultimately reach.
  • 4 Reminders of Human Goodness After Sandy Hook
    Following the heartbreak in Newtown, many Americans find themselves wondering—are people just horrible? Jeremy Adam Smith on why compassion, forgiveness, and resilience are everywhere, even in tragedy.
  • Animal Odd Couples
    Are animals capable of feeling emotions? PBS Nature shares evidence that humans are not the only ones on the planet who cares, loves, and empathizes. Meet five animal odd couples.
Creative Commons License

Haiti: How the U.N. created an epidemic -- then covered it up

FP Logo

How the U.N. created an epidemic -- then covered it up.



The horror was in the stomach, an empty, draining pain. All the way up the highway, Rosemond Lorimé had felt it running out of him. It was like the river running out of him, getting worse with every turn around the mountains.

Rosemond lived in a thatch-and-mud house in Meille, a small village on Haiti's central plateau, built along a little river of the same name. There wasn't much to do there, among the bean plants and banana trees, for a man of 21. You could swim or take a bath in the river. You could help the older folks raise pigs and turkeys, or plant cassava. Rosemond and his cousin would sell rum and kleren moonshine to the soldiers at the U.N. base, and introduce them to the neighborhood girls in exchange for a few dollars. But that was about it. Even the earthquake had been boring in Meille. The ground had just groaned and rumbled and stopped.

The sickness came nine months after. Rosemond's father fell ill first. A low, hard pain formed in his gut and radiated all over his body. Then the diarrhea began, then vomiting, torrential like a fall storm. Soon everyone in the house was sick: Rosemond, his four brothers and sisters, his mother. The illness then moved into the neighboring houses. The family gathered up its money and sent Rosemond's father to the hospital in the nearby town of Mirebalais. But it soon became clear that Rosemond's sickness was the worst. Pain gripped his gut, and heat rose in his head and cut his intestines as if he'd eaten a stick of thorns. His stomach became a rejecting vessel. The water he drank would come back up or go straight out. Rice did the same. Even the garlic tea and cotton leaf that the women in the village gave him to settle his stomach ended up vomited or run out onto the ground. The diarrhea kept flowing; Rosemond became thirstier and thirstier. Neighbors whispered that it must be a spell.

The family looked for money to send Rosemond to the hospital too, but it took days to find enough. The day after his father returned home, weary but alive, Rosemond's brothers put the slumping young man on the back of a motorcycle taxi to go to Mirebalais.

Under an arid sky, arms carried Rosemond into the little hospital with green-painted walls. A voice cried out in the room. Struggling for air, Rosemond closed his drying eyes and never opened them again. It was Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010.
I was grinding up Route Delmas toward the AP bureau in Pétionville with my fixer, Evens Sanon, when a news report came over on the radio:

"…the hospital in Saint-Marc. The Ministry of Public Health and Population reports that 41 people have died. Many are children. The patients arrive at the hospital with symptoms of vomiting, fever, and strong diarrhea. The Ministry of Public Health and Population urges all citizens in the Department of the Artibonite to watch for symptoms and report them"

I suddenly felt sick too. Though experts at the World Health Organization, medical NGOs, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been emphasizing that a major epidemic would be unlikely after the quake, they pushed out vaccinations to be sure. I'd dutifully chased down every lead, increasingly joining the experts in their skepticism. But something about this -- the number of people, the specificity of the symptoms, and the pinpointing of a locale -- was different. This sounded real. We pulled out our phones, Evens dialing the health ministry to try to confirm the report.

I did what I always did when major news broke in a part of Haiti I couldn't reach immediately: I called the United Nations.

Yes, a spokeswoman said: There is a situation in Saint-Marc. An international team was making the 60-mile trip north from Port-au-Prince to Saint-Marc to investigate. And yes, there were dead: 19 confirmed. It was Wednesday, Oct. 20; three days, unbeknownst to us, after Rosemond Lorimé died.

Saint-Marc lies an hour up the coast from Port-au-Prince, just below the Artibonite River delta. The main hospital was overwhelmed with patients; more than 1,000 had flocked there from across the river valley. The sick and dying lay on soiled blankets in the parking lot, nurses darting around to put IVs in their arms. Police barricaded the hospital gate, letting only urgent cases through; relatives watched helplessly as their loved ones went in. The policemen covered their noses and mouths with surgical masks and bandannas, in case this mysterious disease was spreading through the air.

Cases of severe diarrhea, often terminal, began quickly showing up hospitals across the Artibonite Valley and into the neighboring Central Plateau. Health investigators took eight stool specimens to the national laboratory in Port-au-Prince. All tested positive for cholera. Health officials' phones lit up all over the capital, then at the CDC in Atlanta, at the Haiti desk at the State Department in Washington, and at the U.N.'s WHO headquarters in Geneva. They all knew: Cholera was a remorseless killer, and it could move fast.
By weekend's end, 200 people were dead.

The cameras were back on Haiti. Brian Williams set the tone on NBC: "It's what all of us worried about when we arrived in Haiti just hours after the quake … beyond the death toll, the inevitable spread of disease. Now it's happening in Haiti, an outbreak of cholera in that nation struggling every day, still, just to survive."

But the narrative didn't make sense. If cholera was the inevitable result of the earthquake, centered 15 miles southwest of the capital, why had the first concentration of cases appeared in the countryside, some 45 miles to the north? And why had it taken nine months to appear?


After natural disasters, survivors, responders, and journalists tend to assume that a disease epidemic may be imminent, due to the collapse of sanitation or simply the feeling that misery comes in bunches.
In Haiti after the quake, there had been thousands of corpses in the streets, the stench of their decomposition filling the air. Though their fear was misplaced, already frightened survivors imagined the smell itself might prove a vector for disease. That was how a preacher convinced the people of a Port-au-Prince slum to give up their children to a group of U.S. Baptist missionaries (who would soon after be arrested for human trafficking at the border).

If the locals were scared of the dead, the foreigners were terrified of the living. The squalid camps home to millions of homeless Haitians were portrayed by the media as breeding grounds for infection, and the distribution of clean water and vaccinations there became central goals of the relief effort. Hollywood star Sean Penn -- the most famous, if unexpected, of the post-quake campaigners -- set off a panic by warning of a diphtheria epidemic after finding a single fatal case in May. After his warning proved overblown, the scares all but ended. Many aid groups began highlighting the lack of an epidemic as a rare victory for the humanitarian effort. Others called it a miracle.

In fact, researchers have consistently found that the risk of post-disaster epidemics is wildly overstated. A team of French researchers has found that out of more than 600 disasters between 1985 and 2004, only three resulted in significant outbreaks of disease. The risk is only slightly larger when large numbers of people are displaced. This was the reason the WHO and other health organizations had attempted at every turn to tone down the alarm raised by Sean Penn and the media.

Moreover, if a disease were going to spread, it would almost certainly have been already present before the earthquake. Because it spreads through contamination of food or water by human waste -- emblems of bad sanitation -- cholera is often associated with poverty. But poverty doesn't cause cholera. You can have the world's poorest people, the worst sanitation, hurricanes, earthquakes, frogs falling from the sky. Without the presence of Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes the disease, you will not have cholera.
And there hadn't been cholera in Haiti for at least 100 years.

From the outbreak's first days, rumors coursed through Haiti that a U.N. base was the source. Some said they heard the sickness had begun when a U.N. soldier emptied a latrine into a water source. Others swore a white U.N. helicopter was seen dumping black powder into the Artibonite River -- shades of Haitian folk sorcery, where a kou d poud, or powder attack, can cause death or zombification.

Then, on Oct. 25, a friend in Port-au-Prince sent me a link to a post on an epidemiology blog. It was titled: "Nepal: Cholera Outbreak in Kathmandu."

The post linked to an article from the previous month in the Himalayan Times. Although Nepal is a cholera-endemic country -- the disease is always present -- there had been recent flare-ups. Doctors at a Katmandu hospital had warned that an outbreak was under way.

The U.N. soldiers stationed along the Artibonite River were from Nepal.

The next day, a U.N. press release arrived in my inbox. It was composed in the ultraformal diplomatic French of all U.N. memos in Haiti, but I could imagine it read in the bouncy Dominican-Italian lilt of its sender, Vincenzo Pugliese. The MINUSTAH press office was in flux -- the last spokesman off to Darfur and the new spokeswoman not yet arrived -- leaving Pugliese, the deputy, in charge. A teddy bear-shaped man with a receding hairline of brown, closely clipped hair, he talked with high animation and amiability that seldom concealed his disdain for the press.

The note made a series of claims: that the Nepalese base had "seven septic tanks" built to "construction standards of the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency," emptied "every week by four trucks from a private contractor." They were "250 meters from the river … representing more than 20 times the distance required at the international level." The management of the waste was "consistent with established international standards."

It was a lousy attempt at damage control -- acknowledging the rumors and backing them up with a list of claims anyone could prove or disprove simply by heading to the base.

The village of Meille is a collection of concrete houses and thatch shacks thinly spread alongside National Road No. 3. The homes stretch out over the rolling knobs of earth along the road, peeking out through the trees. The U.N., meanwhile, built its base there to be seen. In a clearing, wedged between the highway and the Meille River, the soldiers had installed a high white gate and a series of even higher watchtowers surrounded by walls topped with concertina wire. The gate read:       


Young men from the village were standing in front of the gate wearing backpacks and ball caps. Evens greeted them, approaching with open arms. "We heard someone dumped kaka in the river. Know anything about that?"

Heads nodded.

"Can you show us where?" 

At once they turned and walked toward the base. We followed. Nepalese soldiers in green-and-brown camouflage and sky-blue helmets watched us from a guard tower. Just before the gate, the young men turned right and walked toward the back of the base, where only a steep, narrow slope of mud and rock separated the compound from the river. As we neared, they covered their noses and mouths. A second later, I realized why. The stench of rotting human filth was debilitating. We held our breath and crossed a concrete embankment along the ridge. Standing at the end was a U.N. solider with a blond ponytail sticking out of her blue cap, a Guatemalan flag on her epaulet. At her feet was a thick-sided black plastic case topped with security clasps.

"This isn't good, is it?" I asked her in Spanish.

"No," she replied. She opened her mouth to say more, and then looked away.

Down the ridge, exposed, lay a broken PVC pipe. Running from near what looked like a building of latrines inside the perimeter, it leaked a black liquid toward the river. It stunk from several feet away. Farther down the ridge, Guatemalan military police took a sample of the waste, put it in a jar, and sealed it with a sky-blue lid. Then they brushed past us and left.

The Nepalese soldiers were staring through the base's chain-link fence. One leaned over and took a concrete lid off an underground tank, releasing an overwhelmingly pungent blast of odor.

"WHOA! KAKA!" one of the villagers shouted. They started laughing.

Another villager tapped Evens on the shoulder. He was slightly older than the others, in a polo shirt, blue shorts, and galoshes speckled with what I hoped was mud.

"You and the blan should come with me across the road," he said. 

The farmer led us past the concrete house he shared with his wife and five children; his wife held the youngest in her hands on the porch. Up a small hill, past a bony mule and some pigs, the smell returned. Ahead were two shining pools of feces, filling pits dug directly into the ground. "This is where MINUSTAH leaves their kaka," the farmer said.

A truck would come every few weeks from a Haitian company called SANCO, the farmer said -- the contractor Pugliese had referred to. The truck would go into the base, suck out the septics, then drive across the street and dump the waste into the pools by his house. When it rained, the pools overflowed. Sometimes they ran down the hill into the river. Sometimes they flowed the other way, toward his house, and the smell would get so bad the family couldn't sleep.

Then he led us down the hill to what looked like another pit full of human waste. This one had pigs and ducks swimming in it. A few weeks before, a new SANCO driver had shown up and dumped the excrement from the base in the wrong spot. Some of it had run down here. The farmer said he wasn't sure exactly when -- the days tend to run together in the countryside.

It did not take long for a key piece of his story to check out: Soon after, a green tanker truck marked SANCO Enterprises S.A. appeared at the base. The company vice president from Port-au-Prince followed in a white luxury pickup. I watched the truck hose up the contents of the U.N.'s underground tanks, drive across the street and up the hill, and stop at the pits. A worker jumped out of the truck, opened a valve in the rear, and took a big step back as a stream of black liquid surged into the open pit. Then, using an orange canister outfitted with a spray nozzle, he doused the surface of the new pool with bleach.

SANCO is one of the main waste disposal contractors in Port-au-Prince -- the U.S. Department of Defense also contracted the company to handle some of its post-quake detritus. I learned later that SANCO had acquired the contract at the Nepalese base several months before by underbidding the preceding contractor. The truck driver told us that MINUSTAH had not called him to come in a month.

Could the septic tanks at the base have overflowed because they weren't emptied on schedule? I tried to talk to the SANCO executive in the pickup, but she wouldn't get out, rolling down the window only long enough to say: "It's a very difficult client." 

I asked the farmer if people had gotten sick drinking from the river. Some had, he said, days before. Many in Meille had stopped using the river's water altogether. "You can't even wash in it," he explained. Millions downstream hadn't known that.

"Excuse me," I said, knocking on the base's gate. "I'm a reporter with the Associated Press. We'd like to speak with the base commander."

Through gaps in the metal I could see Nepalese soldiers. Evens got back in the car and started honking. Finally a speakeasy-style flap opened and a soldier asked for my credentials.

An eternity passed. One of the village men started singing a song: "Ko-ko-kolera. Ko-le-ra MIN-U-STAH." His friends laughed. Finally a door opened, and a soldier beckoned us through. The base commander, slightly older, with stringy black hair and a camouflage uniform, was standing under a gazebo. He handed back my badges and motioned for us to sit down. He did not look pleased.
I asked him when his unit had arrived at the base.

He paused. "We came in shifts -- three shifts. The first Oct. 9. Then Oct. 12. Then Oct. 16."

The unit had been in country for less than a month, which meant that its members had been in Nepal during the cholera outbreak. And the base would have been in the midst of rotation -- with more personnel on hand than usual -- right before the Haiti epidemic began.

"Could you show us around the base?"

"It is not possible today. You must go." He pointed to the digital recorder I was holding next to my notebook. "Put that away."

"It's not on," I said. It wasn't. I turned it on.

The commander had every reason to be nervous. U.N. peacekeeping is a cornerstone of the Nepalese defense budget. The U.N. pays countries more than $1,000 per peacekeeper per month, eight times the base pay for a private in Nepal. The soldiers are paid so well that Nepal obliges them to pay nearly a quarter of their U.N. salaries into a general welfare fund for the country's soldiers and their families.

Evens and I took turns making our case. Each time the commander grew more insistent that we leave. I told him we had photos and video of the dump pits and leaking pipes, and that an Al Jazeera English crew that showed up after we did was filming too. Evens chimed in with the hard sell: "You'll look very bad today. Today you'll look very bad. Tell us the truth. We'll put out the truth." 

The commander shook his head. "What can I do?" he muttered to no one.

"Is anyone at the base sick?" I asked.

"No. You must go."

"Has anyone here been sick? Are there cases of cholera at the base?"

The commander rose to his feet. "I do not know cholera."

"You know cholera. There is cholera in Nepal, right? In Katmandu?"

Now, I will never be able to prove this. But if you ask me, right then, there were tears in his eyes.

"No. There is no cholera," the commander said. "Only dengue."

Because Haiti had never seen the cholera strain before, its people had no immunity to it. Moreover, the country was wholly unprepared: As late as February 2010, the CDC had insisted, "Cholera is absent from the Caribbean" and "extremely unlikely to occur

By the night of our visit to Meille on Oct. 27, at least 303 people had died and 4,722 had been hospitalized. For the second time in a year, Haitian bodies were being piled into mass graves, nine months after the earthquake had claimed a government-estimated 316,000 lives. The most important river in the nation had become an artery of disease, and, as people fled the valley, the infection spread with them to every corner of the country.

As the disease spread, NGOs leapt into action, calling for donations and setting up mobile treatment centers. But the people in the communities did not trust them. Because the clinics would arrive just before families grew ill, many thought the clinics themselves were spreading the disease. Furious men pummeled aid stations with rocks and Molotov cocktails, burning tires and slashing the clinic tents. U.N. soldiers were sent to disperse the crowds.

The day after our story ran, posted a follow-up, quoting Pugliese, that claimed all the Nepalese soldiers had tested negative for cholera before taking up their posts.

It took me a day to reach Pugliese. "When were the tests done?" I asked. "How many soldiers were tested? How were the results verified?"

Well, he said -- CNN hadn't gotten it quite right. It wasn't that the soldiers tested negative. It's that none of them tested positive. Because they had never been tested.

This turned out to not be unusual. The Medical Support Manual for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations lists neither diarrhea nor cholera as conditions precluding service. Worse, a standard medical examination has to take place only within three months of deployment, leaving plenty of time to be exposed to the disease.

On Oct. 29 -- 12 days after the first hospitalized death from the disease, and two days after my first story from the base -- protesters marched on the Nepalese installation. "The Nepalese brought this disease to the center of Mirebalais," a student shouted through a megaphone. The crowd chanted: "Like it or not, the U.N. must go." Among the marchers were cousins of Rosemond Lorimé. 

The U.N. and its allies went on the defense. The peacekeeping mission had been stung by a series of scandals in Haiti in the six years since it arrived in the wake of a coup, and was resented by many Haitians as an occupying force. But for its faults, MINUSTAH was the vanguard of international aid and relief in Haiti, and a major investment by the world's powers. From 2004 through 2012, the U.N. would spend more than $4.75 billion on mission, about a quarter paid by the United States. The Security Council often advertised the Haiti mission as a positive example of its works. If the U.N. were discovered to have caused the epidemic in Haiti, its credibility would be catastrophically compromised -- Haitian lives destroyed by the very people sent to protect them.

"It's not important right now," one WHO spokesperson said in response to a question I'd posed about the epidemic's cause. It's "not a priority," said another. But if figuring out where an infection comes from isn't critical to containing an epidemic, what is?
Immediately after the protest, the U.N. invited my AP team to take a guided tour of the base. It was Oct. 31, half a month into the epidemic, and the mission wanted the rumors, and our previous reporting, squashed.

Pugliese greeted us at the gate alongside the Nepalese contingent's chief officer. Young soldiers fresh from the Himalayas milled in polyester workout shorts and T-shirts. There was no sign of Commander Dengue.
It was immediately apparent that the soldiers had literally covered up the most incriminating evidence, starting with the smell. They admitted to having undertaken repairs, including replacing the broken PVC pipe from the back of the base and scrubbing a drainage canal that emptied into the river. Yet the repairs had been superficial at best. A series of aboveground pipes that originated at the latrines still ran over the drainage canal, their cracks showing. One pipe was held together with what looked like electrical tape. In the river below, where the canal let out, a soupy brown mixture bubbled along the bank. Flies swarmed over it.

"What is that?" I asked Pugliese.

"That that could be anything."

A villager was swimming a few yards away.

"It -- it does not mean it is from the base," he said. "The people here, they swim in the river. They bathe in it." He pointed to the swimming man. "They -- you know how they are!"

That was the end of the tour. The U.N. team refused to go across the street with us to see the dump pits.
The next day, less than two weeks after the outbreak was first confirmed, the CDC put out the results of an analysis it had undertaken: The cholera in Haiti matched strains circulating in South Asia, including Nepal. It refused to investigate further.

The death toll passed 400.
Authorities defended their refusal to investigate the origin of the outbreak on grounds that pursuing the source would detract from fighting the epidemic. So on Nov. 3, I called one of the most prominent public health experts in Haiti, if not the world. Paul Farmer's medical NGO, Partners in Health, was taking a leading role in tackling cholera. I asked if there was a public health rationale not to investigate. "That sounds like politics to me, not science," Farmer replied. 

Health officials look into the source of cholera outbreaks all the time. In fact, the modern practice of epidemiology was built on the disease in 1854, when a physician named John Snow set out to find the source of one of London's worst cholera outbreaks. Such investigation is still the practice. In a 2004 guide, the WHO recommended investigating each outbreak's origin "so that appropriate control measures can be taken."

Those seeking to protect the U.N. -- the WHO and CDC, sympathetic journalists, aid workers and diplomats who depended on the U.N. for protection on the ground -- kept coming back to a three-word phrase: "the blame game." The journal Science would later note that cholera experts' "passion for traditional shoe-leather epidemiology [had] been tempered by diplomatic and strategic concerns."

Most journalists, particularly those not based in Haiti, seemed to feel the same way. They stayed away from the story until there was too much evidence to ignore, and then did their best to beat it back. When the New York Times published a story about the U.N. defending its anti-investigation stance, three weeks after our visit to the Nepalese base, health reporter Donald G. McNeil, Jr. wrote a Week in Review piece titled "Cholera's Second Fever: An Urge to Blame." He gave past examples of cholera "blame games," including 19th-century New Yorkers accusing Canadians and the Irish. He warned of danger: "Scapegoating provokes violence."

The U.N. was not a threatened minority, but the most powerful military force in the nation, if not the region. In fact, as the dramatic events of November 2010 would soon show, it was stonewalling that would provoke the Haitian crowds. By refusing to take the concerns seriously, investigators would cede inquiry to the very agitators and xenophobes they feared.
In two years, more than 7,800 Haitians have died of cholera. One in five people in a nation of roughly 10 million has fallen seriously ill with the disease, while the unusually virulent strain has spread across the Caribbean, into South America, and the United States.

The United Nations has made grandiose, if seemingly empty, promises to fight and eradicate the disease, but refuses to consider its own accountability in starting the epidemic. Aid workers and donor governments have lost a critical opportunity -- to demonstrate that they took Haitian lives and welfare as seriously as their own.

Jonathan M. Katz is a former Associated Press correspondent in Haiti and author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, from which this article was adapted.

Search This Blog

ARCHIVE List 2011 - Present