Haiti is not a faraway land for the many Kansans who've traveled there for mission trips and know it via their memories, friends or family.
There are former Kansans and others with ties to the state who've dedicated their lives to helping Haiti overcome its tragic history of poverty, corruption, colonialism and deforestation. At least three Wichita-based organizations focus on Haiti — Alternative Gifts International, Global Faith in Action and Epiphany Now.
Still, it's been surprising how close to home Haiti's heartbreak has seemed over the past week, as the nation copes with a massive earthquake whose toll remains uncounted.
We learned that members of the Kansas Air National Guard who'd been at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were tapped to assist relief efforts.
We felt for the former Wichitan rescued 55 hours after being trapped in the rubble of a hotel, the Wichita couple desperate to hasten their adoption of a Haitian orphan, and the former Girard couple whose mission clinic in Haiti was leveled.
"My first thought, it was a bomb," Ann Varghese, the survivor of the hotel collapse, told The Eagle upon arriving in Wichita Monday.
For so many Haitians, it might as well have been — turning buildings to dust and leaving those not among the estimated 200,000 dead to cope without water, food, shelter and medical attention. Their pain was compounded by the slow global response, due in part to the congested roads and airport.
Former El Dorado resident Jan Thompson, a missionary in Haiti who e-mailed a Wichita friend that "my tears are falling pretty easily," could not have known how many Kansans and other Americans were crying, too, at the stories and images of Haiti's suffering.
So many in south-central Kansas have been moved to help as they can from here, many by giving money to relief and rebuilding efforts. Last weekend in El Dorado, 5,000 people showed up to help Kansas-based Numana and the Salvation Army assemble more than 654,000 meals bound for Haiti. Numana will aim for 1 million meals during a similar packaging event from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Kansas Coliseum.
It all feels like the least we can do for a nation that had so little even before the quake. In the days and weeks to come, Kansans and all Americans need to sustain the outpouring of caring and generosity, so that Haiti has a hope of putting this disaster behind it and charting a brighter future.