CBC journalist gives emotional talk on Haiti at King's

CBC journalist Stephen Puddicombe spoke about his experiences in Haiti at a fundraiser at the University of King's College last night.

Puddicombe talks to audience members after his talk at King's last night. Photo: Jodie Shupac

Stephen Puddicombe's voice broke as he told the story of a 13-year-old Haitian girl who had her arm cut off without anesthetic, because it was so badly mangled.

The girl remained stoically calm as the sound of saw on bone caused Puddicombe himself to "lose it." He incredulously described how the girl's mother then put an arm around him and asked if he was OK.

Although CBC-Radio's national reporter for the Maritimes has been covering tragedy and disaster for years, his experiences have not desensitized him.

"When I first started doing it I would go home and be fine. But now I'm terrified...it gets harder and harder - there is no threshold."

Puddicombe said he sees a psychiatrist, has difficulty socializing after returning from a traumatic trip and, "won't let my kids out of my sight."

Last night at the University of King's College, Puddicombe, who has covered events such as the SwissAir crash, the plight of Afghan refugees after the U.S. invasion and the war in Iraq, presented a series of photographs illustrating the devastation he encountered in Haiti, in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

A number of the photographs showed graphic images of dead bodies.

The event was organized by several journalism students from King's as a fundraiser for Haiti. The money, collected through donations, will go to Hands Across the Sea, a non-profit organization that helps Haitian children and their families in times of crisis.

Puddicombe described the crumbled buildings, people living in the streets, the stench of bodies, the stalled aid.

He dispelled rumours about lootings, saying, instead, that people were desperately trying to survive, risking their lives to crawl under crumpled stores in search of food.

In addition to recounting the tragedy, Puddicombe spoke about his admiration for the Haitian people, describing their kindness, generosity and resilience despite horrific circumstances.

Puddicombe said he believes the media plays a big role in getting the word out about what's happening in Haiti.

Nonetheless, going up to people who have just lost their entire family and asking, "How do you feel?" does make him feel invasive.

He said both the media and its audience have a limited attention span - and are beginning to lose interest in Haiti.

Puddicombe feels it is his job to make people think by telling stories through the eyes of individuals, rather than by throwing big numbers of victims at them, which is harder to process.

"It would be a pretty terrible thing if I'm covering a war or a disaster and I do a story like the 13-year-old girl having her arm sawed off with no anesthetic and you could sit there and eat and go to school or go to work and not think about that."

He says it is not his job to tell people to donate money, but rather, to give them the tools to decide if it is necessary.

Puddicombe said he is unable to report stories like these without revealing emotion.

"It's just the way you write it...so no, I don't try to take emotion out, if anything I try to keep it in there."

Roughly 100 people attended. The crowd was engrossed, interrupting only to shout out questions.

The event raised $500 for HATS.



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