Michelle Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Haiti
Updated 2:43 p.m. Eastern Time
First Lady Michelle Obama landed in Haiti for an unannounced visit to the country still struggling to recover following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12th.
Accompanied by Dr. Jill Biden, the first lady touched down in Port-au-Prince Tuesday around 10:40 am local time. The two women took a helicopter tour of the city upon their arrival. More than a million people are currently homeless in the Haitian capital.
"It's powerful," Mrs. Obama said when discussing her first impressions. The devastation is definitely powerful."
Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden were greeted upon their arrival by Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Preval. The first lady wore grey slacks and a blue shirt, while Dr. Biden wore khaki pants, a white shirt and white tennis shoes. Mrs. Obama greeted the the Prevals with kisses on the cheek.
"First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are visiting Haiti to underscore to the Haitian people and the Haitian government the enduring U.S. commitment to help Haiti recover and rebuild, especially as we enter the rainy and hurricane seasons, and to thank the women and men across the whole of the U.S. government for their extraordinary efforts in Haiti during the past three months," the White House said in a statement released when the first lady arrived in the country.
"They will also reach out to the UN and international relief communities in recognition of the truly global effort underway to help Haiti," continued the statement.
After meeting with the Prevals, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden visited a site behind the Le Musee d'Art Haitien, where Elisabeth Preval has set up a children's safe space with help from internationally-known Haitian artist Philippe Dodard. The program Plas Timoun, or the "Children's Place," was set up by Haiti's first lady shortly after the earthquake. Dodard and other well-known Haitian artists work with children on art projects as part of a post-quake therapy program. Some 900 children take part in the program daily, and 2,000 are fed.
Dozens of children greeted Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden, singing "welcome" in English. Mrs. Obama danced with the children, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her hips as they sang. At the end, she gave several of them high fives. As one group ended, another group of children sang a song in Creole, "We are glad to see you... We say let's be happy."
Following a brief play, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden stepped onto one of the buses, donated by the first lady of the Dominican Republic, where the children do their art therapy. Both chatted with three kids sitting at an art table. Haiti's first lady served as a translator. Mrs. Obama drew a fish, she said, because the children requested it.
The green buses were decorated with red, white and blue balloons, the color of the Haitian flag. Three children stood holding bright red flowers to give to the first lady.
Later, Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden walked past a few onlookers near the Champs de Mars to the nearby quake-damaged College Episcopal. At least 20 people were killed at the school during the earthquake. The sounds of saws could be heard in the background where workers - with funds from the government of Haiti - are helping to rebuild classrooms.
Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden will spend the day in Haiti before continuing on to Mexico City.
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