Updated with White House statement....Second update; Mrs. Obama, Dr. Biden meet Haiti First couple. Third update, 1 p.m. central time, Mrs
First lady Michelle Obama, fourth from right, and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, second from right, stand with Haiti's President Rene Preval, waving, and Haiti's first lady Elisabeth Debrosse, left, at the damaged presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. (AP)
MEXICO CITY--First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Tuesday morning, in a surprise trip the White House kept secret until their arrival. Mrs. Obama is making the brief stop en route to Mexico City to support humanitarian efforts there, I was told.
The White House released this statement after they landed: "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. They will also reach out to the UN and international relief communities in recognition of the truly global effort underway to help Haiti."
Mrs. Obama's plane landed at 10:40 a.m. local time; Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden took a helicopter to Haiti's capital. The US Army helicopter with Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden landed at 11:17 am. President Rene Preval and his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Preval appeared two minutes later, according to the pool report.The president is wearing a black suit, his wife a pant suit.
Mrs. Obama stepped off the chopper at 11:21 am wearing grey slacks, and a blue shirt with black flats. Her cropped hair was straight. Dr. Biden has on khaki pants and white shirt along with white tennis shoes.
Mrs. Obama greeted Preval, first, and then the Haitian First Lady both kisses on the cheek. As she walked around the corner, speaking with Mrs. Preval, Mrs. Obama said of her first impressions: "It's powerful. The devastation is definitely powerful".
Pool report, Tuesday afternoon.....
After meeting with President Rene Preval and his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Preval, (your pool was not privy to the meeting) FLOTUS and Dr. Biden both were transported from the palace, through the Champs de Mars, where tens of thousands now call home. They arrived at a site behind the Le Musee d'Art Haitien, where the First Lady of Haiti Elisabeth Delatour 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. There are two sites one in downtown(which the first lady visited) and another in Petionville. Some 900 children take part in the program daily, and 2000 are fed. There Haitian artists, led by well-known artist Dodard, work with children on art projects as part of a post-quake therapy program.
The buses, where the children do art therapy were donated by the first lady of the Dominican Republic.
Dozens of children greeted the FLOTUS and Dr. Biden, singing "welcome" in English. FLOTUS danced with the children, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her hips as they sang. At the end she gave several of them high fives, while smiling.
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, she and Dr. Biden stepped onto one of the buses where both chatted with three kids sitting at an art table. Haiti's first lady served as a translator.
FLOTUS 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.
Minutes later FLOTUS, now wearing gray All-Stars tennis shoes (Dr. Biden is wearing a black pair now) walked past a few onlookers near the Champs de Mars to the nearby quake-damaged College Episcopal. She waved to the camp dwellers trying to get a peek of her.
The high school was damaged by the quake. At least 20 people were killed.
The sounds of saws could be heard in the background where workers - with funds from the government of Haiti - are helping to rebuild classrooms.
Plas Timoun "The Children's Place" was developed by Mrs. Préval, Philippe Dodard, an internationally respected Haitian graphic artist and painter, and a group of psychologists, educators and politicians.
Six to ten year-old children living in tent cities receive mental health services, including art and music therapy, and access to sports, food, and water. Activities take place in busses donated by the Dominican Republic (see pictures below and on the next page). The Haitian Ministry of Education is working to bring this program to other school communities. The earthquake damaged or destroyed approximately 90 percent of the schools in the Port-au-Prince area and 40 percent in surrounding areas. Before the earthquake, less than half of school-aged children attended school in Haiti, and only 20% of primary age students were enrolled in public schools.