Haiti: One Year on from the devastating Earthquake

Already a year has passed since the violent earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. What is the present state of the Haitian people one year on? Uncertainty, anxiousness, frustration, these are some of the feelings that can be read on the faces of many of our people. The country is crying out from the pain of so many gaping wounds, still visible after the great catastrophe that struck our homeland causing the deaths of more than 300,000 people, and leaving two million wounded and survivors, many with some handicap or other. The destruction of the political, social, educational, economic infrastructures of the most affected administrative regions (west, nippes and south-west) still paralyses the country. The after effects, whether on the emotional, economic or environmental levels are enormous, despite the efforts of the government of Haiti, and the international community, through NGO’s.

At first sight, an observer might well be justified in concluding that hardly anything has changed since the quake. But the reality is that the scale of the calamity is way beyond the means of such a little country, already a prey to huge economic, social and structural problems. What is more, help sent by NGO’s is not always channelled as it ought to be, which causes many people to complain about the actions of some of the NGO’s working in the country.

One year on from the earthquake that brought the country to its knees, more than one million, five hundred thousand families in the capital and in the surrounding areas are still living in sub-human, sub-standard conditions in makeshift shelters and under canvas. These are springing just about everywhere, making the situation of the country all the more difficult, and this uncertainty is undermining the spirit of the people.  

As if the situation were not bad enough, in the midst of all of this suffering, cholera has broken out. It was brought in from outside the country. This latest calamity, added to the quake and the floods, are all militating to make the already precarious sanitary conditions of this battered country even worse. The epidemic has already reached every corner of the country, and there seems to be no end to the number of dead bodies, especially in the most remote areas where proper sanitation is most lacking. Country people are forced to walk hours to get to a treatment center, and some die of exhaustion before getting there.

Another reality is that even after so much time has passed the process of reconstruction has hardly even begun. This country, once known as the “Pearl of the West Indies,” is today humiliated and feels betrayed by unfulfilled promises from all sides, even promises made by its own sons and daughters living abroad.

Many are the concerns and questions with regard to the reconstruction or re-foundation of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Even after all this time much of the rubble from the many collapsed or badly-damaged buildings has still not been cleared up. And of course there is always the uncertainty of the political situation with the elections of last November 28 still being contested.

Despite all of this, the people of Haiti are doing their utmost to get on with life, day by day. The streets are teeming with makeshift shops and sellers of all kinds of goods and wares even if those streets are still full of debris, a seemingly ever-present ugly reminder of the misery of the people. What had been the commercial area in the lower part of Port-au-Prince is now to be found in the upper part of the city, in Pieton-Ville, once a residential sector of the city. The cost of living is constantly increasing, and Haitians are lacking in almost every sort of necessities.

Given all these problems that the country is experiencing, it is not surprising that sometimes demonstrations against the government break out in the capital and in other cities and towns. And of course, in such a volatile atmosphere anything can happen if the authorities don’t intervene in time.

On the education level, schools are operating throughout the country, even if many children and young people are unable to attend because many parents cannot pay school fees. In terms of the schools conducted by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, St. Jean l’Evangeliste and Le Canado, both of which collapsed in the quake are operational, but consist of prefab structures put up by the government. The enrolment is much reduced due to changing demographics and our limited intake capacity. Many people have lost everything, homes, furniture, cars, and what’s worse, they cannot find work. In order to help out some of the families of our students, we have set up limited a system of financial aid. But all of this is a mere drop in the ocean given the scope of the problem.

In an effort to get things up and running, we have managed to build an auditorium that can accommodate 300 people, on a site in Babiole, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. It is used for school assemblies, Masses, and gatherings of parents and students from the “Canado.” This venue will also be used to house some of the students form the Collège Canado-Haitian from now until the next school year. We have also built a residence for ten brothers. The Province of Colombia has very generously offered to pay for the reconstruction of the novitiate which was flattened in the quake, and building work has already begun.

Our greatest challenge still remains the reconstruction of St Jean l’Evangéliste and the Collège Canado, both destroyed by the quake. Thanks to the tremendous outburst of solidarity prompted by the appeal from the superior general, Brother José Ignacio Carmona, the Province of Haiti has benefitted from funds collected from the provinces, through their respective schools, former students and friends and benefactors of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart throughout the world, with the total amounting to something in the region of a million dollars. However, the total losses of the Province of Haiti have been estimated to be in the region of eight million dollars (US).

Of course, the quake-resistant construction which are now the norm, are also extremely costly. We are presently considering our building strategy for our works in the province. A study is underway to assess the ground situation as well as an overall projection of building costs.

In the name of the brothers from the Province of Haiti, I want to take this opportunity to express once again our deep and enduring gratitude to the entire Institute of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, to the superior general and his council, to the provincials and provincial administrations, to the brothers at large, to their students, to our many concerned and generous friends  and benefactors who have in so many and varied ways showed such solidarity with us after last year’s devastating earthquake.

We pray that God will continue assist us in our efforts to overcome this latest disaster, so that the work of our founder may be sustained in this tragedy-ravaged country. May the generous and fraternal concern we have experienced over the past year continue in the difficult times which still lie ahead of us.

We will endeavor to keep you regularly informed of the progress in the work of reconstruction in the province of Haiti.

Very fraternally yours,

Frère Jean Elithère Luxama, sc

Provincial

 

March, 14, 2011

Brothers of the Sacred Heart
Brothers of the Sacred Heart