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
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
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
March, 14, 2011