I traveled to Haiti soon after the 2010 earthquake. The purpose was to rebuild a specific school in Port au Prince. I returned April 7 — 15th this year and reaffirmed my deep admiration for Haitians. This is a country with extreme poverty — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Generations of political corruption, poor health conditions, a fragile infrastructure, and a low level of education have relegated Haitians to a life that most of us would consider insufferable.
The good news is that progress is being made. Most of the raw destruction of 2010 is not as apparent. The toppled buildings are gone and the streets are cleared. Interestingly, the “Palace” (their equivalent of our White House) has only recently started to be torn down. The airport has been enlarged and there was electricity for most of my visit (last year we only saw power for two hours per day). The streets were busy and people seemed to have a purpose.
There are still massive tent cities everywhere you look. Hundreds of thousands were displaced and the vast majority of Haitians have only a tiny patch of land on which to live. Visiting one tent city was particularly heart warming. In the midst of so much heat, large families are confined to small but heavy tents. Yet, somehow life goes on. A family of six might share one bed, but they are playing cards, making meals, and cleaning clothes together. Haitians take great pride in their appearance. This is especially true of school children. Going to church on Sunday means getting dressed for the occasion.
Last year, I quoted the aphorism, “blessed are the flexible, for they may bend but will not break.” A year later, I feel good about two things. The first is that Haitians remain deeply faithful to God and have found a way to make the best out of the worst situation. They don’t blame anyone, but show tremendous courage in their daily lives. No matter where you go in Haiti, people smile, wave and say “thank you.” How many of us would do so 13 months after losing a home.
The second is that the contributions from so many from around the world are making a difference. There is hope that a new president will change how the government operates (a long shot at best). I am not sure what value the United Nations offers. Every fourth car is from UN, but what they do is a mystery. Yet, the good work that is done by relief agencies, and especially through the work of pastors, priests, and others who run schools and orphanages, is apparent. Without the kindness of others, the toll would have been higher.
There is no shortage of world disasters. Whether it is the Japanese tsunami, earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand or tornadoes in the South, when the chips are down, it is reassuring that people respond with compassion. It is a basic human quality. Haiti is close to my heart. I learn important life lessons whenever I visit. And, I thank them for this gift to me. If you have an opportunity to do relief work or to support organizations that are touching the lives of victims of natural disasters, don’t hesitate to help. Keep Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.