A few years ago, I felt moved to visited Port au Prince, Haiti, 2 ½ months after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. Anyone who participates in relief work knows that it is a life changing experience. Last week, I was able to return for the third time. We can see pictures of any disaster, but until you stand there and see, smell, and hear the aftermath, it is just another disaster. In some parts of the country, it is common to burn a field. It kills pests and dead grass. But, soon after, new life forms — bigger and better. From death comes life.
My work is done in tandem with the South Lewiston Baptist Church on behalf of Pastor Nathan of Bethesda Baptist Church, who serves people in Dalmas region (similar to where Sean Penn is doing his good work). Here are my observations two years later. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Due to decades of political corruption, decaying infrastructure, poor healthcare, and little industry, natural disasters are especially devastating. Other countries that have experienced earthquakes (Japan and Chile) are bouncing back, but this is not the case for Haiti.
After the quake, all structures crumbled. Dead bodies were still in buildings, and raw sewerage flowed everywhere. There was no electric power and very little drinking water. Almost no building was left undamaged. Today, there are only a few traces of collapsed buildings. The debris on the streets is gone and you can see some new construction using better materials. Stores are open for business.
In 2010 and 2011 people waved and said thank you as you drove by. They did not know us but were grateful that someone cared enough to come to their community. Sad faces with big grateful smiles. In fact, during my first trip, people looked stunned and wandered the streets with nowhere to go. Today, people are going about their lives not looking at strangers. There is a renewed energy.
In the past, tents were everywhere – tens of thousands of people slept and lived cheek to cheek. Families of eight lived in hot tents or metal structures that you or I might use for twp people if we were camping. There were no “facilities,” so the stench was especially strong. Today my guess is that 85% of these are gone, including all the ones in the downtown area. I did visit one tent city and it still makes you want to cry. Children grab your hand and don’t want to let go. Beautiful faces with so little.
The biggie for me – in the past everyone was begging for $1. During my first trip, our team was mobbed as soon as we got to the airport. Everyone was asking for a dollar or rubbing their stomachs asking for food. They would run along side your car and keep asking. The begging was relentless. This trip only three people approached me for money. They asked for $2. Inflation, I guess. The need is still great, but I equate it to many more people trying to sell products on the street. Essentially, they are trying to make a living even though the vast majority are without jobs.
My take-away is that things are nearing pre-earthquake conditions. But, this is still hell on Earth. The UN are there with thousands of vehicles and barracks, but no one knows what they do. So what does this mean for you? First, if you have a way to help Haiti, please do so. The need is tremendous. But, find an organization that actually gets the money to people. Pray for Haitians. Faith has been their lifeline. And, when you see any opportunity to help others (tornadoes in the US, floods, hurricanes, ice storms) be as generous as possible. Volunteers are the life blood of Americans. When there is need in your community be there. If it is not the American way, it certainly is the human way.