Photo: Mission Aviation Fellowship delivers a load of food to the village of Anse Rouge, Haiti (Photo by Harry Berghuis)
Just two years after the disaster, there are signs that things still aren’t improving much in Haiti, as many Haitians continue to struggle with issues such as homelessness, lack of employment, extreme poverty and a cholera outbreak.
On January 12, 2010, the worst earthquake in 200 years, a 7.0 in magnitude, hit Haiti. Government officials in Haiti have reported the death toll at more than 316,000. According to June 2011 reports from the International Organization for Migration, an estimated 634,000 people are currently living in displacement camps.
“My first trip to Haiti was June 2010 – six months after the earthquake," said Tami Heim, who leads and serves on mission teams to Haiti with her husband, Dale, through their church, Long Hollow Baptist in Hendersonville, Tenn. "By the time my team arrived in June, it looked as if nothing had been done to reconstruct the city. Six months had passed and literally no obvious recovery could be seen anywhere in the city. Buildings remained leveled, concrete debris littered the sidewalks and a sea of blue tents lined the roads and filled fields. Makeshift camps were thick with people but absent the proper resources to meet some of the most basic needs for everyday living. The lack of order was devastating, chaotic and difficult to comprehend. Urgency to restore the city was painfully missing and heartbreaking to observe."
Mid-to-late November 2011, Heim returned home from another mission trip to Haiti.She believes the greatest needs are faith in Jesus Christ, education and jobs.
“It’s been two years since the earthquake and little has changed. In Haiti, simple tasks take extraordinary time to complete. I wish I could report there was significant progress. I didn’t see it in the places I visited,” Heim continued.
Long Hollow Baptist is working in partnership with The Global Orphan Project and El Shaddai Ministries International (ESMI) to build and support an orphan village just outside of Jeremie, Haiti. Heim said their goals were aligned with their partners in the country and the work in Jeremie is one example of how education, mercy ministry, economic support, and evangelism could come together to transform lives and bring hope for the future of the country.
Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) instructor pilot Will White said things were starting to stabilize in Haiti before the earthquake, but after the quake a lot of that was lost.
“Haiti has always been an extremely poor country, and the people are used to hardships and kind of a difficult existence for the majority of the people there with the poverty and what they have to go through,” he said.
“Prior to the earthquake, it seemed like things were maybe starting to get a little bit better. I would see newspaper articles about International businesses that were willing to come into Haiti and help there, or set up business. I guess, politically, it was pretty stable. … There was a feeling of ‘Oh, things are going to improve a bit and then we had the earthquake, which really just destroyed all of that.’”
White says there are still thousands of people who are homeless, living in tents and tarps. Aid has provided Haitians with essentials like food and water.
“They have set up latrines to try and keep the cholera out of a lot of these tent cities. On one hand, it is worse living conditions. But, on the other hand, they might not have had the water, food and the sanitary conditions before the earthquake that they do now.”
Like Mission Aviation Fellowship, World Vision is another humanitarian relief aid organization committed to helping the people of Haiti.
“With the generous support of our faithful donors, World Vision has been able to provide shelter to thousands of families who lost homes in the earthquake," said Elizabeth Ranade-Janis, a program management officer for World Vision's Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs team. "We have constructed over 2,500 transitional shelters and provided thousands of tents and tarps for emergency shelter to thousands of displaced families. When you have the opportunity to meet the families who move into those shelters after a year of living in tents, there is no argument that the beneficiary family is better off because of the safe shelter you’ve provided. It is incredibly rewarding to meet little children whose families received a new 18-square foot home, and to have those little ones show you their little beds lined with a row of stuffed animals on them, just like I did as a little girl. Helping to provide children with a safe and secure place to live is an undeniably evident positive outcome of relief efforts."
She said prior to the earthquake, the majority of Haitians lived in dire poverty on less than $2 per day. The vast majority of people in Port-au-Prince were living in slum conditions, and access to clean tap water and even latrines was limited.
One author and local news reporter, Mark Curnutte of The Cincinnati Enquirer, recorded a firsthand look at life in Haiti in his recently released book, A Promise in Haiti: A Reporter's Notes on Families and Daily Lives (Vanderbilt University Press, 2011).
In the book, Curnutte tells what it is like to live among the Haitian people in Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people a hundred kilometers north of Port-au-Prince. He chronicles life in Haiti as he spends time with three Haitian families, sharing the intimate details of their lives.
In chapter three, he writes, “My frequent walks through the neighborhood helped to immerse me further in the lives of the people who lived there, and in the larger culture.”
He continued to write about his experience a few paragraphs later: “Time and familiarity also brought me slowly closer to the members of three families, reducing emotional distances and stereotypes and increasing mutual trust and knowledge of each other. We shook hands, we hugged.”
Reflecting upon Haiti, Curnutte said: “I think what I’ve learned from the Haitian people, as I spell out in the book, is their example of an uncluttered faith. It is a great one, a profound one and one that is worthwhile. Also, their sense of family, kindness and gentleness are all things that stand out. They aren’t hung up on the same stuff we are – the money and the wealth – not that they wouldn’t like to have it, but it’s an adage -- ‘the last are really the first.’”
Curnutte hopes readers gain a sense of shared humanity of people.
“I think I say it right there at the end, that if the world is going to listen to me one time in my life, and listen and hear, see the Haitian people and let them in.”
Photo: MAF delivers a load of food to the village of Anse Rouge (Harry Berghuis)
Publication date: December 15, 2011