Haiti: Where to Begin?

What if we could simply wrap our arms around an entire island, and heal all that ails her? 

There are no words sometimes. An embrace seems easier—perhaps even more powerful. 

No words. After my first post-earthquake visit to Haiti last week, I am left searching for language to describe what I saw, heard, felt. 

How to describe a place so desperate, hurting, destroyed—and yet so colorful, vibrant and so downright engaging? 

Port au Prince: Tent City. City of angels. City of mass chaos and destruction. 

City of possibility.

But where do we start? How does one pick up a shovel and begin clearing the debris? I saw the tired and worn hands of Haitians struggling to survive, depending on small shovels, valiantly striving to conquer heaps of rubble so high they rival two and three-story buildings (the ones lucky enough to still stand, thanks to better construction methods). The Presidential Palace is now backstage to one of the largest urban camps in the world. But who is that man—blessed to have a job!—so meticulously mowing its lawn? Green grass against weathered white. The red and blue of the Haitian flag somehow ride the breeze and wave, proud yet pathetic. 

Young boys—and boys will be boys—long for toys in camps where there are none to be found. Plastic bottle tops double as toys, and for some brief moments under a hot and humid Haitian heat, they amuse. I ask the boys if they go to school and they beam. Favorite subject?  Multiplication and division. 

Go figure.  

The latrines, water purification system and tanks, and food we are supplying through Church World Service and the ACT Alliance hardly seem enough. And yet basic needs are met. Even those not affected by the earthquake come to the camps, assured of finding clean water and something to eat, not to mention community. 

Abject poverty or natural disaster? 

A need is a need is a need. 

“If we use the earthquake as the basis for long-term sustainable development in Haiti, it could be very good,” asserts Pastor Guillometre Herode of the Christian Center for Integrated Development, one of our partner organizations. Will we make the same mistakes of previous years? Can we love and—at the same time—get out of our own way? How do we hold Haitian hands as they embrace being the agents of their own development? 

Behind the plot of CONASPEH’s crumbled concrete—now cleared, thank goodness—lies a sanctuary of trees and tents. Children leave their tented classrooms to go home to either another tent or to sleep outside on the street for fear of sleeping inside, should there be another quake. CONASPEH shelters them not only with education but also with compassion. School is in session in this sanctuary of trees and tents; education leads to development. I meet with the committed CONASPEH Committee under the trees, next to the tented classrooms. In a mélange of French, Creole, and English, we pray and process.

Across town—way across town, in the shanty-town of Carrefour—a brand new House of Hope also stands proud and beautiful, almost as if in protest to the overwhelming ugliness of some of the worst destruction in the entire city. Needless to say, homes in the slums were not built to withstand earthquakes. The House of Hope, our long-time partner, is back up and running, thanks to our generous contributions, and seems to have hardly missed a beat. Hundreds of street children, former gang members, and “restavek” kids (children working as domestic servants) meet to enjoy a hot meal, learn about children’s rights and nonviolent conflict resolution, and find creative space to sing and dance in the new building and property. It is a sight to behold! 

Port au Prince: City of Possibility. 

What if we could simply wrap our arms around an entire island, and heal all that ails her? 

Funny, as I begrudgingly left the island, it was Haiti that had embraced me.

I am—yet again—left without words.

I trust that you find yourself in that embrace, too, as we continue to work together to heal and love. 

With immeasurable gratitude for your gifts to our response in Haiti,