Update: Haiti Five Years after the Earthquake

01/12/15

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake. The disaster killed tens of thousands of people, displaced more than 1 million, and wreaked havoc on Haiti’s infrastructure and economy. 

One of our staff writers, Heather Ostalkiewicz, traveled to Haiti in October to get an idea of just how well the country—and especially the children we serve there—are recovering from this tragedy. 
 
As I prepared for my trip to Haiti, a number of people stopped me and asked with genuine concern, “So how are things in Haiti?” I struggled to form the right words. The answer is complex. 
 
The last time I visited Haiti, almost four years after the quake, there was still so much devastation. But I still saw joy and hope on the faces of our children there.
 
I’d visited Haiti in 2013, and was shocked by the lingering devastation—piles of trash, buildings stripped down to rebar, people with hopeless faces. In contrast, I saw true hope emanating from Marc Antoine Michel (COTN’s Haiti country director), and I saw joy in the faces of many of COTN’s children
 
Even in the midst of devastation, I could see real hope.
 
I wondered, what would my answer be after this trip? And then I wondered, how would someone in Haiti answer this question?
 
I decided to ask a few people who’d spent hours helping me gather stories in Haiti—our translators. Here are some of their thoughts on life before the earthquake, life after, and the role of COTN over the past five years:
 
“Life has become more complicated,” says Ricardo Vilasson, a translator and computer graphics designer. The college he was attending in 2010 collapsed during the earthquake. His class finished the year under a tent that provided little shelter from the oppressive heat.
 
“We lost a lot of things we can’t talk about,” he says.
 
But no one can forget what happened. Sometimes Ricardo and his friends talk about the earthquake. “We talk about it like a movie,” he says. “Some of the people laugh, some cry.” 
 
The Haitians I talked to in October said the earthquake made life more difficult for the most part, but in some ways it was actually a blessing.
 
The fear is still very real. Ricardo says even vibrations from a passing truck can cause panic. He was attending class one day when the school’s large generator kicked on, causing the ground to rumble. Students bolted out of their seats and rushed outside, afraid it was another earthquake. 
 
I asked Ricardo how he and his family and friends have been able to deal with the mental and emotional trauma. “Many pastors helped us with the word of God,” he explains. And in COTN’s after-school program, Ricardo says the time Marc Antoine spends playing, singing, and teaching the children about God is a key to helping these children move past the trauma, too. 
 
I also sat down with Joe Venson Hector, a translator and teacher, to ask if he would share some of his thoughts about the earthquake. The first thing he said was that the earthquake was a blessing. I blinked a few times and he smiled. 
 
“Before the earthquake, life was hard,” Joe explained. Haiti wasn’t in good shape. Families were struggling to survive daily life. When the earthquake shook the country, help flooded in. While many families lost their homes, others who didn’t have a home before were given a place to call their own. Children who couldn’t attend school were able to get an education. And in the midst of great need, many people turned to Jesus for hope.
 
It wasn’t until a little further into our conversation that Joe shared how he’d lost his house and his job because of the earthquake. He’s still in the process of building his home and has yet to find a job. He rents a house with his sister and her son and earns money as a tutor. And when Venture teams come, Joe works as a translator. It’s not much money, but he says that doesn’t matter. 
 
"Children will transform Haiti," said Joe Venson Hector, one of the Haitians I interviewed. He believes in what COTN is doing here. 
 
“If I didn’t get any money I’d feel good about it,” Joe says. He believes in what COTN is doing. He believes it’s helping parents, their children, and the community. 
 
“Children will transform Haiti,” Joe tells me.
 
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the conversations I had with Ricardo and Joe. Their faith, hope, and perseverance has inspired me and challenged me to reevaluate how I face hardship in my life.
 
Sponsors like you are bringing these children joy despite the hardships they've endured since the earthquake. And things are improving for them. You can see it in their faces.
 
I still can’t give a short answer to the question, “How are things in Haiti?” The real answer is complicated and ever-evolving. But there is one thing I know: I saw God in the faces of the COTN staff, in their joy as they sang songs with the kids and played silly games. There is hope for Haiti, and I can’t wait to go back and see more.
 
Be a part of the transformation in Haiti. Sponsor a child today.