Much help has poured into Haiti in the seven months after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated this island nation, already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but as the 27-member Compassion Corps team discovered this summer, the remaining needs are overwhelming.
Families continue to live crowded into small tents. Dependent on food donations to eat, clean water sometimes is a 2-kilometer walk away. While the people are eager to work, there are no jobs let alone transportation to get them to them. Even in the capital of the country, power only works a few hours a day, making it hard to imagine what corporation would want to bring work there.
While most of those hurt in the quake have had their injuries cared for or have perished, other great medical needs remain. Long-term hunger and dehydration as well as poor sanitary conditions have contributed to a host of health problems, ranging from infections and rashes to ear aches and stomach pain.
The team was struck by how little the streets of Port au Prince seemed to have changed from the days after the Jan. 12 tragedy. Instead of shops, schools and homes, piles of broken concrete line the roads. There is no equipment to move the rubble and nowhere to put it if there was. Main roads were cleared immediately after the quake, but little has been done since to clean up the private buildings and other rubble. A group of Georgia Institute of Technology engineers writing about the quake for The New York Times estimated there is 20 million to 25 million cubic yards of debris in Port au Prince alone — enough to fill five Louisiana Superdomes. They estimated it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1,000 days to clear the debris — if it carried 1,000 loads a day. But there are just 300 trucks in the region, and the team estimated clearing the rubble at the current pace could take 20 years.
Compassion Corps team members, partnering in-country with Nehemiah Vision Ministries, spent up to 13 days in Haiti in July and August trying to meet the immediate needs through medical care and supply distribution as well as work on long-term solutions, such as painting and construction work on the hospital, clinic and other buildings on NVM’s Chambrun campus.
The group built on the work of another Compassion Corps medical team that served in March. Four team members from the earlier trip returned this summer.
Despite the hardships, the team was moved by the enduring faith and hope of the people of Haiti.
“After this earthquake we got to do things in another way in Haiti,” said Mackenby Verelus, 31, a NMV translator. “We still have hope. The hope for Haiti is we have to focus on education.”
Nehemiah Vision Ministries aims to meet both immediate and long-term needs. While food, clothing and medical help is distributed, the organization wants to see a Haiti where the people can feed, clothe and care for themselves. That will be done by raising a generation of Haitians, children who are receiving an education and being taught values of integrity so they do not participate in the type of government corruption that long has plagued the country, said the Rev. Espérandieu L. Pierre, a Haitian native who founded the ministry in 1995.
Fellow translator Adonique Denis recognizes his country’s restoration will require systematic change so that Haiti can sustain itself – first and foremost, job creation. Denis said his country has untapped resources such as petrol and gold, and with a strong government, Haiti should be able to feed and care for itself some day. “Haiti can be a great country. We can be great. It’s not impossible,” Denis said.
Alison Kepner has participated on Compassion Corps teams to Morocco & Haiti; she is a writer for the Delaware News Journal