Haiti: Reason for hope?

by Dan Ruth

Visiting Haiti this week has been eye-opening, to say the least. While it doesn’t seem to have the huge income disparity that other countries do (actually, it probably does, but it wasn’t as visible as other places), it is a nation of contrasts.

As soon as we landed in Port-au-Prince, it was clear that there is still an incredible amount of work to do to rebuild. Every block is lined with rubble, and USAID tarps are seen around every corner. Yet non-governmental organizations like LWR continue to work hard to do what we can. It is a huge task.

Even our staff in Haiti, Jameson (Jamie) Salomon and Nousta Dieudonne, reflect this contrast. On our first day here, we asked them if they have seen progress in the rebuilding after the earthquake. Jamie immediately said, “Of course,” while Nousta had a much more resigned response, saying “I don’t know that I see any progress. There is still so much rubble that there is no way to build.” Her outlook is understandable. Driving through Port-au-Prince is an eye-opening experience.

But then we visited the hope-filled school of Christo Roi de Corail. This small Episcopal parish and school outside of Leogane had been leveled by last year’s earthquake. What remained were to concrete slabs with an altar on the end of the former sanctuary.

When we showed up, we saw walls framed with tree branches and filled in by tarps. The frame of the parish has been put up, but little else formed the walls of this community of worship. Yet the students and teachers met us with smiles on their faces.

Part of our group’s contingent, the staff of Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, whose campers had assembled 32,000 Health Kits last summer to send to Haiti, had traveled to Leogane to witness a distribution of the Health Kits.

When we arrived at Christo Roi, parents of the school children had just gathered for a training on cholera. The disease that spread through much of Haiti a few months ago has not reached this community, but our partners at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Action by Churches Together (ACT) were leading preventative training, in case it ever did. The training included information about simple prevention (such as drinking clean water, and using chlorine tablets to keep the water safe), early symptoms of cholera, and what to do if they suspect they or their children might have cholera.

It was an amazing thing to witness. Parents filled one room of the school, and afterwards gathered to receive cholera-prevention kits from LWF. LWF had incorporated the Health Kits that LWR sent, adding things like small jerry cans and chlorine tablets.

The distribution was incredibly well planned and executed. Names were read off a list of each school child, and either the child or his/her parent came forward to collect their Health Kit. Many also paused to smile for the camera as we chatted with them about school and how they are recovering.

It is clear that what we witnessed was just one step in a long process. People are not starving and they have [temporary] shelter; things are relatively stable. But there is still a lot to do just to get people back to their pre-earthquake stability. Now that the true emergency relief phase of the earthquake is over, we’ve clearly moved into the rehabilitation phase.

We know that these Health Kits will not last families forever, but we hope the education they received with the kits lasts a bit longer. And in the midst of the hard reality of how far there is to go, it was comforting to know that what we witnessed is also a small part of LWR’s work in Haiti.

Jamie and Nousta bid us farewell this morning, but they continue to live and work in their home country, continuing the short-term rehabilitation work and focusing in on the longer-term work to develop sustainable income for farmers. There is a long road ahead but, if given the choice, I choose hope.

Pastor Dan Ruth is LWR’s Social Marketing Manager