Hope Amidst the Hurting

Haiti is getting the help it needs slowly but surely

Earthquake survivors help unload water from a U.S. Navy helicopter. © Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker 2010

A Haitian girl enjoys a ready-to-eat meal that U.S. service members distributed to various tent communities. © Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rachael L. Leslie 2010

Wails of people in pure agony, trapped underneath the rubble of shattered buildings, defined the initial moments. The hurt and the suffering at the outset of this seismic tragedy have not ceased, as if the time has stood still, though the pain certainly has not.

On Jan. 12, 2010, at approximately 5 p.m., a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, destroying the presidential palace, schools, hospitals, its central prison, hundreds of thousands of homes, nearly all of the city’s major roadways, and leaving thousands buried under the wreckage.

Reports immediately suggested that the damage caused 50,000 deaths and has affected another 3 million who has either lost homes or been injured. The death toll, as more bodies are discovered under the debris, is continuing to rise, to 75,000 and perhaps up to 200,000.

Since that initial moment of tremor, the country—with the help of international relief workers and foreign military—has been racing to recover trapped people, distribute food and water to those now homeless, and to give medical aid to those injured by the quake.

Tying to administer aid in a city so shattered as Haiti was, and has been nearly an impossible task. Roadways were blocked and power outages were widespread. The Port-au-Prince airport was crammed, nothing could come in or take off – international agencies that landed there were essentially trapped.

There were stories of senior citizens—their nursing home destroyed—that were found wailing in the streets, needing their medicine, and needing their usual assistance. Babies were born in the street, their mothers not being able to make it to the hospital.

In the stagnant flow of aid that characterized the beginning stages of recovery, the people had displayed a loss of hope, choosing to loot and to steal from markets that were still standing. People saw a need to take matters into their own hands.

Bodies have piled up, often in mass grave form, simply one on top of the other, with sheets over them, outside morgues and public places.

The nights are filled with darkness, due to the lack of electricity. In the silence of night, one can hear songs and people chanting together; most are singing praise songs to the Lord, just a few gathered together, encouraging one another and giving their struggles over to the Creator. Songs like this have been audible often. Despite the terrible circumstances, people have not lost their faith.

They have also not lost their sense of nationhood. Even without much to offer each other, Haitians are banding together to help one another, to lift the rubble up.

Though the situation is dire, it is not hopeless – and the international relief workers that are now on the scene are trying to raise that level of hope more and more each day.

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In so many ways, Haiti was mired in a different kind of devastation even before the earthquake hit, its buildings still in tact, yet so many people hurting and hungry. Extreme poverty has characterized the country for a number of decades, primarily due to instability of its government; the country has suffered 30 coups and its leaders are often corrupt, stuffing their own pockets from development money instead of investing in the country. What’s more, Haiti’s creditors have forced the country to acknowledge its foreign loans, leaving most of the money produced in the country to flee out of it to pay debts. Haiti now ranks 149th of 182 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index (2006). The crop that once made it the wealthiest French colony—sugar—is not as economically viable as it once was due to poor soil as a result of deforestation and the sharp reduction in crop value overall. About 80 percent of the population was estimated to be living in poverty in 2003. Most Haitians live on $2 of less per day. The rising global prices have turned Haiti’s situation from bad to dire, as people struggle to feed themselves day in and day out.

On top of these economic conditions, crime and gang activity dominate the urban centers. Often, people have to pay ruling gang members in order to stay alive.

Haiti, as a country, is the product of the slave trade imported there when Spain controlled the territory. The slaves revolted against the French government that ended up holding it as a colony and officially declared independence in 1804. Civil war and power struggles have defined the nation since.

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Though a continual struggle, people’s faith is being rewarding and they are seeing a sovereign God move in people and make miracles happen.

A young girl was found trapped inside a supermarket, keeping herself alive through fruit rollups. Others, buried under their own homes, have been brought out as well.

Foreign militaries—led by the U.S. military—have cleared roadways and designated helicopter landing areas in order to set up hubs where aid can be distributed. The U.S. Navy has provided three medically-capable ships that are picking up people inside the country and hosting them inside their medical wards.

With security in place, people being treated, food being delivered, the situation is slowly evolving out of chaos and into hope. There is still much rebuilding here, still much searching to find survivors.

The chants that so many heard in the darkness of the night and the newness of early morning continues. “How Great thou Art” (sung in Creole) persist through the brokenness.