Reflections on Haiti, Two Years After the Quake
When I arrived in Haiti in May 2010, the damage from the earthquake was still everywhere you looked in Port au Prince – buildings half and fully collapsed, rubble piled up over streets – and the wounds of the country were still fresh. Everyone I met shared a story of lost friends or loved ones. But more striking was the sight of life – normal, everyday life happening amidst such tragedy. Markets were open. Vendors were selling their wares. People were busy about their daily lives, and they were smiling and laughing as they went along. I was amazed at the ability of the Haitian people to not only endure but to persevere. This idea was reinforced every Sunday over the next year as I saw people who had suffered such disaster and misfortune fill the church near my office every week to celebrate life.
During my year in Haiti, I was fortunate enough to work with many industrious Haitians who were committed to rebuilding their country. This was evidenced by the extraordinary efforts of IRD's national team, who constructed 2,500 transitional homes for those who lost theirs in the earthquake. Our national staff were also instrumental in distributing needed medical equipment to hospitals, blankets to those suffering in camps, and medicines that proved critical in mitigating the spread of the cholera outbreak. We also worked to support orphanages that were beyond full capacity and worked with local NGO's to build a school for displaced children. The goal always forefront in our minds was to improve the quality of life for those with whom we worked.
At the one-year anniversary mark, so many, including aid workers, Haitian government officials, and international actors, were optimistic in the "build back better" approach. Two years on, it seems we aren't so sure. It’s more openly recognized that the rebuilding and redevelopment of Haiti will be a long and difficult one that will need to incorporate both Haitian leaders and international actors. What needs to be done next is not a mystery but it is a great challenge – to have a nationally-driven reconstruction process aimed at creating a self-sufficient economy that can educate its young and produce enough food to feed its citizens at an affordable cost. And the driving force behind it all needs to be Haitian. The role of the international community is to provide continued support and guidance, and to remember that Rome was not built in a day.