January 12, 2010, 4:52 p.m.: Life is normal on the small island nation of Haiti.
January 12, 2010: 4:53 p.m.: Nothing is normal about life on the small island nation of Haiti.
Seared into the vernacular on that date and time are words Haitians already knew but seldom contemplated: words such as epicenter, Richter scale and homeless.
Now, almost a year after a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake tore through the capital (the epicenter was a scant 16 miles from Port-au-Prince), many in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation are trying still to put their lives back together.
Conservative estimates say the quake affected three million people. The Haitian government reported that an estimated 230,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless. They also estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings, including the presidential palace, had collapsed or were severely damaged.
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Disaster Restoration, Inc.’s Jamie Bruce spent a week in Haiti as part of a group from Centennial, Colorado-based Christian World Outreach. DRI along with other family and friends generously donated money for building materials, for Jamie and her group to build a house for a Haitian cook and her children and to repair the drainage system at a Christian School. The team also delivered school supplies and shoes for a rural school of 200 children.
The sights and sounds Jamie encountered in Haiti left a lasting impression.
“The people of Haiti just want the same basic things we want,” Jamie said. “They want a chance to work, provide for their family and an education for their children so they can make a better life for themselves.â€
“Unfortunately, some people have a misconception when they see the rioting that these people just want a handout,” she said.
Fresh water is scarce. Jamie and her group went on daily excursions to find bottled water to purchase. She saw street vendors selling chickens with the butchered remains at their feet. Cholera is rampant.
“These are people that are living in a civilized western country but are forced to live in uncivilized conditions,” Jamie said. “More than 1 million are still living in tent cities.”
Many feel the government, which by even the most liberal standards would qualify as corrupt, hasn’t done enough to help its citizens recover. The cholera outbreak, many feel, could have been prevented had the government stepped up. “They really haven’t provided since the earthquake,” Jamie said. “There’s no sanitation (in the tent cities). Most of the tents are surrounded by garbage. Everything is sold in the streets. People don’t want to go back into the buildings because they are afraid.”
Jamie said this trip, made possible in part through the generosity of DRI, has taught her many things, but one of the most important is this: “The more you have, the less resilient you are. These people are so resilient and the children are really happy.”