10 Years On – Thoughts a Decade after the Haiti Earthquake

Deye mon, gen mon – Beyond mountains, there are mountains.

Haitian Proverb

It was a Tuesday afternoon, just before 5 p.m. on January 12, 2010. Haiti was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The earth shook violently for 30 seconds, after which an estimated 300,000 Haitians lost their lives. The epicenter was in Leogane, a sprawling metro area just 15 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Port-au-Prince were basically destroyed, with most of its buildings, including the national palace and central business district, left in rubble. Worse yet, many thousands of ordinary Haitians were left homeless as their concrete dwellings in the hilly city basically crumbled in dust.

The horror of those moments left an indelible scar in the minds of Haitians forever. Most were well-acquainted with complete poverty caused by, among other tragedies, a series of weather disasters, the aftermath of colonialism, and government corruption. But, most ordinary Haitians had absolutely no idea about the enormous fault lines that lay dormant underneath this Caribbean island for decades prior to 2010. A friend described the surreal shaking in the streets in Port-au-Prince as if there were water waves rolling thru the pavement.

So, here we are – 10 years later. What has changed?

The international community rushed in to rebuild Haiti after the Earthquake. Almost 10 billion dollars of aid was pledged. It took months, but most of the rubble was indeed cleared, the dead were buried, and the epidemics of disease were (mostly) resolved. But, Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, infant mortality remains rampant, illiteracy and unemployment remain a scourge. The economy is once again in shambles, the streets are rocked by almost-daily protests, and the promise of successive presidencies has dissolved into widespread discontent over official corruption.

Perhaps the best symbol of the failed rebuilding efforts is the (ironically named) city of Canaan. Built literally atop the mass grave of tens of thousands of unidentified bodies, this sprawling city of tents and tin shacks is just a few miles north of the capital. Once the promise of a modern town with jobs and infrastructure, there is no power, uncaptured sewage, and virtually no jobs or even reliable transportation for over 100,000 people relocated from one tent city to another. It is a truly awful place, and a shameful example of lack of official progress.

People often ask why we continue to work in a place that is so seemingly hopeless. The answers are simple. While country-side progress remains frustratingly elusive, we do see the tangible impact of our work in the communities we serve.

We see it in the schools we partner with, where more than 100 kids at Nordette and Mathone have the promise of an education, a daily hot meal, and clean water. For the first time, our K-6th grade school has kids in a 7th grade year. At Mathone, we have graduates of our program going on to secondary education in Cap Haitien.

The Haiti Youth Orchestra has fostered a genuine love of, and pride in, the accomplishment of practicing instruments on a daily basis. Several of these amazing musicians are continuing to perform at the college level, and we hope to soon support their dream of being professional musicians and teachers. There is a second orchestra at a partner school in Delmas. Last July, the HYO celebrated its 4th annual summer music camp, where more than 100 young musicians practiced with professional teachers over a week-long intensive, culminated by a community-wide concert, a ticketed event attended by hundreds in Mirebalais continued thereafter by dancing, celebrations, and food into the night reminiscent of the best traditions of Haitian Carnival (“kanaval”).

What has not changed since our work began in Haiti more than 10 years ago is the indomitable spirit and warmth of our dear friends in Haiti. These are people who yearn for economic independence and dignity, who constantly strive to better their families and their communities, and who have so much to share with the world of their rich history of the arts, cuisine, and literature. On this momentous occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Quake, let us remember the lives lost and the suffering that continues, but let us also celebrate the best of the human spirit which continues to persevere and thrive amidst the setbacks.