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Haiti marks one year since devastating earthquake

Posted on: January 13, 2011 10:45 AM
Related Categories: haiti

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, Episcopal News Service

In the year since tens of thousands of people died and more than a million people were displaced by a magnitude-7 earthquake that struck just outside of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, much has been said and written about the resiliency of the Haitian people.

And much of it is true, but at least one Episcopal priest who has worked with his counterparts in Haiti this past year worries about the unintended consequences of the emphasis on Haitians' seemingly indomitable spirit.

"We can use the whole idea of resiliency as a way of eliminating or reducing the level of urgency in our response to the Haiti situation," the Rev. Ron Crocker, who led the CREDO Institute's Strength for the Journey for leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, told Episcopal News Service in a Jan. 7 interview.
"Resilience is great because they are able to live under tremendously poor conditions and survive," Crocker said of the Haiti clergy and lay leaders he worked with after the earthquake. "The other thing is the rest of the world can look at them and say 'they are living in terrible conditions, but they are resilient'" and thus the immediacy of their need can seem less than it really is.

Need and resiliency are both present in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti and in the entire country on this first anniversary of the quake.

When the diocese joins the rest of the country on Jan. 12 in commemorating those who died in the quake, Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin told ENS in a telephone interview from his Port-au-Prince home on Jan. 7 that "my message will be not be to stay in death but to rise, rise and walk."

Duracin will lead a service at 9 a.m. in the ruins of the diocese's Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Then, at 3 p.m., he will officiate at a second service at the Episcopal University of Haiti. That service will include the dedication of a memorial monument to the 24 students who died there. The bishop was due to have participated in a government-planned commemoration a day earlier.

The government of Haiti has reportedly declared Jan. 12 a national holiday and a day of prayer.

"It is important that we take time out to honor the victims of the earthquake and to pray for their families and those left behind," the Rev. Joseph Constant, one of two special coordinators for Haiti appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in a recent ENS interview.

Constant also urged people across the church to pray that "God will transform the hearts of those responsible for making decisions for Haiti's future" so that they will place the country's needs before their own.

The Haitian-born priest who works at Virginia Theological Seminary added that the diocese has, in a sense, been commemorating the dead ever since the early hours after the quake struck. "We honor the victims by taking care of those who are still alive," he said.

At one point after the quake, there were an estimated 25,000-30,000 survivors living in more than 60 settlements connected to the diocese. While that number has declined, the diocese is intimately involved in the country's recovery and development efforts.

"We continue to work with and pray for our brothers and sisters in Haiti," Jefferts Schori said in a statement issued Jan. 11. "The Episcopal Church is urgently engaged in supporting the rebuilding of the cathedral complex, in addition to mission partnerships all over the nation. We hope for significant and measurable progress in the coming months in improving the lives of Haitians, helping to restore livelihoods, and stabilizing the institutions of communities and the nation."

Many parts of Haiti were devastated by the earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless, most of whom are still living in tents or worse.

Casualty estimates vary widely even a year after the quake. Munich Re, an insurance company, estimated late in 2010 that 222,570 people died. Haitian President René Préval, among others, has said the death toll was close to 300,000. Property and infrastructure losses are estimated at between $8 billion and $14 billion. Major rebuilding has yet to happen.

Since that day a year ago, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was dealt a glancing blow by a hurricane, rocked by post-presidential election violence and burdened by a rare cholera outbreak which the Haitian Health Ministry said had killed 3,481 people as of Dec. 29 and sickened more than 157,000 cases, according to a United Nations report.

"From a spiritual standpoint, there is a sense of hope, but that sense of hope tends to be challenged," Constant said.

Constant said the Episcopal Church in Haiti has always found its ministry and mission in responding to those needs since the day when the Rev. James Theodore Holly founded the Haitian diocese after he left New Haven, Connecticut, for Haiti with 100 emigrants. Holly, one of the Episcopal Church's first African-American priests -- ordained in 1856 at age 27 -- who later became Haiti's first bishop, established schools wherever he went because he thought people should be able to read the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and he believed in education as a development tool.

"It's one thing to talk about the kingdom of God; it's all fine and good, but how can I feel God's love when I don't have access to a hot meal?" Constant said, explaining the diocese's traditional balance to what he called "not just preaching the gospel that feeds the soul, but also providing for the daily sustenance, food, clean water, an opportunity for employment, education and housing."

Duracin said that the diocese, with help from Episcopalians everywhere, has been able to help Haitians with those basic needs this year. The diocese has provided food, shelter and medical assistance, he said, adding that most of its schools are operating, albeit in temporary structures.

"We have received a lot of support from our friends -- from the church -- which can allow us to assist the people," he said.

A large portion of Episcopalians' initial support was funneled through Episcopal Relief & Development, which recently release a report about its work in the country during the past year. The agency's work included providing shelter for 10,470 Haitians, medical service for nearly 60,000, food to close to 30,000, non-food supplies to 16,834 individuals and 26,763 students, water and sanitation to 47,358 people, and employment for 2,413.

"This past year, the programming of the diocese has focused on helping Haitians recover by providing not simply aid, but also opportunities for people to make decisions and engage in recovery efforts," Tammi Mott, Episcopal Relief & Development's program officer for Haiti, wrote in a recent blog post. "With attention to helping people heal in the midst of great challenges, the church in Haiti is helping the country recover today and rebuild for whatever may come tomorrow."

The year-end report also explains the agency's plans for the "recovery and sustainable development" phase of its future work. The phase, which the plan predicts will last into 2012, is aimed at "greater economic independence and household and community security" through continued provision of housing and health and sanitation services, along with job creation, business development through grants and micro-financing, and agriculture and agro-forestry development.

An interactive map showing the agency's current projects in Haiti is here.

A map that shows most, if not all of the partnerships with Episcopal Church dioceses, congregations and other institutions that the diocese's relief and development arm, Centre Diocesain de Développement et de Secours (CEDDISEC), helps manage is here.

While Episcopal Relief & Development continues its development work, the Episcopal Church is just beginning an effort to raise money to aid Haitian in rebuilding Holy Trinity Cathedral. A webpage devoted to the effort is here.

The work of caring for Haitian Episcopalians and their neighbors, while important, has been difficult for diocesan leaders given the reality that they too were impacted by the quake. CREDO's work in the diocese (and at conferences held outside of the country) has been meant to help clergy and lay leaders, and their families, recoup from the traumas they suffered.

"The idea was we can't think that we can rebuild [the diocese and the country] if we don't rebuild ourselves," Duracin explained. "We are now in better condition to accept ourselves as we are and have more confidence in ourselves, more capacity."

One of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church's 12 overseas dioceses, Haiti is numerically the largest diocese in the church with more than 100,000 Episcopalians in 169 congregations who before the quake were served by just 32 active priests, nine retired priests, six deacons, three nuns and 17 seminarians.

Prior to the earthquake the diocese ran a network of 254 schools that taught more than 80,000 Haitians from preschool to university level. Other institutions included a school for handicapped children, a trade school, a music school, a two-year business school, a nursing school that granted the first baccalaureate degrees in the country in January 2009, a seminary and a university. A renowned philharmonic orchestra and children's choir were based at the cathedral and both are still performing. The diocese also provided medical clinics, development projects and micro-financing efforts.

The quake destroyed 71 percent of the diocese's churches, 50 percent of its primary schools and 80 percent of its secondary schools, according to details of the Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the Diocese of Haiti (Phase 1), which was released in early November. Seventy-five percent of its higher-educational facilities must be demolished and 33 percent of the rectories, convents and guesthouses are seriously damaged and also must be destroyed. Also lost were the bishop's house and the diocese's income-producing condominium building.

The cathedral complex once contained Holy Trinity Music School, Holy Trinity Professional School, primary and secondary schools, and St. Margaret's Convent, a convent of the Sisters of St. Margaret, as well as the church with its world-renowned murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs, which were crafted by some of the best-known Haitian painters of the 20th century.

In November a report released during a meeting of many of the diocese's current mission partners predicted that the first phase of post-earthquake reconstruction and development for the entire diocese will cost close to $197 million. The reported estimated it would take $34.7 million to rebuild the cathedral and another $49.9 million to rebuild its adjacent complex of schools and the convent.

Duracin said he wants to assure the rest of the church that "we are working very hard to set up a good system for final management to help people trust in the giving of funds."

"I ask them to continue to work with me and the diocese, all of us, and they will very proud of the Episcopal Church of Haiti," he added.

A gallery of photos taken Jan. 8-11 in Haiti by the Rev. Dave Drachlis, a member of a seven-person medical mission team from the Diocese of Alabama, is here.