At first, she looks like any adorable 3-year-old, full of giggles while playing peek-a-boo in her father’s arms and waving at neighbors calling her name. That is, until she starts rubbing the web of scars on the insides of her arms.
“Sometimes, she asks, ‘What is this?’” dad Junior Alexis said.
Jenny spent five days buried beneath the rubble of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake. Her improbable rescue led to an emotional, months-long international ordeal to confirm who she was and to reunite her with her distraught parents.
Three years later, the girl known as “Baby Jenny” is blossoming in North Miami, where she and her family now reside.
Jenny Alexis is both an enduring symbol of hope and a reminder of the ongoing struggle to forge a new life for the people of Haiti.
“For us, we thought it was the end,” her 26-year-old father said about the day the ground buckled in Haiti. “People were walking in front of you and they only had half a limb; the same place you would fall asleep is where you would wake up the next day and the person next to you had died.”
“We just don’t think about what happened on the 12th of January,” chimed in mom Nadine Devilme, 25, who calls Jenny her “miracle baby.”
“We think about it everyday,’’ she said. “It never leaves you.”
For survivors of Haiti’s greatest tragedy, the third anniversary of those horrifying 35 seconds isn’t just about mourning their losses. It is also a somber reflection on survival at a time when the world — and even Haiti — seems to have moved on.
In Haiti, the government opted not to declare the day a national holiday as in past years. Instead, President Michel Martelly held a brief, low-key ceremony and asked for patience from those still living under tents. He announced a contest to design a permanent monument honoring the dead.
In South Florida, Haitian community leaders held a march in Little Haiti followed by a Mass at nearby Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church to remember the more than 300,000 people killed in the disaster.
“So many died; so many suffered,” said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary of Notre Dame.
“When you don’t celebrate those memories the way it is supposed to be, what’s going to happen is the people — the loved ones — are going to feel the pain more,” he said.
The pain lives on not just in Haiti, where 347,284 remain homeless in tent cities scattered across the capital of Port-au-Prince, but 681 miles away in South Florida, where resettled quake victims are still searching for a sense of home.
“The people are living without hope,” said Alexis, who last visited Haiti for five days in May. “When I listen to the news and I hear about all the aid that was given, I thought there would have been a lot more people who would have found improvement in their lives.”
The difference between life here and the one he left behind in Haiti?
“Once you have the possibility to work, you always live with a certain hope — compared to people in Haiti, who have absolutely nothing at all and no possibility of work,’’ he said.
A humble gift
As he spoke, the daughter who almost died in the rubble bounced up and down in the living room, dashing back and forth between a used educational toy and the only gift her parents were able to afford this Christmas: a $27 pink, plastic Dora dinette set.