On this, the fourth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, I wish I could say that the battered country’s rebirth is complete. I wish that I could say every child has a meal, every displaced person has a roof to live under and that all of the money and attention focused on that beloved country has wrought a miracle beyond our wildest expectations.
Still, so much has been done. Those who watch Haiti carefully for signs of improvement have been gratified to see real changes to the beleaguered nation that some have called beyond repair. The signs are visible after you arrive at the airport and start making your way into Port-au-Prince.
Instead of being greeted by throngs of tent-city dwellers just outside the airport door, you notice those struggling residents have been replaced by a park, a grocery store and a car dealership.
While not totally gone, the tent-city population has fallen by 80 percent.
You notice these things, in part, because the streets have been cleared of the rubble that clogged them for almost two years after the 7.0 magnitude quake.
When I traveled to Port-au-Prince six days after the quake, the streets were barely passable, the smell of death rose from the bodies buried under mountains of rock — and those still visible in the downtown area near the cathedral — and all the residents walked the middle of the street, afraid of another tremor. Now there are clear, paved roads with traffic lights that function even better than those from before the quake.
Roads leading out of the capital also have undergone reconstruction and the improvements allow commerce to flow north and south, east and west. The international community is building factories in the north that will employ about 20,000 people.
With the support of the Inter-American Development Bank and Haiti’s Fonds d’Assistance Economique et Sociale (Fund for Economic and Social Assistance), my organization, Food For The Poor, is building 1,000 homes in that northern corridor of Haiti. The workers will live in homes with clean water and flush toilets. Each house will be powered with solar energy and will be built with earthquake- and hurricane-resistant materials. The twin dignities of a home and a job will transform lives for generations.
Closer to the capital, the charity’s donors already have built more than 4,300 two-room homes since the earthquake.
The need is still overwhelming. A trip to Haiti in December brought it home to me once again. We were there to celebrate the installation of water wells, but our trip also took us to an area of deepest poverty. One of the women greeted us and took us to her living space. I cannot even call it a home, as she literally had to crawl into her shelter, pushing stones and debris out of the way.
We must continue to work to give people safe housing. We continue to see malnourished, naked children living at the highest level of poverty. And contaminated water sources outnumber the wells and filtration units that are providing some clean water.
There are some who want to give up on Haiti, who want to walk away from it as if it were a difficult jigsaw puzzle that is easier to leave unfinished. And I say, “No, we are not giving up.” We must not walk away from the woman who crawls through the dirt to try to take shelter, the children who still hunger, the mothers grieving the loss of children to contaminated water. We cannot walk away from a people who steadfastly cling to hope of a better life, even after being battered by generations of poverty and premature death.
On the fourth anniversary of that awful quake, we can truthfully say that there is no end to the war, but we celebrate every skirmish and battle won, determined never to give up the fight.
Angel Aloma is executive director of Food for the Poor, based in Coconut Creek.