Contemporary gospel music recording artist Kirk Franklin was attending the Stellar Gospel Music Awards in Nashville when he heard the news: a monster earthquake had just hit Haiti.
The 7.0-magnitude quake, which struck at 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, 2010, reduced buildings to rubble, displaced more than a million people and killed more than 300,000 individuals as it devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities.
“We saw the tragedy unfold on television and I wanted to do something,” Franklin said.
Franklin got an idea. Artists United for Haiti was born, and Franklin, a seven-time Grammy winner, was soon leading a cast of gospel music all-stars in a recording of “Are You Listening,” a love song for Haiti.
Seven years after the song’s recording, Franklin will get a chance to sing it once more for the people of Haiti. But this time, he’ll do it on stage at the Henfrasa sports complex in Port-au-Prince at a concert on the quake’s anniversary.
“There are people out here who have a genuine love for Haiti, and we just want to help,” said Terrell Reid, vice president of the Giving Hearts With Love Foundation, a South Florida nonprofit organization that is hosting the RISE UP FOR HAITI benefit concert on Jan. 12 to help raise funds for a school it wants to build outside of Port-au-Prince.
Reid, who is Bahamian and co-founded the organization with Haiti-born Enock Bonheur, said she’s received a lot of interest in the event, which she sees partly as a celebration of survival.
“Lives are still here, the people are still pushing on,” she said. “I’ve never seen people go through the stuff that they’ve gone through and still smile. It’s a new type of strength I’ve seen through them.”
Haitians, Reid said, know who Franklin is and had been requesting his visit for years. Franklin’s visit, she said, isn’t just about commemorating the earthquake. It’s also about “thanking God for life, for hope.”
While the day isn’t an official holiday, Haiti’s interim government has designated Jan. 12 as “a day of reflection on the disasters and risks of Haiti.”
As part of that reflection, interim President Jocelerme Privert will lead a government delegation to Saint Christophe, the barren hillside north of the capital where many of the quake dead are buried in mass, unmarked graves. Observances are also planned for some of the hardest-struck cities outside of the capital, as well as at the Champ de Mars, the sprawling public square that once served as home to tens of thousands of those left homeless by the disaster.
In its acknowledgment of the quake, which left 300,000 injured, the government also plans to reflect on the most recent disaster to strike Haiti, Hurricane Matthew. The Category 4 storm ripped through the country’s southern region three months ago, destroying crops, displacing thousands of people and killing more than 900 as it caused $2.8 billion in damages.
Today, some 750,000 Haitians are still without safe water for drinking, cooking and washing and many more are at risk of severe hunger, the charity Oxfam said. It has called on the Haitian government and international community to prioritize food and nutrition to prevent people dying from hunger.
“It’s a very hard recovery, as it was after the earthquake,” said Mourad Wahba, the United Nation’s humanitarian coordinator for Haiti.
Wahba said it’s time for Haiti, which welcomed a new president this week with the election of businessman Jovenel Moïse, to begin finding new ways of reducing its vulnerability to natural disasters.
“Haiti is in the path of hurricanes and it’s in a seismically active zone. Geography you cannot do much about it, but what you can do something about is the resilience of people to external shocks. This has not been done,” Wahba said. “If you have two-thirds of the population living in poverty, any shock disproportionately has a severe affect on them.”
So far, a United Nations emergency appeal for $139 million to help with the hurricane recovery has only received $86.5 million or 62 percent of the amount requested, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
You still have a functioning government in Port-au-Prince that really should lead a resilience path for the country.
Mourad Wahba, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Haiti
Meanwhile, there are still 46,691 people living in 31 makeshift communities around the metropolitan Port-au-Prince area, seven years after the quake wiped out their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration. While the number represents a 97 percent decline from the 1.5 million left homeless right after the tragedy, it underscores the difficulties and continued challenges of rebuilding.
“The difference between the earthquake and the hurricane was obviously that the earthquake was in an urban setting. Not only did it hit people’s houses, it also hit institutions of government. We had government employees who were killed, ministries that fell,” Wahba said.
“In terms of the hurricane, the difference is it’s much more of a rural setting,” he said. “The number of deaths were much less but you still have a functioning government in Port-au-Prince that really should lead a resilience path for the country and move away from this cycle of crisis, humanitarian aid, crisis.”
Franklin, known for merging hip hop with gospel, has performed around the globe but has never visited Haiti where he sponsors a child through the charity World Vision. He’ll take the stage as one of nine acts that includes well-known Haitian gospel artists and a choir of children orphaned by the earthquake.
Franklin is excited, he said, to bring his brand of praise and worship to a people who have shown the world what it means to survive tragedy with grace.
“I just want to let the music be the tool that speaks to the people,” he said.