Haiti’s lesson for us all

 

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Learn more about the Haiti earthquake and Habitat’s recovery program.

 


By Mark Andrews, Habitat for Humanity International’s vice president for Haiti recovery

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since that awful day. I wasn’t in Haiti. In fact, I’d never been. But I remember the first news flashes from Port-au-Prince, and I remember where I was and what I thought. Never did I imagine that I would spend 18 months of my life focused entirely on the aftermath of that one horrendous day.

Like almost everyone who has ventured to Haiti since the earthquake, I was overwhelmed by the rubble, by the poverty, by the lack of progress. The disaster had impacted decent shelter, clean water, electricity, schools, everything. The situation in the country had been bad before, but now layers and layers of rubble joined decades of national neglect.

Now, as I reflect on the impact of the work of Habitat and so many organizations, nations and individuals, I really can see change. I see it in the faces of the people of Haiti. I see hope where once there was only despair. I see the beginning of a new enthusiasm.

The rubble is slowly going away. Camps are slowly disappearing. People who for many months lived in makeshift shelters in the median of the highway are gone. After such a profound shaking of a nation, these are signs of real change.

Is it fast enough? Certainly not. Is it deep enough? Not yet. But is change underway? Undoubtedly.

Habitat has helped more than 40,000 families with their shelter needs. We’ve helped families to rebuild, repair and reimagine their future. We’ve helped people move into homes that are better than anything they’ve ever lived in, and we’ve helped others recapture their land, their home and their hope. Not bad, but not enough.

The fixes for the issues that Haiti faces require long-term commitments, deep understanding and enormous respect for the people who have been impacted by all that Haiti has been. But with those commitments and that understanding and respect, the Haitian people will be successful at what they have learned to do so well: to keep going, to keep pushing for a better life for their sons and daughters.

The people of Haiti have taught me more in 18 months than I have learned in decades of work in this field. They have shown me that even the most devastated community is still a community. They have shown me that individuals — even when completely displaced from family, home and hope — can and will get up every day and make their lives better. It may be almost unperceivable at times, but a willingness to continue to improve day after day means even mountains of rubble can be moved and communities and neighborhoods can be rebuilt. There is a lesson in this for all of us. The human spirit is a remarkably powerful force, one not easily destroyed. The earth may shake, buildings may fall, but the human spirit continues — especially in Haiti.