“The world is now a village”
Q-and-A with Claude Jeudy, Habitat Haiti national director
By Shelly Whittet
Claude Jeudy was busy folding and packing tarps on Monday, April 12, exactly three months after a 7.0-magnitude rocked Haiti, a bright yellow safety vest over his tan collared shirt and black dress pants.
He worked alongside volunteers assembling 13,250 emergency shelter kits for Haiti in a Whirlpool warehouse in McDonough, Georgia.
I asked for a moment to talk, to which he obliged—gracefully managing his desire to serve through hands-on work and through sharing his story, a task he is faced with often these days.
Jeudy, who began as Habitat Haiti’s national director in 2005, brought experience in commercial banking and as a consultant with organizations such as World Vision and USAID. Having increased the number of employees from eight when he began to 50 when the quake hit, he had already helped the organization serve more than 2,000 families and face immense challenges before Jan. 12.
Thrown into unspeakable tragedy, he has spent the past three months continuing to lead the organization with profound commitment and grace. At the Habitat Haiti office with four employees and his two children, 10 and 18, when the earthquake hit, he jumped into action.
“When I had a chance to go out of the office, I saw darkness. I saw dust. I saw people crying. I saw hopeless faces. I saw a lot of people crying. It was really apocalyptic,” described Jeudy. “It was the most difficult day of my life. Instead of thinking about myself, I was thinking, ‘How can I help other people?’”
He took the staff and children to his mother’s home, and worked desperately to find and drive a car to take one of the staff members to her family. He hasn’t stopped helping yet, and his commitment seems unwavering.
As we sat at a table, surrounded by the sounds of banging buckets and rumbling hand-jacks, Jeudy’s eyes had both a deep sadness and the glimmer of unshakable hope. He knows well the disaster his country has struggled with over the past three months, as well as the previous natural disasters and relentless poverty that have wracked Haiti.
Still—in his eyes, in his words, and in his work—Jeudy’s determination, thoughtfulness, faith and intelligence are undeniable.
Q: What should people know about Haiti and Haitians that they may not know?
A: I know they hear about poverty. They didn’t hear a lot about the kind of spirit Haitian people have. … We are very proud. And we are hard workers, because we have been fighting against poverty since independence. We never feel discouraged. We stay, fighting, to transform the situation.
We want to transform our country. It’s a message of hope; it’s about how people can transform a desert into a paradise.
Haiti will not stay as it now. It will not stay devastation, desertion. I will tell them to open their eyes to opportunity—opportunity to create a good example for the world.
One day, instead of talking of Haiti as the poorest country in the hemisphere, they will say this is a new paradise of the Caribbean. And I invite them to be part of it. It is time to be part of it.
Q: What do you think about the work being done to create emergency shelter kits?
A: I feel I am not alone. What I see here today gives energy, motivation, to continue our work and to share with my fellow Haitians, “You are not alone.”… What I see here today implies that it’s an international cause.
Q: What would you like to say to Habitat staff and volunteers who have been part of the efforts to help Haiti?
A: I would like to take a bit of time to acknowledge the institutions—the American Red Cross, CARE—and volunteers, who have given time, energy, money to put kits together to help Haitian families. I thank Habitat International for sending a lot of international colleagues with experience in disasters, who have empowered the national office in order to reach an appropriate level of response.
I will tell them: We’ll never forget what they did and what they’re doing for the Haitian people. We will not be able to pay back, maybe, what we receive. But there is someone that takes note of every single action, and one day or another they will … receive back what they did. We will keep them in our prayers.
Q: What has been the hardest part about the past three months?
A: The hardest part was seeing Haitian people without the means to satisfy their basic needs. The hardest thing was seeing people in the streets waiting for rice or water.
Q: What has been the most exciting or hopeful thing since the earthquake?
A: The most exciting part is the motivation expressed by a lot of organizations, international partners. … The level of collaboration. …
For me, the world now is a village.
Q: What have you learned?
A: Do whatever you can today, because the minutes after don’t belong to you.
Share and express love as much as you can.
I’ve learned humility, patience.
I’ve learned no one is strong enough to think he will not need any help from others. I’ve learned we need to work as a team, wherever we are.
I’ve learned it takes time to build. It takes a few moments to see the destruction of things we have built. Thirty-five seconds have destroyed 200,000 people, 300,000 houses, and we cannot count how many spirits have been emotionally damaged.
I’ve learned there is someone in control of the universe. I’ve learned the limitation of human beings.
I’ve learned we need to be wise. We need to stop having too much opinion of ourselves… and to treat our brothers and sisters correctly, because who knows who is going to help you. …
I’m going to continue to learn.
Shelly Whittet is a writer/editor at Habitat for Humanity International, based in Americus, Georgia.
April 15, 2010
Rebuild Haiti (PDF 2MB)
Read the latest news about Habitat’s recovery and rebuilding efforts in Haiti in this three-month update.
January 12, 2010
A comprehensive look at the Haiti earthquake, including information on Habitat’s response, photos, videos and ways you can help.