May 2014 Feature: After the Earthquake
After the Earthquake
Article by Taashi Rowe
It’s been four years since the ground quaked in Port-au-Prince.Members continue to fund small projects that are making a lasting impact in Haiti.
The journey to the village of Guinadee (Jean-Rabel) involves using a sport utility vehicle to fjord several streams and then enduring a herky-jerky climb up a narrow, winding, craggy, unlit and unpaved mountain pathway. The journey seems effortless for groups of three, four and sometimes five, traveling on the backs of small motorbikes or “tap-taps.”
Although they are about six hours away from Haiti’s crushingly crowded capital city of Port-au-Prince, the plight of Guinadee’s residents—many of whom live in tiny, one-room shacks—is similar to those in the capital, as they, too, live in heartbreaking poverty. Some four years ago, a deadly, 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the seaside capital and brought the world’s gaze and aid to the island. Even though the earthquake did not impact Guinadee, it is clear that help is needed.
Haiti has had its share of natural, manmade and economic disasters. The most recent, the 2010 earthquake, killed an estimated 230,000 people while an ensuing cholera outbreak, introduced by United Nations’ peacekeeping troops, took another 8,0001 and infected 635,000 more. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 10.4 million residents, the economic and development needs are great—reliable electricity, clean water and an affordable, basic education are not guaranteed.
Supporting a Better Tomorrow
Although they don’t have much of a budget, Yveniel St. Luc and Joseph Valcin want to help. The former is a pastor of three churches in the Allegheny East Conference (AEC), and the latter a member of the Atlantic Union Conference. In the immediate wake of the earthquake, billions were pledged for relief and development efforts, but the two men do not have access to such extravagant funds. So far, they have relied upon members of several Haitian Seventh-day Adventist churches in North America and some of the 20 Haitian churches in the Columbia Union to fund their tiny project.
“We can’t help everybody, but we try to help who we can,” explains St. Luc, who started making the annual trip to Guinadee in 2008 when drought caused a famine in the community. When he brought food with him, he noticed that the church located next door to his childhood home was in bad shape. Some 300 Adventists worshiped there every Sabbath, and some 100-plus children used it as a school during the week.
The building has cracks along several walls and the roof is vulnerable to collapse. Valcin, a civil engineer, estimates that it will cost $58,000 to rebuild the church. This is no small feat considering that Pastor Auguste Maxonnes says his members sometimes don’t have money for basics.
In the meantime, the men wanted to build a school for the children. In this country where 77 percent of the population lives in poverty, the United States Agency for International Development claims:
Approximately 35 percent of Haitian youth are unable to read and the average Haitian child spends less than four years in school. … For low-income families, annual school expenses account for about 40 percent of parents’ income and can represent a significant financial burden. In addition, the January 2010 earthquake damaged or destroyed 80 percent of primary and secondary schools in earthquake-affected areas, according to the government of Haiti (usaid.gov/haiti/education).
However, with the country already glutted with aid groups, one has to wonder if sending money to another small group is the solution? “If it is for school, yes. If it is for a soup kitchen, then no,” says Valcin, who believes that an education provides a path forward. “We must [help] … people make a living.” It took three years, but with support from private fundraisers and AEC members at Salem French—St. Luc’s former church in East Orange, N.J.—they were able to build a school in Guinadee. The school has nine teachers, but because the parents often can’t afford to pay the minimal monthly tuition, none of those teachers have been paid in the past three months. The ongoing drought, evidenced by yellowish-brown crops in the fields, doesn’t help as many in the community subsist on farming. Still, the teachers are at the school bright and early every morning.
Paving the Way for the Gospel
On the other side of the island, near the Dominican Republic border, another small Adventist group is working to make a difference. The village of Bois Pin in Las Cohobas is some three hours drive from the capital—three and a half if there are political protests resulting in road blockages. Nestled near the top of Mon Cabrit or “goat mountain,” Ronald Magloire and his wife, Marjorie, have worked to build a house and school.
Originally from Haiti, these members of the Southern Union did not plan to become full-time missionaries. But after the earthquake, Marjorie, a nurse, told her husband, “God is calling us to Haiti. Let’s go.”
Their first encounter with mission work resulted in threats against their lives, but the couple didn’t give up. Initially drawn to Haiti to help orphans, they used their own money to purchase land far away from the dangerous situation. They then worked with the Southern Union’s Larry Rahn of Upward Bound Ministries, and Norma Nashed, a Columbia Union member who runs the Restore a Child nonprofit, to continue their mission.
However, the Magloires soon realized there were no orphans in the region. There was also no school or Adventist church in the tiny community of Bois Pin. So Nashed, Rahn and the Magloires raised funds to build the earthquake-resistant Restore a Child Academie. Again, Valcin became the designer and builder, but only after seeing for himself that the group was not interested in “building another shack.”
After six months, the first floor of the school is completed with six classrooms, and classes started in January with 105 students. Again, the parents cannot afford to pay the tuition nor can they afford the uniforms and shoes required to attend school. Even so, Nashed, who speaks French fluently, visited every home in the community and promised each mother the impossible—that her child would have an education despite the costs.
Nashed, who grew up in Jordan as one of nine siblings, says she got involved in this project because “this is what Jesus would do. I’m committed to children—especially orphans—and that will not ever change. Mrs. [Ellen G.] White says they are lent to us. We cannot neglect them,” she says.
But, the Bois Pin school is just the beginning. The team has plans for a high school, vocational school, medical clinic and playground. This vision will end up costing a daunting $1.5 million, and they are a long way off from raising that amount. Even so, the group had reason to celebrate during the school’s recent dedication. The mothers of the community pulled together their meager resources and decorated the tables with flowers and fruit.
“Education is a gift,” Ronald says. “We also want to preach the gospel and do medical work. With this school, we hope to also pave the way for the gospel, not just in words but in action.”
From the outside, and maybe from the inside, Haiti’s vast challenges may seem insurmountable—long after the earthquake hundreds of thousands of people are still living in camps, many parts of the country remain unsafe, mountains of rubble fill parts of the capital and, despite the numerous heavy duty work trucks rumbling throughout the country, progress seems slow.
Still, Haitians are resilient and proud of their history as the first independent, black republic. (They freed themselves from the French in 1804.) And, it is that pride and resilience that pushes Haitians both inside and outside the country to try to make a difference no matter how small.
“I care for my country,” says Ronald. “We are very poor but there’s a lot of potential. I would love to do [mission work] for the rest of my life until Christ comes.”
Source: 1 More Than 6% of Haitians Have Had Cholera Since Outbreak Began, New Data Shows, The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, January 10, 2013.