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God Save Haiti

Q U I C K S C A N

Hellish Traffic
Shards of Light
Staying Mindful


The country of Haiti experienced an indescribable tragedy when a 7.0- magnitude earthquake rocked the capital city of Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010. So powerful, its reach was felt as far as Tampa, Florida. In the wake of the earthquake—along with the 52 aftershocks that followed—much of the city was leveled.

The beleaguered country, already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, resembled Armageddon. The New York Times reported that 20,000 commercial buildings and 225,000 residences had collapsed. Hospitals and medical facilities in the area were rendered useless.

Sadder still is trying to determine exactly how many citizens were killed that first day and those that followed. The Red Cross estimated early on that 40,000-50,000 people lost their lives, but on January 27 Haitian President René Préval reported that nearly 170,000 bodies had been uncovered.

United Nations representative Edmond Mulet was less specific. "I don't think we will ever know what the death toll is from this earthquake," he said.

If the unknown number of casualties breaks the heart, then the images of the survivors rattle the soul: Bloodied and dazed, the living toiled among the dead and debris for weeks, many of them children who lost whole families.

Hope was in hiding.

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As the relief efforts poured into the country, the media soon focused on the orphans. Because of Haiti's extreme poverty, documentation of the orphans was already sloppy. How many were orphaned by the earthquake may be impossible to determine. In 2007, UNICEF estimated that there were 380,000 in the country. That number, experts assert, has surely swelled.

But being parentless is only one chapter in a harrowing tale for Haiti's children. Human trafficking is also quite real.

Ten American members of the New Life Children's Refuge, a Baptist group from Idaho, were arrested and charged with trafficking for attempting to take 33 children into the Dominican Republic. The group, eight of whom had been released by February 22, denied any wrongdoing.

A Haitian girl, one of the 33, told representatives from the SOS Children's Village—an advocacy group—that she was taken under false pretenses. "I am not an orphan," she said through tears. "I do have my parents. I thought I [was] going to a boarding school or to a summer camp. I do have my parents."

Authorities, fearing that more children would be smuggled out of the country before a proper search for their parents had been exhausted, halted these "adoptions" in late January and vowed to shield the nation's orphans from exploitation.

Hope still lingered.

In spite of the desolation, other glimmers of light pierced the darkness. The Red Cross reported that, within a week of the earthquake, 40 people were pulled from the rubble alive.

Darlene Etienne was one of the lucky ones. The Haitian girl survived 15 days under a mound of almost impenetrable rubble. When they found her, rescuers said she was moments from death.

Similar stories abound, yet the rebuilding of Haiti—and its people—will be continuing for decades.

In the wake of such a disaster, it's human to feel powerless. But hope feeds the human spirit. Here are ways we can continue to help:

Pray. Keeping the people of Haiti, and the aid workers, in our prayers is essential. Prayer minimizes the distance between us and those hit hardest.

Give. Contributions to charities such as Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org) are good investments. The organization, which began work in Haiti in 1954, provides emergency relief, long-term development work and programs in health care and education.

The Catholic Network of Volunteer Service (www.cnvs.org) also offers opportunities to help in Haiti.

Keeping the people of Haiti in our minds is crucial, too. After the media focus diminishes, our focus may soon follow. Haiti deserves better.

Our own country has experienced the wrath of a natural disaster—and the nationwide attention deficit that followed. Hurricane Katrina may be the most vivid recent example. This hurricane slammed the Gulf Coast in 2005 and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans. The death toll exceeded 1,800 and more than 800,000 were displaced. Five years later, some residents still have not found a permanent home.

While the media flooded the Gulf Coast in the days after the hurricane, national interest waned over time. Hopefully, the tragedy in Haiti will stay in our minds longer.

There's reason to believe it might: A mere 15 days after the earthquake struck, donations to 40 nonprofit groups in the United States totaled more than half a billion dollars—Catholic Relief Services was one of them.

Perhaps the anguished faces of survivors were too galvanizing to ignore. Or the images of orphans sitting shoulder-to-shoulder along a stretch of road in Port-au-Prince demanded a reaction.

It doesn't matter why. America responded with willing spirits and giving hearts to the brave people of Haiti. We are giving still.

Hope is alive.--C.H.


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