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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.