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Haiti marks 10 years after earthquake: One decade after the severe disaster, sisters discuss Haiti's progress, stagnation.

Jan. 12 marked the 10th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated large parts of Haiti, including the capital of Port-au-Prince.

The disaster killed an estimated 220,000 people, injured more than 300,000 and left 1.5 million homeless, according to British humanitarian organization Disasters Emergency Committee.

The outpouring of humanitarian assistance was remarkable but also called into question Haiti's long relationship with humanitarian groups. Many Haitians said much of the aid was not effective and did not reach them.

The response reinforced troubling dynamics in a country with a history of colonial and neocolonial dominance, as well as widespread corruption. The concerns over corruption and poor governance have become increasingly public, with Haitians taking to the streets in recent protests and demonstrations 'against the government of President Jovenel MoIse.

"Populations which have been exploited by colonial or autocratic governments live with decades of simmering anger that can explode into violence without much provocation. It's the 'last straw' phenomenon, and we've seen it in Haiti these past two years," said Sr. Marilyn Lacey, executive director of the humanitarian agency Mercy Beyond Borders and a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Lacey said she believes the response to the earthquake was "well-intentioned and good in many, many ways. It saved lives. It restored some infrastructure. It brought hope to a dazed people," she said. "However, it did not bring systemic change or transparency in government or widespread employment opportunities or much economic lift."

In the end, Lacey said, "the Haitian people are resilient, good-hearted, generous. Their spirit was not broken by the 2010 quake, by the [subsequent] cholera epidemics or by the pervasive corruption that holds the country in its grip."

"There is much hope."

To mark this anniversary, GSR asked sisters who have been featured in GSR's coverage of Haiti to reflect on the anniversary and the earthquake's legacy. The sisters responded to the questions either by email or in a phone interview. Their answers have been edited and condensed.

In addition to Lacey, the participants include:

* Sr. Sissy Corr, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who works with its-Notre Dame Mission Volunteers ministry and helps run an industrial-sized bakery in the city of Les Cayes, which recently reopened after closing during street violence;

* Sr. Judy Dohner, an American Sister of the Humility of Mary who began to work in Haiti in 2002 and experienced the earthquake and its aftermath. She now works among Haitians living in southwest Florida;

* Felician Sr. Marilyn Marie Minter, who works in the southern city of Jacmel and is part of a ministry the Felician Sisters of North America established in 2012 following shorter-term work immediately following the earthquake; and

* Sr. Fidelis Rubbo, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, who worked as a missionary in Haiti from 2001 to 2014.

GSR:How do you think the earthquake changed Haiti? A decade later, what effects remain and are still felt?

Dohner: The 2010 earthquake added to the hopelessness that mires Haiti. The Haitian people became disillusioned as money poured into the country but without any signs of longterm structural change. The earthquake was followed by a cholera epidemic; several hurricanes and the pulling-out of U.N. forces, leaving many without jobs; and civil unrest that continues to this day. Early on, some progress happened: Tourism improved, there was increased access to phones and the internet. But there was very little done at a structural level to diminish the overwhelming poverty in the country.

How did the event change how humanitarian groups, including the church and sisters, respond to emergencies?

Lacey: The earthquake was a disaster of staggering proportions, but so was the disaster that followed: promises of aid that morphed instead into relief money going to consultants and foreign companies instead of Haitian workers. The Red Cross promising thousands of new houses and delivering only a few dozen. A U.N. contingent that not only brought cholera into Haiti, but also the sad reality of hundreds of children fathered by U.N. troops who then abandoned them.

I have seen the ineffectiveness of "in-and out" aid or the misdirected desire to donate clothing, for example, rather than setting up a factory that could enable Haitians themselves to produce clothing. Haitians need employment; Haiti needs reforestation and economic development.

Was the massive international response to the earthquake a helpful thing or not? Sisters' work is often small in scale. Was that a more appropriate response in 2010 and after?

Rubbo: It felt-wonderful to witness such an outpouring of generosity from so many. It was unfortunate that the money and the efforts were not more wisely managed. The best examples I saw of things working were when everyday Haitian people were involved with aid agencies in setting things up and making decisions.

But I'm afraid aid agencies didn't seem to know how to manage anything so big. In some cases, they handed the jobs over to other foreign groups who didn't know how to manage things any better than they did. Or they became "self-protection" and only served people who were already in their programs.

A lot of money was wasted and went to pay foreign workers instead of Haitian workers. Probably smaller groups such as the ones religious work with could have done more with the money than was done at the time.

Those who have visited and worked in Haiti feel a great connection to the country and are positive about Haiti despite its reputation as a difficult place. What hope do you find in Haiti right now, 10 years on?

Corr: One of the things Haiti needs is to strengthen its leadership, and that's something we as sisters can help with. We've started doing many things we didn't think we could do at first. I never thought I'd be helping run an industrial-sized bakery. I don't even bake. But it's in our psyche as educarators, as collabotors. We can see the potential in others.

We can also see beyond the immediate future. There is so much in Haiti that's about survival: People just have to get through the day for themselves and their families. When you run a bakery, you need a team, working together and thinking together. You need industrial-sized talent. The talent is there. I see it. And we have an eye for bringing out this talent. And it's needed right now.

I hear people say, "Do you think we'll make it?" Or that the situation now feels worse than after the earthquake. The earthquake was awful. But it was the earth moving, and people worked together in the response, helping each other. But now, people are worried. They say there are so many unknowns. An underlying anxiety. One businessman I know who has all of the resources he needs asked me, "How are we going to get through this?" There are worries about protests happening again.

Yet our bakery was up and running in December, our repairs completed. That was very satisfying. Right now, I would say there is good energy. In the people I work with, hope has risen again, and this in the midst of so much ambition among Haitians: to learn English, to learn computer skills. I would say now that there is a lot of hope.

Minter. The hope I feel in Haiti right now is with the young people. Inviting, empowering and working with them in our mission has been a grace and a challenge. Our focus is to guide them to be leaders and respect what they can change and can't. When you empower someone, they can grow in their leadership and discover their gifts. St. Francis once said to do few things but take your time, do them well, go slowly. How I take this is: Less is more. Work in your faith community. Help them to grow in their faith and trust. Help each to work together to make a difference where we are and how we can be more sustainable working together.


[Chris Herlinger is GSR international correspondent.]

CNS/Paul Jeffrey

Caption: Haitians clean up rubble in a cash-for-work program in Portau-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 18, 2010.

GSR file photo

Caption: Sr. Judy Dohner

Courtesy of Mercy Beyond Borders

Caption: Mercy Sr. Marilyn Lacey

Caption: Sr. Fidelis Rubbo

GSR file photo

Caption: Sr. Sissy Corr

CNS/Paul Jeffrey

Caption: Earthquake survivors in the southern Haitian city of Jacmel load emergency supplies onto a truck at the city's airstrip Jan. 22, 2010.

GSR file photo

Caption: Felician Sr. Marilyn Marie Minter

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Author:Herlinger, Chris
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:5HAIT
Date:Jan 24, 2020
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