“One year later, the need in Haiti is great, but…churches continue to be agents of change in their communities, and men, women and children continue to receive support from their local churches.”
Thirty-year-old Jeannette was away from home the day a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck southern Haiti in August 2021.
“I was out and my three children were at home when the earthquake hit,” Jeannette said. “I felt as if the earth was opening up and wanted to swallow me. I begged God to save my children who had not yet gotten out of bed.”
When the shaking stopped, she returned home to discover that one side of her house had collapsed. Miraculously, though, her children survived!
The earthquake killed 2,248 people and injured 12,763, while 344 others are still missing. At the same time, 53,000 houses were destroyed leaving thousands of families homeless, and another 77,006 homes were damaged.
For women like Jeannette, earthquakes pose threats that extend beyond just the initial disaster alone. Ongoing instability in Haiti has left insufficient national infrastructure to conduct disaster responses, and the remote locations in which they live make it difficult for other NGOs to respond.
And yet, thanks in large part to relationships that were built in 2016, a network of local churches was there to respond.
United Through Disaster
In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew barrelled through southern Haiti, causing incalculable damage and devastation for the millions of Haitian citizens living in the area. Amidst the damage and destruction, World Relief invited 50 local church leaders, like Claire Audrique, into a collaborative relief effort.
“We were very siloed as churches. Never before did we pastors gather to eat or rejoice together. I feel our lack of unity did more harm than Hurricane Matthew ever could.” – Pastor Audrique
After several weeks of training with World Relief, the pastors and their congregations embraced a new position of strength and purpose and began working together, providing immediate assistance for 6,000 of the most affected families — removing debris, supplying food and repairing homes for those without shelter.
These 50 congregations would continue to work together, forming the Les Cayes Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ). Over the next five years, these churches would:
- restore the agricultural livelihoods of thousands of families in their community
- start a weekly soup kitchen for elderly widows
- build a cross-denominational ministry for couples and families
- make monthly visits to the local prison
- pool their resources on a monthly basis to fund food and hygiene kits for the sick in the local sanatorium
- start a professional school and launch ministries for women and children
The Church Responds Again
In Les Cayes, where insufficient national infrastructure had been lacking, the church had become the catalyst for rebuilding and renewal. And in 2021, they were there to rebuild and renew again.
In the two weeks following the 2021 earthquake, Pastor Audrigue and the Les Cayes Church Empowerment Zone mobilized 105 churches to respond — that’s more than double the amount of churches equipped to respond in 2016.
Together, they identified and served more than 4,400 families and individuals like Jeannette by providing hygiene, food and shelter supplies.
“After the earthquake, I was left with nothing but my children. We spent many nights sleeping outside in the yard,” Jeannette said. “The assistance from World Relief really helped us a lot. Thanks to this assistance we had provision for many days and we thank God for that.”
A Church for the Future
One year after the earthquake, Haiti still faces significant challenges including a political crisis following the assassination of their president on July 7, 2021. As a result, the security situation continues to deteriorate.
Nevertheless, the churches in our CEZs continue to serve their communities faithfully. In the Les Cayes CEZ, pastors tell stories of the support that people received immediately following the earthquake, and they dream of future support that will be given. Pastors and communities are now more committed than ever to working together and serving the most vulnerable in their communities.
Meanwhile, World Relief continues its earthquake response work, partnering with Habitat for Humanity Haiti to repair 102 homes that were partially damaged, and train local masons to build earthquake-resistant homes.
While 11 homes are currently being built, the lessons learned through the construction of these homes will serve the community for years to come.
World Relief Haiti and our local churches have played a part in this project by identifying the most vulnerable people in the community as recipients of these new and repaired homes.
One year later, the need in Haiti is great, but the lessons in collaboration and solidarity have only strengthened the community’s resolve. Churches continue to be agents of change in their communities, and men, women and children continue to receive support from their local churches.
When headlines fade, World Relief remains, strengthening communities in places like Haiti to better respond the next time disaster strikes. Learn more about our disaster response efforts and join us.
Esther Pyram Louissaint is the Director of Programs for World Relief Haiti. Esther has over 11 years of experience working in church and parachurch organizations. She started with World Relief Haiti as the CEZ Program Manager in 2016, and has developed deep and lasting relationships with many pastors and churches all across Haiti. She is passionate about life, the church and the well-being of others. She is a servant leader who values excellence, discipline, respect, integrity and humility in everything. Esther holds an MBA in Business Management and a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Communication.
Lydia Dawson serves as World Relief’s Humanitarian and Disaster Response Unit Program Officer in Sudan, and in disaster response worldwide. Prior to joining World Relief, Lydia worked in homeless services and community development in Oregon and California. She is passionate about equity and honor for underrepresented groups, both locally and internationally.