Haiti Earthquake

The Greatest Recovery Effort Yet


Joseph Bataille serves as World Relief’s Haiti Country Director. Born in Port-au-Prince and raised in the US, he moved back to his native country after college to work with NGOs and churches as they assisted the vulnerable. The following is his personal account of the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti to its core 5 years ago today as well as the hope he sees in his homeland. I was in the bed of a truck when the ground started to shake. There was a magnitude 7 earthquake going on, yet I hardly noticed. This is partly because I was somewhat distant from the epicenter, but it is also because the “taptaps” that I commuted in to and from work always passed through numerous rough spots. Sometimes they cannot avoid the larger potholes strung along the road. I was used to bracing myself for a little bit of shaking. Aside from that, I had my headphones on and my eyes were closed as I was praying… for my workplace, for my church, for myself, and for the nation.

Then I noticed that the shaking lasted longer than I was accustomed to. I paused my prayer and I opened my eyes to see what was going on. That’s when I noticed that the taptap was actually stationary and I could see a cloud of dust all across the horizon. I had just been in an earthquake. My first reaction was to send a message home, but all communications had been cut off. All I could do is wait to see for myself how everyone fared.

I soon learned that everyone at home was fine. So was my workplace, so was my church, and so was I, but the nation, well, I was confident that God would help us to recover, and perhaps even build back better.

As I worked to lead my church’s relief effort, the days that followed passed like a blur. This was the first time that I had been in a place that was in a 24/7 state of emergency. Setting up emergency clinics, running logistics between several organizations on the ground, dispatching our local Scouts for rescue and clean up missions, organizing the transport of certain victims to a hospital on the Dominican frontier, translating for foreigners. I had my hands full at all times.

In those days I saw and heard of more tragedy than I cared to. Dealing with major injuries and amputations became normal, and I grew accustomed to the stench of cadavers hidden under piles of rubble that were yet to be removed. But perhaps the greatest tragedy that I witnessed was the sense of helplessness that I observed among many of my countrymen. I recall seeing several smaller camps with signs painted in broken English “We have no ting,” “We need help, plese!”

It was true. They needed help. They had lost everything. But the signs written on the walls and on everyone’s faces testified to the fact that we were looking mostly to the outside for help. We weren’t looking to each other. We weren’t looking to the local church. We weren’t looking toward the strength that God had deposited within our own hearts and minds.

While I can tell you many stories of local heroes, I was sad to see that of all of the people who could have given a hand to the relief effort by volunteering their time, their skills, or their knowledge, the vast majority of us “took our place” in tent camps, waiting for someone else to save them and their countrymen. It was almost as if we were used to this role-play from the many tragedies of the past. This, for me, was most tragic.

After the earthquake, World Relief responded rightly with food aid, temporary and permanent shelters, and with efforts to reach out to orphans and vulnerable children. We gave unnumbered thousands of people a much-needed boost back up onto their feet. After five years of recovery, most of the people that we have helped are now back to a sense of normalcy.

If you read the current news about the earthquake relief effort, most articles remind us of the vast amount of physical work that remains to be done. There are places where rubble still remains; there are tens of thousands still living in tent camps and sanitation remains an ongoing problem. However, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are still living with a spirit of helplessness and dependency. This is where World Relief has chosen to focus our efforts.

Tomorrow we will hand over the keys to twelve brand new houses to twelve families in our Orphan and Vulnerable Children program. This is the last official earthquake-related effort on our agenda. From here on out we will be building the hearts and the minds of the ones who God has called to transform this nation. By this, I am speaking of the Haitian people, a nation with thousands of heroes-in-waiting.

This year we will continue our efforts to help small farmers to build up their livelihoods in order to increase their self-sufficiency. We have also chosen to spearhead two new and exciting programs that will help to rebuild the foundations of two of the nation’s most fundamental institutions: the Church and the Family.

In some of World Relief’s other countries of intervention, the Church Empowerment Zone has proven to be effective in uniting churches across a region as they work together to accomplish God’s call to preach the gospel in word and in deed. Through this program, we hope to help churches across the nation to take their rightful place as agents of spiritual, social, cultural, and economic transformation. We want the Haitian community to look first to the church when they look for agents of sustainable development in the nation.

Finally, the family is the building block of a society, and it is the very first institution created by God. By transforming families, we can begin to touch all of the underlying issues in our society, changing the state and the inheritance of the next generation. This is what we hope to do through our Families for Life program. By working in collaboration with the thousands of churches in our network, by building on the successes of many of our former programs, and by working alongside a number of local partners, World Relief hopes to spark a nationwide movement that will transform the life of the Haitian family for the current and the next generation.

In 2010, I was in the back of a vehicle on the outskirts of the epicenter of a disaster. This year, with World Relief, I have the privilege of taking a front seat in the most important “recovery” effort yet: the recovery of Haitian dignity, hope and responsibility.

Haiti faces a great number of challenges, but we at World Relief are very hopeful. Not only do we see and affirm Haiti’s beauty, significance, and potential, but we have also witnessed and can testify that Haiti’s “light” is already here. The light that can dispel the darkness that covers this nation is in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is alive and well here.

The mission of World Relief in Haiti is to help the light of the church to shine brightly. We seek to support the Haitian church in such a way that its light takes its rightful place up high, for all to see, not hidden under the basket of our organization’s accomplishments. In this present darkness, the Church of Haiti will shine, and God will get the glory.

“…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Haiti Now: This Feels Like Progress

Driving through Port-au-Prince after the earthquake on January 12, meant seeing every version of brokenness imaginable; collapsed buildings, flattened cars, and streams of people ready to tell their stories of loss. World Relief Haiti with its staff of over 40 national employees did not escape the trauma. Befriending the staff meant entering into their stories.  World Relief’s building collapsed during the earthquake and one of the pretty, young program managers, Nerlandé Pierre, had to be dragged out, thankfully suffering no permanent damage.

Fougeré, a driver for World Relief, tried to describe the horror of Jan. 12 and its aftermath.  He told me on one long drive that he had vomited every day for a week, that he was unable to think or function several weeks, and that he had to pass a building where his friend, trapped, called out to him until he died. Fougeré could do nothing to help him.  Foungeré’s family was left without a place to live, especially difficult as he has a handicapped daughter.

Madame Elima, the employee who has worked the longest for WRH, lost her oldest daughter to the earthquake. This daughter was in her last year at a Haitian university.  I heard that Mme Elima and her three small adopted children lived for a time in a tent on the median of a busy road.

Life is split for most people in Haiti into before the earthquake and after the earthquake.

However, there are signs of progress.  Though articles abound on the mismanagement of aid money given to help Haiti and the tragically slow progress, many of us who live there day to day see progress everywhere.  Fewer streets are impassable due to rubble. Buildings have been repaired or taken down and the materials used to rebuild.  Haitians are healing and moving on.  Last year, every church had a memorial service on Jan. 12th, and the beauty of standing room only congregations with candles in their hands, praying, brought hope like nothing else.

I look at World Relief Haiti and am so encouraged by the nearly one million coffee trees planted in Thiotte, the houses built in Leogane, the wells giving water to hurting communities. Carrefour Feuille has a school now, built by WRH.  Our staff of over 40 continues to strategize on how to reach the most vulnerable through a network of churches.  Many are committed on a small or large scale – Haitians and ex-pats – to rebuilding Haiti.  Many are thoughtful and compassionate.  No one is foolish enough to imagine that Haiti is “out of the woods” or that there are not enormous and complex problems needing years and the gospel to address.  We know that partners around the world will not forget the long-term commitment necessary which was so evident just after the earthquake two-years ago.

Nerlandé, the program manager in charge of OVC, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, just married and the staff went to celebrate with her. She will not forget her time trapped in the rubble of the old World Relief office, but she is joyfully starting a new life. Recently, Fougeré built a small house on some land he bought a while ago and has moved his family into it.  Mme Elima, a faithful and respected worker for World Relief, has housing now and continues to diligently serve the children at 40 churches giving vaccinations and health advice.

This feels like progress.

-Tina O'Kelley, World Relief Staff Writer (lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti)