Earthquake Recovery Update

Dear Friends,

I know that many friends and supporters wish for news of Fr. Tom and for an update of how we are coping with the aftermath of the earthquake. In many ways we are still traumatized and badly shaken from the viciousness and uncountable loss caused by the initial quake and following aftershocks and tremors. Honestly, we are still sorting it all out and trying to make sense of it all.

The earthquake destroyed in thirty seconds nearly every program and structure built by Hands Together over the past 15 years. Fr. Tom and I had just finished reviewing our agenda for the next day’s 9:30 am meeting with Archbishop Bishop Miot. We wanted the Bishop’s help with some of our many problems relating to running our school system in Cite Soleil: the training of our teachers, the lack of space for more students, the conflicts and violence, and the licensing of the high school. But in the span of a few seconds all of this changed. Bishop Miot was killed when his residence collapsed and the destruction took away not only our buildings and programs but our “ordinary” problems as well.

What this disaster has done for us is simplify things. In those hours immediately following the earthquake, we were stripped of our “outward existence” –our buildings, possessions, jobs, projects, books, clothes, status -- and left with only one another in solidarity of brokenness and weakness. All we could share with one another was our own humanity and the promise that we would get through this together.

As we took stock of what remained we found that the earthquake did not destroy our relationships with the people of Cite Soleil and Port-au-Prince. The earthquake did not destroy our faith in a loving God nor did it destroy our mission to “join hands” to build a better world. We were left with one another, our shared fears and hopes and our shared losses and our gratitude to God for giving us another day here on earth.  So now we will accept the work that God puts before us and we will ask God for the strength and wisdom and courage to carry out our mission for today.

Everybody wants to know “what can I do to help?” At this time, we don’t have a very clear answer to that. For the next few months we simply need to provide food, water, shelter and work to stabilize the communities through organized work projects. We need to rebuild our own center so that we have a functional base. But the cost of our long term rebuilding will be huge. During the many months of recovery to come, we will need the supplies and funds and assistance to recreate the schools and programs that serve the very poorest of the poor – wherever they may be.

Our losses

We mourn the loss of the two Oblate volunteers -- Rochelnor Registre and Innocent Lusson-- who perished under the cement and iron from the collapsed building. I visited their graves on January 23rd and felt deep pain and regret at not being able to dig them out, or find some way to save them. I know that Fr. Tom spends some time each day in prayer at the gravesite and feels a tremendous sadness for losing these two fine young men.

We still don't know the full loss of life to our student and staff population. Many families fled to the provinces, but our ongoing inventory reveals that a few of our students and parents did die. Once we understand the total loss and damage to our “Port-au-Prince universe” we can direct our aid to those who need it most.

On January 30, engineers from the U.S. military inspected each of our school campuses. Their report and recommendations will help us determine what to do with each building.

Fr. Tom Hagan Base in Port-au-Prince

Most of the city lives in tents now. Fr. Tom lives at our “base” on route Delmas 31 – a 100 x 200 ft walled in plot that contains 2, 40ft containers that serve as secure depots, a diesel generator powering our lights computer with Internet, walkie talkies, and phones and several tents. Here we store food and drums of precious diesel fuel, and our jeep, bus, flatbed and whatever we could salvage from the destroyed headquarters. Twenty people live on the ground and in our buses and vehicles. There is no toilet or shower. We make one meal each day ration drinking water. Luckily, it hasn't really rained yet. Next to our office is a small worship area that Fr. Tom created from a few damaged remnants from our chapel: a broken crucifix that hung above his parent's bed, a damaged bible and some prayer books, a bit of torn tapestry and a statue of Mary.

Fr Tom starts each day among the crowd living there, clearing away his bedding and longing for the quiet early hours he used to spend in the now destroyed chapel. He says Mass for the sisters at 6:30am and after cup of coffee provided by the sisters, he plunges into a day filled with hundreds of desperate people pulling at him. Fr. Tom tells me that “the toughest part is keeping steady and calm, especially with so many people coming at me. We have to pull back and let our leaders and captains deal with how to divide up aid and support.” While I was on the phone with him I could hear screaming and yelling and the “tough guys” from the neighborhood had come around the side of our land and were leaning over our 4 foot wall, demanding help. We since built up the wall and also met with some of the local people to arrange some help for the people in Delmas.

I know that Fr. Tom is taking it one day at a time and that without him on the ground we could not organize and direct our people into effective outreach teams. Fr. Tom and I thank you for the notes, and emails and phone calls of support, and especially for the prayers that so many of you offer on our behalf. We draw comfort and strength from all of this.

What we are doing

Now we face the pressing needs of our “Haiti family” and the communities around us that need our help. We've declared the next 3 months emergency rescue operations and must focus our energy on the task that is immediately before us. Our recovery plan is a chance to involve our Haitian family in every step of their own recovery and empower the communities of Cite Soleil to pull themselves up from this unthinkable disaster.

Here  is summary of our ongoing recovery activities:

  • We created 10 leadership teams for 10 outreach zones (8 in Cite Soleil & 2 in the Delmas area near our base). A leadership Captain – someone from the neighborhood with proven leadership ability – heads up each team and controls the outreach activities. They established bases for outreach at our campus locations and organized local residents, parents of school children and students to clean up the area and build make-shift walls around the base. We coordinate distribution of water, food, and hygiene kits from these bases.

  • We deliver 4-5 truckloads of fresh water daily to the outreach zones of Cite Soleil and Delmas.

  • On February 2nd the U.S. military began a 2 week campaign to distribute 42 tons of food a day in Cite Soleil – they are collaborating with us and are using 3 of our Cite Soleil schools for this outreach.

  • We are distributing family care packages donated by BND – containing 25 kilos of rice, bean, sardines and oil – on January 29 we gave out 500 packages and will continue this project twice a week. BND is working to provide hygiene kits and child care kits as well.

  • Utilizing our back hoe loader and dump truck to remove the debris from our residence and readying the land for a new residence and headquarters.

  • On January 30 the U.S. Military engineers inspected all our school campuses and will submit a report to us outlining what needs to be done in terms of repair, demolition and rebuilding.

  • We conduct daily medical clinics – 2 zones per day – using medicines donated from the U.S. Military.

  • Fr. Tom provides Mass for the U.S. Military working in Cite Soleil and daily Mass for the Missionary sisters of Charity;

  • We are gathering tents and medical supplies and organizing their distribution to homeless families. It has not rained yet, but when it does there will be increased sanitation and health problems for so many thousands living outside.