Haiti – In many ways, not much has changed in the one year since the devastating earthquake that took the lives of over 300,000 people in Haiti. Ninety-five percent of the rubble still litters the city of Port-au-Prince and surrounding countryside. Because of national elections, all progress in rebuilding has come to a standstill. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tents, terribly vulnerable to adverse weather. Although there are signs of improvement in places, to even a casual observer, Haiti has gone only a short way on the road to recovery.
Navigating in this most difficult terrain, The Salvation Army in the Haiti Division has nonetheless made progress. A special team of officers and local employees have formed the Haiti Recovery Office. A special office at International Headquarters has been established, dedicated solely to expediting and coordinating the massive and widespread response to the emergency.
Despite the urgency of all that needs to be done, for a moment it was time to reflect and renew. On the one year anniversary of the quake, January 12, 2011, The Salvation Army both remembered the tragedy and launched a new beginning.
In a meeting with nearly 1000 in attendance, limited to that number only by space, The Salvation Army recalled both the victims and celebrated the survivors in a memorial service at its compound in Delmas 2, Port-au-Prince. In typical Haitian fashion, the singing and sense of celebration were reminders that while the earthquake was a great tragedy, God had never forsaken Haiti. A challenging message was preached by divisional commander, Major Lucien Lamartinière. With great passion he shared,
“In just a few seconds on January 12, 2010 thousands of people died, thousands became physically handicapped, and thousands became poorer than poor. On January 13 I was homeless with only one shirt and one pair of pants. Yet, those of us who survived live with the reality of God’s goodness every day. If we are alive it is because of God’s grace. The earthquake is not a punishment from God because we have sinned. It is the way we build that caused so many to die, so we must assume some responsibility. We have to conclude that the hand of God was in action. Have you asked why you are alive? God has the answer. If he has kept you alive it is because he has a mission for you to fulfill. There is a city to rebuild, there is a country to save. God’s wants you to be a Nehemiah and to help us rebuild our country. Do not be an observer, become a builder.”
Immediately following that service, a procession led by territorial leaders, Colonels Onal and Edmane Castor and supported by Lt. Colonels Lindsay and Lynette Rowe as well as members of the Haiti divisional staff, marched to a new set of temporary buildings that will serve the College Verena, the Army’s school whose buildings were compromised by the quake. The building will also double as the temporary home of the Port-au-Prince Central Corps. The two wooden buildings will house 12 classrooms while they are used during the week. Major Jean Volet’s ingenious design, allows that in a matter of a minutes the movable walls can be pushed aside to provide open space to allow for the worship and service of the Port-au-Prince Central Corps. This open plan will allow for seating for 700 people.
Following the ribbon cutting by Colonel Onal Castor, Territorial Commander, the crowd streamed inside where the celebratory mood was infectious. Approximately 750 people crowded into the building or stood outside to join in the happy event featuring specials by various Corps groups and enthusiastic singing from those gathered, underscoring the victory. This was the first step in the Army’s reconstruction effort since the earthquake. Almost all the Army’s buildings in Port-au-Prince were damaged beyond repair necessitating a massive rebuilding program.
One of the most moving moments came when Advisory Board chairman, Mr. Hervé Denis, spoke about the death of his mother in the earthquake. “They found my mother on her knees where she had been praying. Our family believes that when the earthquake struck she was praying for us.” Mr. Denis said he considered his service with The Salvation Army an important way to honor his mother and to give back to his native land.
Colonel Onal Castor then brought the address, speaking about not only the spiritual challenge created by the earthquake but the Army’s response from around the world. “We salute you,” said the Colonel, “We salute your courage, we salute your faith. You are people of faith even though you are victims because when the earthquake came you forgot about yourself and served God’s hurting people.” “We salute the International Army. From the sixteen countries of the Caribbean Territory to the 122 countries that form the Army world they gave money and many came to help us take care of our people and begin to rebuild.” The Colonel reminded the congregation that their General, Shaw Clifton, and Commissioner Helen Clifton who had been with them just two months before the earthquake, were with them now in prayer and that they send their love and warm greetings on this day of commemoration. The Colonel then shared with the congregation the rebuilding plans for the future and the many programs that would support and empower the community to make it more resilient and prepared to respond to future disasters.
Afterwards, in reflecting on the day and his trip that afternoon to participate in the High Council, Colonel Castor said, “My heart is just overwhelmed. The countries and territories of the world have made the reconstruction of the Army possible. I want the world to know that we are grateful, so very grateful. Words fail us. We are proud to be a part of the worldwide Salvation Army that moves when there is a need and gives almost beyond measure. That is the message I will share with The Salvation Army leaders from across the world.”