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Hope rising from the ashes

February 11, 2010

Letters from Port au Prince

by Sasha Kramer

Love survives the earthquake. – Photo: Rex Features
Feb. 6 – Driving through the city with the sun beating down and the smoke and dust blurring my vision, I am soaked in sweat and still the goosebumps rise over my skin. It is as if the souls of those still buried under the rubble are coursing through my veins, reaching for the sun, yearning to be free. I carry them with me as I ride through this broken city, but I can’t let them out. I am so afraid that they will take me with them to a place where I will no longer be able to serve. My mind is numb but my skin is crawling with loss.

This morning I returned to Mon Nazar for the third time, the place where Rea Dol’s school SOPUDEP is, the place where I first fell in love with this country, the place that was once a bustling mountain full of hope and promise. Now the pages from children’s notebooks float in the breeze, while neighbors pour gas into the crumbled houses, burning the bodies of their lost loved ones, wailing as the bulldozers move in, 20 days too late, when all that is left to recover are body parts and the dust of shattered dreams.

And still it is the resilience and not the destruction that threatens to break through the numbness, the children jumping rope and laughing in the middle of the burning garbage, the stranger who gently takes my hand and leads me through the rubble watching to make sure that the glass will never pierce through my faded sandals, the songs of love and solidarity that echo through the camps at night, the outpouring of support from friends around the world.

SOPUDEP School, shown here before the earthquake, has now become a hospital, remaining a place trusted and loved by the people. – Photo: Jean Ristil
Haiti has always been a country of extremes, and never more so than now. Haiti will bend but she will never break. Instead of bringing Haiti to its knees, the majority of people who survived have risen to their feet, ready to march forward.

People who never would have thought that they would have the strength to stand up following a tragedy of this magnitude, have done so much more than stand. They have found an inner fortitude, a reserve of compassion and dedication that was released by the quake, a river of courage that spills from their hearts, and every day people traumatized by loss are engaging in extraordinary acts of kindness.

Last night as Jess Lozier and I were returning to the guest house around 7 p.m., we saw a truck run over a motorcycle with two passengers down by the airport. We pulled back to see what had happened and found a crowd gathered around the two bodies on the ground. Everyone helped to lift the injured man and woman into the back of our pickup.

The spirit of Father Gerard (Jerry) Jean-Juste, always the teacher and minister to the people’s needs, lives on. Jailed for his loyalty to the Lavalas Party and President Aristide, he died last May from complications of leukemia and other illnesses he contracted behind bars. – Photo: Jean Ristil
Two passersby came with us as we rushed the patients to the nearest hospital, where they were turned away for lack of space. We then had to transport them to the general hospital over the bumpy roads. These two brave men who had never met the victims came with us, holding the bleeding patients as they cried in pain.

When we arrived at the hospital Jess and I stayed with the patients and Romiel, our incredible driver who had already been working since 6 a.m., rode off with the two strangers in search of the families of the two victims. Around 10 p.m., Romiel returned with the two men and the families.

Both of the injured patients had severely fractured pelvises and would have died without medical treatment. Without any question of compensation, these ordinary people rose to the occasion and became agents of salvation. I cannot find the words to thank them.

The other day we went to St. Claire’s church in the community of Ti Plaz Kazo, the church where Father Jean Juste inspired thousands. Father Gerry would have been so proud to see the line of 3,000 people calmly waiting to receive a hot meal. Amidst the wreckage of Port au Prince, this church is still a sanctuary and I could feel Father Gerry all around, his spirit holding up the walls of the rectory, his love cradling the souls of the hungry.

Jean Ristil is surrounded by children at a photography workshop he conducted in Cite Soleil last spring. – Photo: Jen Pantaleon
Rea and Dodo Dol spend each day driving through the city looking for the 540 kids from the SOPUDEP school. So far they have information about 265 of the students, including 26 who did not survive. We have been using some of the generous donations that SOIL has received over the past month to help Dodo and Rea to purchase food for the families of the surviving students. Every day the dedicated teachers and staff for the school prepare bags of food for the families and bring them out into the camps.

Jean Ristil, a dear friend and brave journalist from Cite Soleil, spends his days delivering water to the tent camps around his community. Nick Preneta, SOIL’s new water specialist, accompanies him most days and together they have delivered over 40,000 gallons of treated water to Cite Soliel. Jean Ristil broke his leg in a motorcycle accident one week after the earthquake, but undaunted he hops around the water tanker on his crutches helping to organize the community, often late into the evening.

Since the earthquake, Jean Ristil and Nick Preneta, SOIL’s water specialist, have delivered over 40,000 gallons of treated water to Cite Soliel. Injured himself, Ristil hops around on crutches supplying others’ needs. – Photo: Jean Ristil
In Cap Haitien, the SOL team has been providing relief to the refugees flowing into the city. Setting up tents and distributing food and money to the victims who have filled the local hospitals. Everyone is working seven days a week, throwing their hearts and souls into the relief effort, discovering their hidden talents and strengths, and breathing and dreaming in solidarity with their injured brothers and sisters.

Everyone has lost so much, but it is incredible to see the emptiness of loss transformed into the fire of action. Please know that your donations and solidarity are the fuel that helps us keep the fire lit, the fire that light our paths as we walk through the crumbling walls of this proud city, the fire that will eventually burn away the loss and destruction and from the ashes Haiti will rise again, as she always does.

So thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who have supported the relief effort in Haiti. Your contributions are helping and we are so grateful. All of the money that has been sent flows directly into the hands of these courageous community organizers giving them the means to serve those they love. Please continue to give at www.oursoil.org and pass this message along to others who are holding Haiti in their hearts and prayers. You can keep up with our blogs at www.oursoil.org or by joining the SOIL Facebook group.

Sasha Kramer, Ph.D., an ecologist and human rights advocate, is the co-founder of Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) and an adjunct professor of international studies at the University of Miami. She can be reached at sashakramer@gmail.com.


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