It’s been exactly one year since a massive earthquake struck Haiti, but you’d be forgiven for thinking the disaster occurred much more recently, based on how much work is still needed to rebuild the country.
More than one million people still live in tents. Reconstruction has hardly begun.
Recent elections were mired in problems and sparked violent protests. And the arrivals of aid workers proved a mixed blessing. A cholera outbreak, likely inadvertently caused by United Nations’ workers, has killed more than 2,000 people.
Tonight at Baked Cafe, four Whitehorse residents will share their experiences delivering aid in Haiti.
One is Joe Campana, 68. The retired school teacher had always wanted to help the needy overseas. When he heard of the devastation in Haiti, he quickly signed up with the Global Volunteer Network.
In a few months, he found himself in Jacmel, a city in southeast Haiti, where he taught children and helped clear rubble for two and a half weeks in April and May of 2010.
He slept in a tent inside a walled compound that had a toilet and shower.
“We were living in luxury. I felt kind of bad,” said Campana. Just across the way, Haitians lived in crowded, tattered tents that covered the nearby hills.
Campana was asked to teach French, so he did. But he quickly learned that Haitian children were more interested in learning English. “I said, if that’s what you want, that’s what we’ll do.”
He was surprised: French is the official second language in Haiti, after Creole. But he figures the preponderance of non-profits in the country speak English, and that this must have an impact on the population.
“They’re becoming aware of what happens in the world. And the world is in English,” said Campana.
His most touching moments involved kicking a soccer ball around with children in a stony clearing, and helping adults clear rubble with a wheelbarrow.
“It wasn’t that we shovelled dirt with them. It was that we were there and supported them.”
Campana, like almost anyone familiar with the disrepair left by the earthquake, feels helpless at times because of the enormity of the problems that remain.
And, like many, he remains concerned about Haitians being left out of decision-making by foreign workers. While there, he lectured his colleagues on more than one occasion that they ought to listen to the people they were supposed to be helping.
Campana is an avid photographer. His big challenge tonight will be whittling down a big slideshow of 250 photos he took in Haiti into something that can be shown in 15 minutes.
Another Whitehorse resident who will share her experiences is Morgan Wienberg, who visited Haiti shortly after graduating from FH Collins last summer.
She spent two and a half months there, teaching English, caring for prosthetic patients, working in orphanages and rescuing animals.
Wienberg will return to Haiti in February for five months to continue working with an orphanage she’s become devoted to.
There will also be presentations by Joanna Pelletier, a Whitehorse teacher who spent four months in Haiti this summer working with Handicap International to support disabled Haitians, and Germain LeNoxaic, a French engineer who spent nine months in the country teaching and rebuilding infrastructure. Along the way he met Pelletier and returned to Whitehorse with her.
The event is organized by Friends of Haiti, a loose knit group of Whitehorse residents. By selling wristbands and collecting donations over the past year, they’ve raised about $2,000 to support injured Haitian children.
The talks start at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Baked. Admission is by donation.
Contact John Thompson at