BY ISN STAFF | January 12, 2012
1/12/12 – Many of us remember where we were two years ago today when we first saw images of the destruction and devastation as the Haitian people experienced one of the greatest natural disasters of our time.
That morning I was in Managua, Nicaragua, with a group of students from John Carroll University. I was staying with a Nicaraguan family in an urban neighborhood when the first reports appeared on the television. I will never forget the intensity with which my host family watched with horror as those disturbing images began to appear. Nicaraguans had experienced a similar event in 1972. Older family members shared stories of the fear and loss they experienced when their capital city was demolished and thousands were killed. Throughout the rest of my time there, many people shared reflections on their experiences but also great expressions of compassion and solidarity with the Haitian people. The Nicaraguan government, challenged greatly by the country’s economic poverty even deployed military and resources to aid the Haitian people.
Below are a few reflections from members of the Ignatian family on experiences of challenge and solidarity they experienced in connection with the Haiti earthquake. I would invite you to comment on their stories or share your own reflections using the comment form at the bottom of this page.
May the Haitian people and all those who lost their lives as a result of the 2010 earthquake continue to be in our hearts and prayers.
“He descended into Hell”
Br. Jim Boynton, S.J. | Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus
NOTE: The following excerpts come directly from Br. Jim’s journal and were written on January 19, 2010 (one week after the earthquake). He was assigned to the Jesuit novitiate in November 2009 and remained in Haiti until December 2011.
“He descended into Hell…” are words I have said in the creed at mass each Sunday or every time saying the rosary. I have prayed those words often, but I have never understood them until now. I have smelled stale death before, but only with road kill in Northern Michigan, usually a raccoon or skunk. Never a human, and never many humans. For 6 years I have had the honor of organizing many medical brigades to the garbage dumps of Guatemala and Honduras, but nothing I have seen before has prepared me for this. The American news speaks of foreign relief, but most is bottle necked at the airport. The only other non-Haitians we have seen was a group of reporters from German Caritas. One left the group to help us secure transportation for gravely wounded, and later ourselves.
“He rose again on the 3rd day…” Christ did rise and there are signs of hope here as well. Today the Haitians triaged themselves – the most wounded seeing a doctor first. They were peaceful, orderly and grateful. Stranger helps stranger. Gas is over $25.00 a gallon, if available, yet 4 times yesterday we flagged people on the street to take people to surgery – anywhere. They all said yes. Finally when our own transportation failed to arrive, strangers drove us back to the other side of town regardless of the curfew, cost, and looting.
“To give and not to count the cost…” are words I’ve prayed so often, but the people I am witnessing are living it in a way I have never seen. I am new to Haiti, only arriving here on the 1st of November. To be honest I was nervous about working in a grade school. Now a Haitian school seems no less daunting than St. Ignatius, Cleveland or the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. What is daunting is Haiti itself. “Haiti Cherie,” as she is known by those who love her, is suffering. This was an “earthquake” not a “Haiti shake.” When one suffers we all suffer. Ultimately I am here because of my faith in Christ. For that I pray a prayer of thanksgiving, for the Haitian people are beautiful and so is the team I am with.
When I first came to Haiti my first impression was that this place was a hell hole. Even after India, Nepal, Honduras, Guatemala etc. I had not seen poverty like this. In talking with Father Jim Williams I once said I hope to someday have a love for Haitians that is not only based on pity. Now that they are suffering the most and finally warrant the pity I have none – instead I find a respect and admiration for a people with great souls.
“I Knew that there was Hope for Haiti”
August 2010 | by Matthew Ippel – University of Detroit Jesuit High School ’09, Georgetown University ’13
I can honestly say my experience in Haiti was different from any other. Working in the tent camps, I have seen a poverty I cannot even describe, with thousands of people living in unbelievable conditions. Most tents measure 8 ft x 8 ft, have no electricity or running water, and bathrooms are scarce.
In July 2010, I travelled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, leading a group of three others on a service-learning trip for International Samaritan, a non profit organization based out of Ann Arbor, MI and founded by a Jesuit priest with the mission to improve the lives and living conditions of people residing in garbage dump communities throughout the world.
On our last night in Haiti, the rain started to pour and did not let up. We had invited the Haitians with whom we had worked throughout the week over for dinner; I wondered if they would be joining us. But sure enough, the Haitian workers (who I can call my own brothers) made their way through the storm, arriving completely drenched at the volunteer house but excited nonetheless to spend the evening with us.
These were among some of the hardest workers I have ever encountered. Not only were they skilled in their professions, they were motivated to make their lives better. For example, Francois (the leader of the Carpentry team) is 22 years old and lives with his mother and two brothers in a tent, which I had the privilege of seeing. Francois is extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn carpentry and is even more thrilled to earn a decent wage to help pay for his brothers’ education.
When I saw these young men enter our volunteer house, I knew that there was hope for Haiti. Working side by side with the Haitians, I realized they have both the motivation to succeed and a persistent hope their lives will get better. It is through people like these that Haiti will move forward.
I saw a great deal during that one week in Haiti, and wondered whether anything would really change for the better following the earthquake. Driving through Port-au-Prince, we passed buildings that seemed liable to fall at any second and rubble that was just pushed to vacant lots. Even the White House, Haiti’s presidential quarters, was standing but uninhabitable.
Even though I have been home for about a month now, I cannot stop thinking about what I saw, felt, heard, and experienced. I wonder what Haiti will be like in the next few months, years, etc. I wonder how much will have changed when I return. I wonder if the hope I saw in the eyes of the Haitian workers will spread to those around them, even to those crowded into makeshift camps.
Despite the suffering I witnessed, I am extremely grateful for the work of the Jesuits in Haiti and for the Foi et Joie school system. It is through this work and this school system that I see Haiti moving toward a hopeful future.
If you are interested in volunteering in Haiti or would like to donate to help Haiti, please contact International Samaritan at intsamaritan.org or 734-222-0701 (614 S. Ashely St., Ann Arbor, MI 48103).
Accompanying Those Who Waited for News
January 2012 | by Alison Cyperski – John Carroll University ’08, Boston College ‘G12
Immokalee, Florida is a town in southwest Florida that consists of a large, migrant farming population of folks from mainly from Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti. I was living in Immokalee when the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, and the sense of urgency, compassion, and loss for the Haitian population in the town weighed heavy on many hearts. I distinctly recall the entire community coming together to support all of their loved ones and the loved ones of their friends by collecting food, clothing, and money to send to Haiti, which was such a touching experience as many folks in Immokalee have very little as it is.
One experience I particularly had was emotionally supporting and standing in solidarity with a Haitian high school student I was privileged to call my friend. He waited for almost a week from hearing from his mother who was still in Port-au-Prince, and his faith was astounding — while many would be scared to death, he prayed everyday that his mother was alright and knew that she was. Several of his other family members suffered tragic losses, specifically his aunt who lost her leg and was hospitalized for several days and several cousins who were tragically killed. To be able to pray with him, support him during that loss, and learn the happy news of his mother being safe and well was such a humbling experience, and I will never forget him, or what all of the Haitian folks in Immokalee, went through and are still going through today. I still to this day feel a sense of solidarity with him and that community during that extremely difficult and tragic time.