silent ripples

February 15, 2010


It pains me that there is no need to go looking for stories here. They are everywhere. Everybody has been acutely affected. If it is not deaths in the immediate family, it is relatives, close friends, coworkers, neighbors or teachers. As a result of living through what so many others did not, each person bears the scars of trauma. They carry their own terrifying memories and images that continue to haunt them a month after the earthquake. And, unlike food, water or shelter needs, the trauma effects and needs are not estimated in the shared statistics—nor is a response coordinated at the United Nations compound.

One of our staff members, Jeannite, shared her earthquake experience with me. She survived, but as she walked the streets in shock, stumbling past fallen buildings and hearing the cries of those still alive underneath, she was wounded in a different way. She said she still feels in shock from what she saw—people dying on the road, debris flung around as if a bomb had gone off. “It was tragic for me,” she said, nervously cracking her knuckles as she relived January 12th. “I didn’t realize it was really happening. It seemed like I was dreaming.”

She lost a cousin, an aunt, two youth from her church, a program volunteer. She now sleeps with around 65 others in her mother’s yard, with only two plastic sheets hung above some of them. Despite having so many around her, Jeannite said there is one memory of the fateful day that she cannot shake. There were three different pregnant women dying or dead on the streets, and she could see their babies still moving inside of them. She was powerless to do a thing. One woman was removed from the debris by a medical doctor, but even he was too affected to act on behalf of the baby. “It will take time to delete the memories from my mind,” she said.

Another staff member talked of seeing people in a terrible panic in the hours following the quake. Daniel saw the dead, the wounded, and those desperately trying to get to the hospital or in touch with loved ones. “It greatly increased my suffering,” he said. “I was happy to be alive, but there were others who were suffering—others who were dead.”

One mother told her pastor about being at home with her three children—nine, six and one.  When the earthquake hit, she grabbed the youngest and ran out of the house. The other two did not make it out before the house collapsed. She heard the six-year-old calling to from her within. She could do nothing to save him, and that became his grave.

The daily effect that living through the experience has had on people is incomprehensible. Many cannot sleep. Many live anticipating the next aftershock. Many whose homes are actually structurally sound are still too terrified to reenter buildings. Jeannite, though, does not feel sorry for herself. Most people do not. A strong sense of solidarity exists among survivors.

“You don’t have the right to complain so much, because everybody is affected the same way. I can’t complain,” she said. “This helps me consider the situation with a wider perspective—I’m part of a big group that is affected.”

For a country reeling from disaster, churches can be a tangible expression of God dwelling among the broken. Throughout this city, they are already proving to be a beacon to those in need. They are providing shelter, food and spiritual nurture. Daniel said the only thing that has kept him sane the past few weeks is his church. His pastor engaged him in reaching out to those in their community. “I knew I had to help others. It forced me to resolve things within myself in order to be effective for others.”

Over the weekend, the hurting and confused flocked to churches. They sang, they marched the streets, and they prayed, prayed, prayed. People are expectant, and churches have a rare opportunity. They must be supported and encouraged as they act on it.

“I’m not thinking about the future,” said Jeannite as tears welled up. “I’m not imagining what the future can be. But I’ve found hope in God.”

3 Responses to “silent ripples”

  1. Eric Blauer Says:

    Heart breaking horror. Our church is sending $500 to WR today.

  2. […] of trauma are evident across the population.  Stories of people’s experience during and after the earthquake highlight the needs for trauma counseling […]

  3. […] Signs of trauma are evident across the population.  Stories of people’s experience during and after the earthquake highlight the needs for trauma counseling […]

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