new foundations

February 23, 2010


Thousands of children were killed in the earthquake—leaving behind innumerable devastated mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. The exact number has not yet been announced, but the loss of potential from Haiti’s younger generation is staggering. Those 14 years old and under normally represent 43 percent of the country’s population. If this ratio was even close to the same for the 230,000 lives lost, the impact is beyond comprehension.

The Ministry of Education has announced that 3,000 children were trapped and died in school buildings alone. This does not include the huge majority that would have left schools by that time of day and were in their homes or elsewhere. More than 200 children were buried under one Salesian school in Port-au-Prince. Only last week did they begin to recover the bodies. A man came to King’s hospital because he wanted a mask for his task of digging. Due to the elapsed time, piles of bones are being excavated rather than identifiable skeletons. To make matters worse, death certificates cannot be issued for unrecognizable bodies, so parents are unable to benefit from any government assistance for at least five years.

Children who survived the earthquake are traumatized, and many have lost one or both parents. One of our staff members rescued an eight-year-old girl from her house in the minutes that followed the disaster. Her mother had been crushed instantly. The girl had not witnessed this because she was completely buried in the rubble. As she was carried out, she unknowingly kept repeating, “If my mother is dead, I don’t want to live.”

It is natural for people to want to give children a reprieve from the harsh conditions they are now living in—to take them far away from this seemingly helpless situation. But the remaining potential of the country’s youth is so great that it must be nurtured and protected—and allowed to flourish in this very place. Haiti will not always be as it now is, and we all have the responsibility of ensuring the future is better.

I am continually blown away by the promise I see as I interact with children all around me. Shilaydine, six years old, had her leg crushed and broken in several places by cement falling during the earthquake. She cannot currently walk, but her family believes she is on the road to recovery. In a hushed voice, she shyly told me that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. “I want to help my family,” she said. “I want to help others.” 

One of the children at King’s Orphanage, Reginald, prefers reading books to playing soccer or basketball. He is 11, though he says he is 12 because his birthday—in April—is basically here already. Sporting a Barack Obama t-shirt and flaunting his dimples, he tells me he wants to be a politician. He is intelligent and can regurgitate all the English phrases he has ever been taught. He has not been to school since the building collapsed.

Noelle, 13, wants to be a pilot. “I like the airplanes flying, and I like to be in the sky.” When asked if he had flown somewhere before, he looked at me like it was the silliest question he had ever heard. “No, I’ve never flown. But I’ve seen it in movies and read about it in books.” He wants to travel to the United States and Brazil. “I’m not scared to fly. I’m not afraid to die. We have one day to live and one day to be born,” he said, adding, “And I believe in Jesus Christ.”

Throughout the city, I see makeshift kites floating above the crushed buildings. It is a comforting reminder that amidst tragedy, sadness and loss, children continue to play. The delicate toys, jolted to and fro by soft breezes, seem to triumph over all that is hopeless on the ground. It reminds me that kids are just kids. It reminds me of their strength. It reminds me that they are the hope of the country.

Dorilas, 14, lost her 16-year-old brother in the earthquake. They were both at home, and she just barely managed to escape. When asked what she envisions for the future, she averted eye contact and stared at the ground. “I don’t see the future,” she said flatly.

We must help these children by investing in long-term efforts that will meet their needs. They need schools, shelters and safe spaces in which to grieve. They need to see steps made to secure their future, so they can continue to picture their place in it.

The other day, a mason was filling in some cracks at our temporary office. The country director, Dr. Hubert Morquette, watched him smooth the cement mix back and forth over the wall. “I don’t want us to do that,” he said. “I don’t want us to just fill in the cracks. I want to rebuild Haiti.”

The beautiful children of this country deserve something new. They need something in which to hope. The world has arrived at Haiti’s doorstep, and it has the privilege of helping to pave the way for the next generation.


3 Responses to “new foundations”

  1. Nancy G. Says:

    Thank you for your detailed and heartfelt notes. This is a real blessings from all at WR.

  2. […] World Relief/Joanna Mayhew blog—New Foundations […]

  3. […] service began to develop. Harris encouraged Jonah to visit a website that recounted the story of Shilaydine, a girl in Haiti who also is six years old and who had suffered a badly broken leg in the […]

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