Creating a new normal in Haiti, two years after deadly quake

Life in Haiti is not about returning to the way things were before the devastating earthquake two years ago; it’s about creating a new normal. The horrific event is a mark on the country’s historical timeline — before the quake, and after. Here’s a look at how World Vision is helping Haitian children and families create their new way of life.

Story and photos by Meg Sattler. Edited by Rachael Boyer.
Published January 5, 2011 at 12:00am PST

It’s early morning in Haiti, almost two years since a major earthquake ravaged the tiny Caribbean nation.

At an interim care center for separated children, an 8-year-old girl who lost her parents in tragic circumstances wakes in a safe, loving environment. At a camp in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, 11-year-old Rebecca and her big brother get ready for school in the Corail transitional settlement site. Hundreds of children attend a newly-built public school — many for the first time. Toddlers wake with parents in transitional shelters, others in the safety of new rental properties.

Since the quake, World Vision has impacted the lives of all of these children, and many more, helping them create a new normal.

“I think World Vision does a good job,” says Gonzales, 12, standing outside his tent home with his mother. “I am happy that people want to help us.” He recently received treatment for cholera at a World Vision clinic, where he also learned about hygiene and sanitation to help prevent the spread of disease.

In the aftermath

A child talks with a staff member at the World Vision care center for separated children in Haiti.Steve Matthews was one of the first members of World Vision’s global rapid response team to fly in to Port-au-Prince two years ago.

“I don't even like to remember those opening days,” he says. “On January 12, we were all called to rush to a scene that was visually more graphic and disturbing than any of us had seen before — people in the streets, dead bodies everywhere. I remember the kids, many of them very badly injured. Some missing limbs. That almost coma-like look in their eyes. It truly was the worst thing I’d seen in my 14 years of doing this work.”

Those early days marked the beginning of World Vision’s biggest single-country emergency response ever. Since then, countless children, parents, and vulnerable people have been assisted through World Vision’s interventions, funded by remarkably generous donors across the globe.

‘Our prayer has been answered’

“I don’t remember exactly when the World Vision staff first came,” says Mercilius, an elderly Haitian whose home collapsed in the quake, “but it was good for us.”

He is about to move with his grandchildren into a wooden shelter built by World Vision. “We are feeling good, so good. When it rains, at least we will not be wet.”

Mercilius and his wife, Madame, sit outside the shelter constructed for them by World Vision.His wife adds, “I’m so happy now. Before World Vision, we were going to church and asking for God to provide us with shelter, and our prayer has been answered.”

Reducing the toils of two years of an emergency and recovery response down to mere words is difficult, but some of World Vision’s biggest successes speak for themselves.

More than 7,700 children have benefited from Child-Friendly Spaces, and more than 2,500 transitional shelters have provided secure housing for almost 14,000 people. Meanwhile, clean water, sanitation, hygiene, mobile health clinics, baby-friendly areas, nutrition activities, and psychosocial and disability support have reached hundreds of thousands.

Additionally, food distributions have reached more than 1 million. Children have been reunited with families, parents have been helped to earn incomes, and more than 1,000 children have been given access to early education.

Overcoming challenges

These accomplishments came despite significant difficulties — land ownership issues, weak governance, insecurity, a devastating cholera outbreak, storms, and hurricanes. And then there’s the fact that Haiti was considered one of the world’s poorest nations even before the earthquake struck — the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

But these challenges cannot possibly overshadow the impact our work has had on individual lives — real changes that can only be measured through countless conversations in camps, shelters, and homes across Port-au-Prince.

Gonzales receives treatment for a case of cholera at the World Vision clinic.With the relief phase over, our focus has shifted to long-term recovery, working on livelihoods, and helping young children in the capital city access an education system that had previously been out of reach. We are also helping transition families out of camps and into safer, more durable housing.

A huge thank-you

“We must thank the donors, all over the world, who have contributed to helping so many, in one of the most difficult contexts World Vision is working in today,” says Jean-Claude Mukadi, World Vision’s national director in Haiti.

“I envision a Haiti that is a dwelling for children and youth, where they are loved, cared for, protected.”

The massive task of helping the people of Haiti rebuild after such a cataclysmic emergency will continue for months, years, and decades to come. As the government and international community carries the reconstruction work into the future, World Vision supporters like you must take pride in your contribution to nurturing the dreams of thousands of children.

After all, it won’t be long before the important task of building a better Haiti will be handed over to them.

Learn more

Read more about World Vision’s ongoing recovery efforts in Haiti.

View the complete two-year report (pdf) on World Vision’s response to the deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Three ways you can help

As the second anniversary of this tragedy is marked, thank God for those in Haiti who have found hope in the aftermath of devastation, and pray for those who continue to struggle desperately in this place of extreme poverty.

Make a one-time gift to our Disaster Response Fund. Your donation will help us respond quickly and effectively to sudden-onset disasters around the world, like the Haiti earthquake.

Sponsor a child in Haiti. Your love and support for a child in need will help build stability for the present — including the ability to better cope with and recover from disasters — and hope for the future.