Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

This is a post by Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontante. Jo-Ann and I go back a long way. We worked together on a few youth media and participation programs in the past and became friends. She and the youth that I met through her were the first people I thought of when I heard about the earthquakes in Haiti last January. It’s people like Jo-Ann and the youth she works with who are bringing Haiti back to its feet.

On January 12th at 4h53pm I was in my third-floor office at Plan Haiti, meeting with Guerdy the Human Resources Manager and talking about staff issues and projects for the New Year. Suddenly the ground seemed furious with us. I can still hear the sound of heavy concrete collapsing and people screaming. After I saw the toilet literally explode in front of us, I told Guerdy “We’re going to die.” I saw images of my family before me. I tried to call them, but I could not get through. I was terrified. My husband worked in a 6-story building and I could not reach him…

Between three violent aftershocks Guerdy and I managed to get out of the building and into the parking lot. I remember seeing several shoes my colleagues had lost in the stairs while running out of the office. I saw my other colleagues horrified, crying and trying desperately to communicate with their loved ones on their cell phones. I saw this little girl, maybe she was 12, who had come to hide in our parking lot. I had never seen her before… she smiled at me. She told me she lived in the neighborhood, that she escaped from her house and the rest of her family was still missing. She was wounded, the features of her face hidden behind dust.

Four hours later, my husband miraculously appeared in our parking lot, sweating and breathless. I had tears in my eyes when I saw him.  He told me about the things he saw on his way to Plan’s office and we started the journey home together. It was awful. We saw people either walking like zombies, screaming, crying, carrying injured people or dead bodies—or desperately looking for loved ones. When we got home, my mother, my 1-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son were in the street in front of our house…stunned and speechless. I grabbed them and held them so tight. I heard that my father and nieces were stuck downtown but they were okay. Now… what about the rest of the family, friends … we could only wonder.

I remember the funerals of my aunt and my grandmother. My father had to remove his own mother from the rubble that had been her home, after six days of digging. We had gotten my aunt out of her collapsed home after two days of digging but she died on the way to the hospital—and then her body was lost among the other bodies and we never found her again.

I remember seeing so many people around Port-au-Prince queuing for burial ceremonies for their loved ones. I thought Haiti had died.

On the last day of 2010, I sat at a meeting at Plan’s new office in Port-au-Prince. It was for the children’s and youth event we are planning for the anniversary of the earthquake. I was amazed at the change since last January. At the meeting we talked about celebrating life. We talked about a new beginning for Haiti and how the engagement of children and youth is essential to its success. I felt our excitement. I feel so proud to be a part of this.

According to what I have witnessed over the past year, Haiti’s promising future is guaranteed because of the potential inside its children and youth. After the earthquake, I saw how young people were so keen and motivated to support their peers. Now I see them mobilizing again to raise awareness about cholera and saving lives.

The earthquake devastated Haiti, but it also provided a chance for this country to be reborn. Children and youth immediately understood their role in this reshaping—they played a key part in the emergency response and they have told us from the beginning that they are ready to do whatever it takes to help reconstruct their country. We adults—and especially the decision makers among us—should listen to their insights and follow in their footsteps and do whatever it takes to fulfill our responsibilities to this country. In the near future, I think there should be a group of young advisors standing behind the President and each Minister.

Today I weep for my aunt, Gagaye (this is how we called her), and my grandmother, Nini, and so many other family members and friends whom I am missing, and also for those I did not know and who left us too soon. But today I also celebrate life. I celebrate the strength I see in the communities where Plan works. I understand the wise person who said “a country never dies…” I now know this is true more than ever because a country like Haiti can count on its children and youth to keep it alive.

Jo-Ann narrates the video below about the work she’s been involved in over the past year. It’s worth a look.

Related posts on Wait… What?

Haiti through our eyes – an uplifting series of photos by Haitian youth

Children and young people’s vision for a new Haiti – 1000 youth input into Haiti’s reconstruction plan

Children in Emergencies: Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti – lessons learned from past disasters

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