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Looking back on the Haiti earthquake

Concrete buildings crumbled to the ground after the 7.0 magntitude earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010.

January 11, 2020

By Will Postma

January 12, 2010.

I woke up early in a small hotel room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was getting ready for a 14-hour drive to the Ethiopian-Sudan border to visit with government and communities carrying out a large food security and economic development program. As I packed up for the trip, I listened to the news, a raspy broadcast at best, to learn of an earthquake in Haiti, a “serious earthquake,” but with no other information. I shuddered as to what may be happening in this small country, as near to my home in Georgetown, Ont., as Calgary.

I had been several times to Haiti in the two years prior. I remembered the clinic, schools, the beautiful people I met, how communities got together to build and run restavek shelters caring for abandoned and trafficked children. I remembered the hope that was in the air as business people with whom I spoke were looking to grow their work, create jobs, export goods.

In less than one minute, buildings crumbled to the ground leading to the deaths of 230,000 people and perhaps many more. Families were traumatized, burying their loved ones, looking frantically for those missing. The nation mourned.

Six years later I joined PWRDF. I was encouraged to hear of work that PWRDF had supported in the months and years after the earthquake. Providing food, clean water, blankets, farm equipment and tents. Resourcing schools and building latrines. Investing in psycho-social care. Building homes with local materials that would be more earthquake and hurricane-resistant, unlike the heavy masonry used for many of Haiti’s buildings.

I was also encouraged to learn of the extent of the prayers and giving of Canadian Anglicans in the aftermath of the earthquake. More than $2.2 million was donated to PWRDF designated for Haiti relief.

The Diocese of Montreal raised money for a year’s worth of lunches for 15 schools, feeding more than 3,000 students. Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal collected 60,000 pennies as they were being discontinued and then took additional offerings for Haiti. The Diocese participated in setting up drop-off centres to collect and then send tents and tools to Haiti. Ros Macgregor, PWRDF’s Montreal Diocesan Representative, had worked in Haiti. Some of her friends died in the earthquake, others lost loved ones. At the time, she was Director at the Mile-End Community Mission and remembers: “Our group created the ‘programme’ with PWRDF – Apeti pou aprann. We worked inter-denominationally, with other organizations, with the Montreal Haitian community and as a diocese meeting at Mile-End Mission.”

Relief has always been central to PWRDF since the Anglican response to a coalmine disaster in Nova Scotia led to its formation 61 years ago. It is still core to our mandate. On the tenth anniversary of the tragic earthquake in Haiti, we reflect on what we learned from the Haiti earthquake that has helped us in subsequent emergencies.

  • We put priority on collaborating with other agencies such as the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, leveraging each other’s strengths and ensuring an efficient use of financial resources and staff.
  • We value and draw on the quick response mechanisms of the ACT Alliance, so that donated funds can be put to use quickly.
  • We ensure Core Humanitarian Standards are foundational to all humanitarian responses.
  • And we now take time to invest in disaster preparedness training with local partners, including those of the Anglican Alliance, so that communities can respond in life-saving ways to natural disasters. Indeed these investments have helped communities in the Philippines, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and Haiti.

There are still many needs in Haiti, which was also struck by Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma: better governance, fairer trade, improved infrastructure, health and education for all, employment for women and men, gender justice.

On this tragic anniversary , we continue to pray, hope for and work with the people of Haiti. “PWRDF enabled us not to rest in despair,” said Ros, “but to channel our heart-break into action as partners, working with the people of Haiti for a healthy, more just and more peaceful future.”

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