A LETTER FROM BROTHER FRANCKLIN ARMAND - 2/12/2010
"THIRTY DAYS AFTER THE QUAKE"
Dear Friends of my Country and Friends of the Whole World,
I experienced the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in my body and bones and, just like the couleuvre ‘chwal’ (a type of snake) found in my country, when you frighten it, it runs away quickly but comes back later to find out what it was that caused the fright. I returned to Port-au-Prince to see and see again all that I hadn’t had the courage to look at because I am linked, body and blood, to this corner of the earth where I was born.
What did I see? More than a million men and women living outdoors under waterproof tents or simply under a tarp. Tarps can fool the sun but not the rain. (This phrase refers to a Haitian proverb stating that a leaky roof can fool the sun but not the rain.) Millions of men and women daily implore the heavens not to release their rain upon the country. Thousands of children and grandchildren are sleeping in the streets in the company of their families.
Today a large number suffer from fever and various types of gastro-intestinal diseases. They have nightmares…A vehicle passing in the street or a helicopter causes the children to run away or hide themselves somewhere saying, “Men bagay la!” (“There’s the thing!”) People are scared to death of the earthquake and don’t dare speak its name, preferring to call it “bagay la”…”Men bagay la!” they now say. Irrational, almost psychotic, fear seems to be taking over in Haiti following statements by international experts proclaiming, rightly or wrongly, that there will be further aftershocks even stronger than the preceding ones. The recent 5-point quake in California was the last straw. Consequently, everyone is still in the streets, some without houses, some with badly damaged houses.
Yesterday, 10 February, there was another 4-point aftershock. Irrational fear grew stronger. People were still living outdoors and, to top it all off, the same evening, rain battered the population. On 12 February, the earth shook in Les Cayes, the capital of the Département du Sud (South Department) of the country. In a word: It is a tragedy.
The other day a young people’s organization had invited me to give a lecture, to speak to 200 university students about the position of the Church regarding the tragedy that has fallen upon us in Haiti. After my speech, I left the room for five minutes, and then I heard a racket: The 200 young people were fleeing from the room yelling, “Men bagay la!” Not understanding what was going on, I set off running like everyone else….But, in reality, what was going on? A steam roller was going by in a nearby street, causing the earth to shake! I laughed at myself afterwards…The young people had seen me running without knowing why or where I was going! All that to say that more than three million of my compatriots are profoundly traumatized. Everywhere you go, people reach out and cry out, “Give us tents, food, water, medicine!”
But what is going on?
The reality is that aid is not being delivered everywhere in Port-au-Prince or in the countryside. It is even worse in the Central Plateau where I live. Only one municipality out of twelve is receiving aid. Shameful geostrategic and geopolitical reasons hindered distribution of international aid in Port-au-Prince. On the other hand, I have been surprised to see people in my area who have nothing putting themselves in a bind in order to help others, to welcome them and share their meager provisions, offering shelter under their own roofs to people whom they don’t even know. Groups from a neighboring municipality are preparing sandwiches and soft drinks to help patients in the hospital and orphaned children in their homes. There are many orphans after the earthquake. Haitian solidarity among the poorest is exemplary. A woman living in France came to ask me to take in four of her grandchildren whose parents were killed in the earthquake.
Given that the Ambassador Didier Le Bret and I initiated the move to bring aid to the Département du Centre, all the mayors and organizations in the area are depending on me because they cannot go in person to the French Embassy in Port-au-Prince. The members of the (Haitian) government, victims of the quake just like the rest of the population, are barely showing themselves. We have had no official visit, except for the First Lady of the Republic, accompanied by the new French Ambassador to Haiti, Didier Le Bret.
For our part, in order to address the situation in concert with the Comité Départemental (the Deparmental Committee) of which we are members, we have, to date, put in place: 50 tents, each able to shelter a 10-person family, gift of the ambassador. We have received 20 other new ones. Establishment of 5 community “soup kitchens” for 500 people in the Hinche area. Reception of sick and wounded at the hospital in Pandiassou. Purchase of medicines for the sick. Organization of the efforts of volunteers to help support victims. Taking charge of 300 victims and ill people in tents--difficult program to administer in the sense that aid from the international community provides only one hot meal per day. But, since many of the victims arrive from Port-au-Prince with nothing, it is necessary to take charge of everything: 3 meals a day, hygiene supplies, books, schooling for the children, bathroom facilities, clothing, transportation, lighting, and unforeseen needs….Taking charge also of doctors, nurses, and auxiliary help at the hospital in Pandiassou. Responsibility for hospitalized patients. Reception in the Fraternity’s facilities of officials from the French Embassy, authorities of various sorts passing through, the French Army and Police Force.
We are going to receive, in the name of the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of the Incarnation, ten 40-foot containers of foodstuffs from Canada. We are working together with the directors of the UN Mission in Hinche to arrange to get these items out of customs and to ensure safe transportation to Hinche. We will be accompanied by MINUSTAH (the acronym for the UN Mission in Haiti) to provide security for the convoy from Port-au-Prince to Hinche.
This aid was intended for Pandiassou and the area around Hinche, but we hope to spread it out to victims in the 12 municipalities that have not yet received any sort of support and are beginning to complain!....In Port-au-Prince, people who have not yet received anything are demonstrating in the streets and demanding the departure of the Government. This movement may well spread if nothing is done.
We had a meeting with the leaders of the 12 municipalities and, tomorrow (Saturday, 13 February) all the lists of victims will be deposited with us. By Monday (15 February), a planning committee will be established with MINUSTAH in order to organize distribution.
We look to help 52,000 people, all of whom will have ration cards in hand. It will be the women who will receive the packages because they are calmer than the men. It is perhaps an historic mission, but charity has no borders….
As we have insisted, we are mobilizing and directing our efforts towards food production. To this end, we will open, next 15 February, l’École d’Entrepreneurs Agricoles, (a training school for agricultural entrepreneurs) with a goal of urging the population to get back to work. All the men received in the camps will find a job, and the women will be able to work in the “soup kitchens” and at other small community jobs. All the children have already gone back to school (both former pupils in the area and the majority of those who are arriving from Port-au-Prince).
In light of this tragedy, we are undertaking a spiritual re-reading of our history as people, and we are asking ourselves many questions: What is the true wealth of human beings? A beautiful house? A beautiful car? Beautiful paintings? Luxury everywhere?
Having experienced, after 230 years, a devastating earthquake, we are beginning to ask ourselves if true wealth is not, rather, in the heart and spirit of individuals and in the values that we prioritize, such as well-done work, sharing, dreaming, generosity, mercy, brotherhood, love, charity, joy, and peace?
We think: Jesus Christ is right in the end, and He will truly conquer! Thank you, Jesus Christ. You have given meaning to our existence; You knew the Cross; You passed through the sacrament of death; and now, You are eternal Joy. In You, God is all in all.
I would be cross with myself if I were to end this letter without thanking, from the bottom of my heart, each and every one of you who have been able to show compassion and understanding, to hone your generosity to come to the aid of our weeping and martyred people. We will not forget, even though we know well that our work is just beginning….
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