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Paul Byrne and Barbara McCauley from the Mission Development Office have just returned from a two-day trip to Port au Prince, Haiti where they have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the earthquake of January 12th 2010. They also saw the slow pace of reconstruction and the desperately urgent needs of the many who are homeless. How, if at all, can we help?
Their guide in Port au Prince was Haitian Oblate Provincial, Fr Gasner Joint, who shared with them his concerns and hopes for the future of his country.
Paul writes: “eighteen months have passed since the earthquake, the T.V. cameras have moved away but this is where 300, 000 died in a few terrible January moments and where one million people are still homeless. I had been told that a million people were still living in tents, and had imagined ranks of military like tents in fields, but the reality was much worse. On every available patch of ground and across rubble-strewn hillsides, huddled together in their thousands were, not tents, but makeshift tarpaulin shelters. It reminded me of the worst of roadside Traveller encampments in 1950s Ireland, but on a gigantic scale. Only in Hong Kong have I seen pavements so taken over by people trying to sell something.
We arrived in the city as schools were closing for the day and one could only wonder at the thousands of school children trudging home, all so clean and neat - a miracle of motherhood from those terrible shelters.
Gasner drove us round the city with great skill in congested and dangerous traffic. In the evening, when we travelled with others, we had an armed guard in the front seat because of the threat of robbery, kidnapping or worse. Desperate people in desperate situations can be violent.
We talked with Gasner and Fr Joe, an American Oblate who has been in Haiti for many years, about their hopes and plans. Now they are more hopeful. Eighteen months have passed and it is time to rebuild; newly elected President Michel Martelly is charismatic and dynamic; the new Archbishop, too, inspires confidence.
Haitian Oblates see education as key to the future and plan to build schools and develop food programmes to support students. They are also planning a reforestation programme in a country that has lost much of its vital forests – an initiative that would also provide much-needed jobs.”