Six months ago today the world’s attention was instantly focused on one of the world’s most troubled countries.
The Jan. 12th earthquake in Haiti mushroomed international interest in the impoverished nation literally overnight. Media and relief agencies swarmed Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas and the world took seriously its obligation to try and ease the suffering of a place which had already seen more than its fair share of struggles.
But then came the oil spill.
And the continuing struggles of a slow economic recovery.
Yes, even along came LeBron James and Lady Gaga, etc., from the celebrity stratosphere.
Clearly attention has been diverted elsewhere. Just as clearly the challenges in Haiti may have changed since Jan. 12 but monumental hurdles remain on July 12.
Ken Isaacs knows this well. He is the Vice President of Programs and Government Relations for evangelical Christian humanitarian group Samaritan’s Purse. Isaacs spent 12 weeks in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas immediately following the quake. He was last there in late May.
“When I first got there in the aftermath of the earthquake there was no electricity and hundreds of thousands of people living at night by candlelight,” Isaacs recalled. “You could hear people crying and moaning, desperate for food.
“Once you had the contributions of relief groups like Samaritan’s Purse, the United Nations and the U.S. military, the panic began to ease. When I left in May, the lights were on in most places but there are still many, many people living in the camps.”
One service in particular the ministry is providing are small 12-foot by 12-foot homes made out of lumber which can be re-used for future building once refugees are able to advance toward a more permanent home.
The structures are unquestionably better than the cardboard lean-tos which were used in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but Isaacs stressed they should be viewed as simply the current step in the process of rebuilding.
Currently, with hurricane season just beginning in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, frequent rains are an important issue.
“There is no doubt there is so much work that still needs to be done, and the rain is a difficult situation,” Isaacs said. “There is no doubt we’re looking at a multi-year recovery.
“Haiti was poor and destitute after before January 12th. After January 12th, it became catastrophically so. “
That particularly is the case to the west of Port-au-Prince on a coastal highway to the city of Leogane.
“For the first 20 to 30 miles along the coast the destruction is just overwhelming,” Isaacs said.
And as Isaacs mentioned time for recovery can’t be quantified in short segments. It also raises the issue of how to keep Christians engaged as many others, while still aware, turn their attention elsewhere.
“God blessed us so much after the earthquake,” Isaacs said. “We had $50 million in donations. We’ve never had an outpouring like that, not ever after the (2004) tsunami. When we look at a 1, 2, 5-year timeline, are we do not expect the level of donor involvement to stay the same, we understand that.”
Looking forward, Isaacs said the eventual downsizing of nearly 200 domestic and international staff will dwindle and the focus will likely shift to rebuilding schools, orphanages and more permanent homes for Haitians.
Among the physical rebuilding there is also a remarkable spiritual reconstruction taking place, Isaacs added.
“The media coverage showed the great devastation, but there is another story of spirituality that is very integral to what is going on in Haiti. When you have about 300,000 people who have died you hear a lot of questions being asked about eternity and about Jesus. It is something you hear every day.”
Samaritan’s Purse, certainly, is not the only Christian-based humanitarian group still active in Haitian relief. Here are 6-month updates from a few other organizations.