Look hard enough, and you’ll find signs of hope
By Donna Vickroy Sun-Times Media February 20, 2012 9:08PM
A student practices at the Cite Soleil School of Music. The musical instruments were donated and then brought in a container shipped by John Shattuck, of Frankfort. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2012 8:16AM
Drive through downtown Port-au-Prince and it’s easy to wonder what, if any, improvements have been made in the two years since a powerful earthquake flattened large swaths of the capital city and its surrounding areas in 2010.
Piles of crumbled concrete randomly litter the landscape. Regular power outages and an unreliable diesel fuel supply help create an atmosphere of chaos.
But residents and people who visit regularly say there has been progress. The key is knowing where to look.
Several fields of tents have been cleared, the people moved back into permanent housing. Cholera now is under control. And there are new schools, new programs and even new street signs.
Mostly, there is renewed hope — at least as much as can be expected in a country that has a history of inhumane dictatorships, political coups and an absence of infrastructure.
Though people from across the world came to help Haitians in the earthquake’s immediate aftermath, only the most dedicated remain. Still, some say, these truly devoted humanitarians and their steady constant care do more good than the thousands of start-up groups that arrived right after the earthquake, only to high-tail it out when their funds or commitment fell short.
Even without all the outside attention, there is a will to survive that is uniquely Haitian.
The Rev. Rick Frechette says hope has always been here.
“We don’t have to hold the hope for Haiti,” he said. “It’s there. We only have to keep it going in the right direction.”
Right after the catastrophe, he heard singing wherever he brought supplies, including the miserable tent cities, Frechette said.
“If you go by physical things and history, everybody here would have every reason to hang themselves,” Frechette said. “It proves salvation sure isn’t in the physical things.”
But physical things help.
A new neonatal ward is poised to open at St. Damien Pediatric Hospital in Tabarre, where services are free to those who need them, paid for by benefactors around the world.
Artists for Peace and Justice recently built a new high school, the first such post-quake structure on the island. Celebrities including Russell Crowe, Jackson Browne and Paul Haggis joined forces to fund a multimillion-dollar, two-story building that is now run by Haitians through the St. Luke’s Foundation. The classrooms inside have maps, chalkboards and French books supplied by donors in the south suburbs, Glen Ellyn and northern Indiana.
In nearby Francisvil, Haitians are being trained in the trades. They are learning auto mechanics, making concrete blocks and sewing uniforms for Catholic school kids. The sewing machines and fabric came from the Joliet area.
Though the Angels of Light program, run by Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, is perpetually at capacity, it signifies a giant step in the right direction. Before its opening, it was not unusual for parents to deny claim to their children in a desperate attempt to keep them at an orphanage, where they would be housed and fed and kept safe from gangs.
The Angels program offers parents an alternative, a temporary live-in haven until they can get back on their feet and reclaim their sons and daughters.
Joanne Schipper, a consultant from the Netherlands, strives to keep parents connected with children.
“In Haiti, you can fill hundreds of orphanages because life is very hard,” Schipper said. “Parents will give up their children — not because they don’t love them, but because they do.”
This new approach is a way to keep families, and hopefully future generations, intact.
In the Cite Soleil Music School, Marcel Jean, director of education, dreams of “hearing the musicians of Cite Soleil play all over the world.”
It’s not so far-fetched, given that 200 children have already chosen music school over gang affiliation, he said. But with only 25 instruments to take turns with, the wait to play can be long.
Jean said hopes are boosted by deliveries of guitars, violins and xylophones from the south suburbs.
Also, there are new homes being built in Cite Soleil. Once residents are moved into a new structure, their tent or shanty is torn down.
To be sure, Haiti is besieged by challenges, but it’s also boosted by resolve.