Haiti’s earthquake is our tragedy, too

by Jon Pine

As soon as I heard about the horrific earthquake in Haiti last Tuesday my thoughts immediately turned to a tiny village called Simonette, about 15 miles north of Port au Prince. Here, like so many villages dotting the hills of Haiti, live some of the poorest people on the planet.

Jon Pine

Their “homes” are mostly sheets of tin and wooden boards tied together with rope or wire. The floor is the dirt beneath their feet. Most sleep on a blanket, a thin mattress or maybe just some scavenged cardboard. A fortunate few manage to earn enough money for some bricks and mortar to construct sturdier walls.

But there is no running water; instead, the villagers tote it in on foot, in five-gallon plastic buckets balanced atop their heads, from a community well more than a mile away. There is electricity – sometimes. It’s off way more than it’s on, so it can’t be counted upon. Meals, when they can afford to eat, are simple fare cooked in steel pots over a charcoal fire. Almost always it is boiled rice and beans.

I visited Simonette in 2003 with friends who had been missionaries in Haiti for more than 20 years. Their latest project was to support Ed Hughes, a retired Canadian tool and die maker who had set up a make-shift orphanage just outside the village. There, two dozen or so boys and girls, who had either lost their parents or whose parents could no longer afford to care for them, found comfortable beds, sanitary conditions, at least two hearty meals a day, and the means to attend school every day. I was there to take photos and video to create fund-raising materials.

We have not heard any news about the condition of the orphanage following the earthquake. Tragically, Ed died a couple of years ago after falling off the orphanage roof while trying to adjust his satellite antenna; his son reportedly runs the orphanage now. We sort of lost touch with them after Ed died, and I’ve been trying to locate the area on some satellite photos taken after the quake. But it’s such a tiny village it is not listed on any maps. I am hoping that, by some miracle, they are all okay.

But what is “okay”? That’s the question that has been haunting me this week, as I worked with other local volunteers to collect food, medicine and other emergency supplies for the victims of this horrific tragedy. If we help the survivors get back on their feet and resume a life close to what they had before last Tuesday, is that “okay”?

I don’t think so.

An estimated 80 percent of Haitians live below the poverty line, with 56 percent living in abject poverty. One in three babies born does not survive to age five. These statistics are from before the earthquake.

This is not “okay”.

The tragedy in Haiti is our tragedy, despite what jerks like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson want us to believe. We should never have accepted this level of poverty so close to us, while we enjoy comparative riches beyond belief.

Haiti’s long-standing poverty is a major reason that the destruction and death tolls from the quake are so great. Port au Prince, the capital city, was designed for 400,000 people. But nearly three million live there, wedged in beside and on top of one another in spaces designed for far fewer people.

Construction there has also been substandard. Often, to save costs, concrete was mixed “thin,” with not enough cement and too much sand. Just as often, steel reinforcing bars, or “rebar,” was either skimped on or eliminated altogether. Many buildings that probably should not have crumbled, did.

Of course, money alone can not fix all of Haiti’s long-established problems. The widespread corruption and lawlessness must be addressed, too. My hope is that this tragedy will focus the eyes of the world on ALL of Haiti’s problems, not just this latest catastrophe. Because even though the quake has killed an estimated 200,000 people according to the Associated Press, poverty there has surely claimed the lives of many, many times more.

I know what some of you are thinking: “We have our own troubles now. We’re in a recession, bankruptcies are rampant, and unemployment is through the roof.” But I’ll share a couple of little stories:

On Thursday, a young lady pulled up to our food and medicine drive in an older model car. Clearly not one of our many rich housewives who live near the beach. She handed us a couple of small bags with some food and hygiene items. “I will be back tomorrow,” she said as she pulled away.

Yes, she did come back. Because Friday was the day she received her food stamps. And she used all of them to fill the back seat of her car with more food for Haiti.

And there was the Hispanic couple with two small boys who pulled up thinking we were giving out food instead of collecting it. Clearly in dire straights themselves, once they understood what we were doing, they came back and each of the boys pressed a crumpled ten-dollar bill into my hand.

If they can afford to give, can’t we all afford to give?

© 2010 Jon Pine

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11 Comments

Filed under Current events, Posts by Jon Pine

11 responses to “Haiti’s earthquake is our tragedy, too

  1. C Drury

    Jon – I have been trying deseparately to find out information on Simonette. I have a child there that I sponsor. If you find out any information I would be incredibly greatful if you would pass it along.

    • Jon Pine

      Christie,

      Hope your little one is okay! I’m trying to meet with the missionary I accompanied to Haiti. Perhaps together we can find Simonette on the post-earthquake satellite photographs and at least have a visual of the situation.

      Communication sort of broke down after Ed Hughes died. We are trying to re-establish communication, but as you might imagine it is quite a difficult thing to do right now. Please reply with the name of your little one, and if we can get through, we can ask about her. In the meantime, let’s all keep Simonette and all of Haiti in our thoughts and prayers.

      Jon

      • Greetings, Ed became a member of our church and we sponsored and continue to sponsor a number of the children. Since his death last month we have been heavily involved in keeping the ministry going. In fact we were in Haiti when the earthquake happend and three of the team were at Tytoo Gardens. The children are all ok, and there is minimal damage to the buildings. Currently we have a Haitian national couple looking after the kids and will have some Canadian presence there shortly. We do publish a newletter periodically and if you or anyone would like to be on the dist list just send me an email thru the church web site. Thanks for your concern and prayers…

      • Sorry, meant to say since his death last March..

  2. Jon Pine

    SIMONETTE, HAITI UPDATE:

    January 21, 2010 – I have just gotten word that the orphanage outside Simonette has largely escaped serious damage from last Tuesday’s earthquake, and that all of the children are unharmed. Naturally, they are bewildered still, and afraid to sleep indoors, especially after yesterday’s 6.1 aftershock. So they are sleeping outdoors. They seem to be okay regarding food and supplies, at least for now.

    As for Simonette itself, the damage has been quite extensive. Pretty much nothing is left standing. Residents have either fled or are doing their best to rebuild. I have not heard about deaths or injuries, however.

    Jon

  3. I look forward to reading what you all have to say. This post and the one following about MLK are both excellent. Keep up the good work. Don’t let good journalism die!

    Ellen

  4. Robin Spence

    If you are trying to find out more about Tytoo Gardens (the orphange that Ed Hughes used to run, you are best to contact Pastor Dave Oppertshauser at Sauble Christian Fellowhip: PastorDave@saublechristianfellowship.org

    He is the one who is managing Tytoo Gardens now and will be able to help you out.

    • Jon Pine

      Thank you, Robin!

      I did hear, second-hand, that the kids are all fine and that the buildings are standing. But, of course, the kids are afraid to sleep inside because of all the aftershock activity.

      Jon

  5. Dorothy DeKlerk

    My husband, Peter and son Vern and myself were working at the orphanage at the time of the earthquake and were able to be a blessing with God’s help to the 23 Tytoo children and the town of Simonette. We know all the children and email our Haitian friends, Oscar and Christine (who live
    there right now). When you visit in Simonette area please feel free to stop by and visit. Ed Hughes orphanage is continuing to be blessed by God. Thank you for your prayers.

  6. Shirley Teal

    I was deeply touched by your seeking out info on Ed’s orphanage and the people in the area. We were in Haiti with the Canadian team (pastor Dave O.) and others during the earthquake.

    I just wanted to say keep on keeping on with your work. We know the children are okay at Tytoo however the needs are staggering. No offering is too small rather it is the small thing given in great love that is the blessing.

    A canadian team is returning to the area in April for rebuilding. I would ask for your prayers for them. Shirley

  7. Tina A Birkholm

    Thanks for posting this, Jon.

    I hear from the orphange whenever I can through on the phone from one of th eldest living there (now 23). I’m amazed at how strong and unshakable her faith is.

    The kids are doing fine and we soon hope to have a Canadian couple running the place for us.

    I was in Haiti 3 times and loved Ed Hughes as my spiritual brother. Together, we had some wonderful times in the Lord.

    May God bless you, Jon!

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