Haiti earthquake commemoration

Earthquake commemoration, by Dr John and Mrs Sharon Harbottle, Mission Partners in Haiti.

Haiti Earthquake Commemoration

Photo: New College Bird Dedication ceremony of Phase 1, 7 September 2014
The new school buildings have been built adjacent to the main Methodist church in Port au Prince, on the site where the District offices collapsed in the earthquake 12 January 2010. The tall, metal arched doors, traditional in Haiti, have been salvaged from the old school building which was on the other side of the church and incorporated into the new school. The dedication ceremony took place under a canopy serving both as protection form the sun but also a poignant reminder of a school that has been under canvas. A courtyard has been constructed around the tree, a symbol of life, that survived  the earthquake.


Five years have passed since the earthquake in Haiti that left so many people homeless, thousands dead and vast numbers injured.  On 12 January 2010, a little before 5pm, life changed for people living in this small country -  the size of Wales. Suddenly, Haiti was on the map and money was pledged to help what was known as the "poorest nation in the Western world".  The catalogue of disasters, retention of money by the international community and sporadic assistance from many aid agencies is well documented.  Lessons have been learned that will reshape how we respond to future disasters.

Meanwhile, the Haitian people resumed buying and selling on the streets, sheltering in precarious buildings, moving from tents to wooden houses and, later, into more permanent homes.  To all intents and purposes, you would hardly know that the earthquake occurred. Bank holidays are celebrated in style.  The President is on the streets singing and dancing with the crowd. Life goes on.

The earthquake is rarely spoken of by the Haitians.  The commemoration area at the mass grave bears a marker but has not yet been developed despite plans being made public. The emphasis is on the living, whether they are those in a hand to mouth existence, earning less than $2 a day, or others who are just grateful to be alive.  Everyone suffered loss.  Everyone gets on with life in some way.

This was apparent at the thanksgiving and dedication of the New College Bird School building in September 2014.  Phase one of three is now complete. Children have been able to leave the temporary classrooms and remaining tents, in which they have been educated for almost half a decade, and enjoy the new desks and facilities that have been funded by many: the Methodist Church in Britain, Canada, USA, UMCOR, etc.  Others must wait in the thatched huts for the next phase.

The new school, adjacent to the Port au Prince Church, has been built around a surviving tree and incorporates some of the doors salvaged from the old school.  The opening ceremony was held beneath a canopy:  a practical shield from the sun but a poignant reminder of the early days following the devastation.

Emotions ran high that day as thanksgiving poured from the lips of each speaker, in prayer, song and speech.  Thanks were given to God for sustaining his people, for life itself, for the goodwill of the churches that helped to rebuild the school and the steadfastness of the Methodist Church in Haiti (EMH) in seeing the task through.  The same joy has been expressed at the opening service of each rebuilt church we attended, at each dedication service for clinic buildings and the restoration of classrooms.

At present, the centre of the capital city of Port au Prince is a place of contrasts.  Old buildings, some that survived the tremors, are being taken down.  New government and ministry buildings are rising.  Areas are being cleared for the redevelopment of the city for the future and billboards display the plans for all to see.  Progress is steady.  Some would like it to be faster, but until the Government receives the promised international donations, tensions will remain, questions will be asked and demonstrations on the streets will occur.

Daily, we are delighted to see roads resurfaced, pavements constructed and markets thriving.  We continue to be amazed at the resilience of the people and count it as a privilege to be working alongside them.  On 12 January 2015, as in previous years, we will attend a service of commemoration and hear a bell ring at 16.53.  Then we will continue with God's calling:   to work with EMH restoring clinic facilities and introducing community health, and training local preachers, strengthening the church through its Sunday school teachers and leaders, deepening discipleship, and preparing for the celebration of 200 years of Methodist presence in Haiti, in 2017.

Prayer and Solidarity letter

Sandra Lopez, Partnership Coordinator for Latin America and the Carribean, has written a prayer for the Commemoration. Read the prayer here

Sandra has written a Solidarity letter to the Methodist church in Haiti on behalf of World Church Relationships and the Methodist Church in Britain. Please read the letter here.

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