Struggles — and Signs of Possibility — in Haiti
by Sasha Kramer
I am writing this letter at 3:53 pm on January 12, 2013. Three years ago today, Port au Prince was bustling with activity as people spilled into the streets from work and school. Mothers returned home after a long day of working under the hot sun, fathers greeted their children with tired eyes, neighbors shared warm handshakes and laughed away the day’s challenges. One hour later the city collapsed and over 300,000 of these mothers, fathers, children and neighbors were lost in an instant. Last night at the stroke of midnight the hills around our house in Port au Prince exploded with voices from the thousands of people attending an all night service in honor of those lost in the earthquake 3 years ago today. What struck me most deeply, was not the despair in the voices, it was the sound of ecstasy, the sound of resilience it was the sound of life. It was as though at the same time as people were mourning their loved ones, they were giving thanks for those who were spared, the were celebrating their strength in surviving, not only the earthquake, but the 3 years of struggle that have followed.
Throughout the day the city’s churches were filled with song, traffic moved like molasses as crowds marched through the streets destined for the symbolic center of Haiti, the National Palace and National Cathedral. I have not been to the National Cathedral since one month after the earthquake. On February 12, 2010, I walked through the crumbled pews as the sun beat down through the shattered stained glass. It broke my heart to see this monument of hope reduced to rubble and I have not been able to bring myself to return. To this day the cathedral stands, a skeleton of its former glory, with tents lining the fence. A daily reminder to those who live in its broken shadow that the wounds of the earthquake have not healed. A reminder to those of us who see these images that, despite the passage of time, many Haitians are still living under emergency conditions.
I am sure that many of you have read reports today about the misuse of funds in Haiti, the slow pace of development and the devastating statistics that describe the emergency relief effort in Haiti. These stories of abuse are critical to understanding why Haiti continues to look the way it does today, but we hope that you will also read and remember the stories of hope, the stories that capture our imagination and allow us to feel the excitement of a moment in someone else’s life across the world. It is these small moments of hope and excitement that give people the strength to persevere, in the face of struggle and disappointment. When I think of the cathedral I feel moved by anger and indignation, but when I think of the moments that I share with friends and co-workers on a daily basis I feel moved by hope and passion.
The other day we harvested our first potatoes from our experimental garden, it had been a long day and my heart was beginning to feel heavy. As one of my colleagues, a young man who is part of our sanitation team but dreams of becoming an agronomist, left the office he stopped at my desk to ask if I could send him a photo of him and the potatoes we had grown so that he could post it on his Facebook page. In that small moment I was reminded of why I love our work. The passion and enthusiasm that he radiated exemplified the hope that change is possible. It reminded me of the importance of finding joy in our daily accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem in the face of greater struggles.
I am honored to live in a country where the ordinary is inspirational and the extraordinary is possible.
Today we ask only for your love and solidarity and we thank you for keeping Haiti in your heart.
With love and remembrance,
Sasha Kramer is an ecologist and human rights observer who has been working in Haiti since 2004. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology from Stanford University in 2006 and co-founded SOIL that same year. As SOIL’s first project, Sasha completed a postdoctoral research position with the Collaboratory for Research on Global Projects at Stanford where she coordinated an ecological sanitation project in Haiti in collaboration with Stanford’s Engineers for a Sustainable World.