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Searching for Faith Amidst the Ruins: An Interview with Haiti Partners Founder Kent Annan
That's transitioned in the past week or so. Recently we launched children's activities at three of our four schools. So, beside the schools, they are under tarps doing coloring and singing and other activities that are really positive for them. This is a key transition after a disaster—getting children not straight back into school, but back into a routine of positive activities.
And next week we'll be breaking ground on at least two new learning centers. This will create construction jobs, as the Haitians themselves will make a building they can use as a school and also as a shelter in the rainy season. It will take eight weeks to build and will create over 100 jobs, and then eventually it will provide a place for school activities as well as for people to sleep who are homeless right now.
You said that three of the four school buildings collapsed. Was anyone in the buildings when they collapsed?
No, fortunately, since it was afternoon, almost five o'clock, nobody was in any of the schools. We're really grateful for that.
Stories about Haiti have begun to fade from our television screens. The number of the dead is staggering. There was great need at the beginning to meet basic needs. Do you feel as though you have gotten through the worst? Are the most immediate needs satisfied by now?
There are all kinds of concerns still about food, water, shelter. With hundreds of thousands of people homeless, sleeping out under sheets or tarps, public health officials are worried about infectious diseases. There are definitely all kinds of urgent needs, and it seems like few organizations have the capacity of something like Red Cross or World Vision, with immense resources (which is fantastic) that they can pour into the immediate needs.
As a small, grass roots development organization, we have to look at how we can best help and do what we're good at. So part of this is still focusing on education, but starting these buildings means that 100 jobs are created and people can provide for their families. Launching these kid centers is good for kids, but it also employs teachers to do it. So we're trying to find out how we can help immediately, and that's getting money in people's hands but also doing good for the community through education and building these centers.
How would you characterize the response of the American churches to the Haiti disaster?
I don't know the global picture or the statistics, but it's been overwhelming in a good way to see how generous people have been. I know it fades from the news, but we still have many people asking how they can be involved for the long term. They realize that there is an emergency rescue phase, and there are urgent needs right now—but this is a catastrophe that is so huge that it will take years and years to rebuild.
We see many people who want to get involved in the long term. That's our hope, that people will see that Haiti is a place where quick donations are important, but so is sticking with Haiti for the months and years ahead.
When we do see reports from Haiti, we see pictures of extraordinary, horrible devastation. Are there stories of redemption and hope that you have heard or seen around you there in Haiti?
There are close friends and colleagues with amazing stories. My friend Enel's story, for example. We were walking through Port Au Prince, and we went to the university where he was on the third floor of a six-floor university building that collapsed. Going with him there, and walking around the rubble, we knew that a couple hundred students, even students he had been studying next to, had died when the building collapsed. The smell of death is still in the air, because they have not been able to recover all of the bodies underneath the rubble.