Responding to Needs

By: Sean Sheridan

Many children live in tents after the earthquake

Learn more about how Compassion is helping Haiti.

As the rumbling underfoot from aftershocks gives way to the rumbling overhead of thunderstorms, new challenges emerge for a beleaguered Haiti.

The long, narrow alleyway is filled with the unpleasant muck of squatter life.

At the end of it sits a boy wincing in pain from
his smashed arm. He is home.

His heart, however, is not here anymore. And neither is his house.

Jean Guierrier, 10, is sitting on a small mountain of rubble that was his house before the Jan. 12 earthquake destroyed it.

The boy was entombed in it after the quake hit.

"When I was inside the rubble, the concrete on top of me was so heavy," he says as he surveys the ruins. "I thought I was going to die."

His gaze stops. He has spotted a piece of the pillow that once comforted his head as he drifted off to sleep each night. It now sticks out from under a chunk of rubble the size of a small car.

He shakes his head, recalling the warm feelings of having a roof over his head and a place to call home. But those days are gone.

Like most Haitians who were pulled from the rubble after the earthquake, Jean Guierrier would rather forget about what happened to him. But the pain in his bandaged arm, the constant clatter of life on the street, and the threat of the impending rainy season won't let him.

Yet there is one thing that makes him grin: the new tent he holds gingerly in his hands.

It's a gift from Compassion's John Wesley Child Development Center where he is a sponsored child.

Jean walks away from his crumbled home to a patch of dirt where he and his mom will pitch the tent.

For the first time in weeks they laugh.

As Compassion provides tents and tarps to those most in need and extends care to children like Jean Guierrier, they are providing hope that life can be rebuilt in Haiti.

Staff presses on with "nearly impossible" mission

Yet simply finding Jean Guierrier after the earthquake was a minor miracle, and accounting for all the children under Compassion's care continues to be difficult.

"I realized very quickly after the earthquake struck that I would have to go on foot to every home," says Haiti Communication Specialist Richel Franklin. "Cell coverage was knocked out. Rubble was blocking everything. And many of our children were injured, killed, displaced or had fled to outlying areas with their families. It was nearly impossible to find them."

After spending 10 days in the hospital receiving care for his wounded arm, Jean Guierrier is one of the children Franklin eventually found. So was 6-year-old Naika Docile.

When pulled from the rubble, Naika was unresponsive. "At the office, we had heard that Naika had been killed, so I went right away to her home to see how her family was," he recalls.

"When I got there the next day, I found that she was alive. It was a great moment."

With death and destruction all around, Franklin and the entire community needed the joyful news.

"My own home was partially destroyed," he says, "and when I went out to search for children, it was hard to leave my own family and their needs."

Franklin pressed on, however, personally locating and counting more than 300 children.

"It's going to take some time," Franklin says, sitting under the tarp that is now Naika's home. "We know that sponsors have many questions, and we are committed to getting them answers."

Rains compound misery, but hope hangs on

Thunderclouds roll in overhead as he speaks."The hard work is still ahead of us," Franklin says, looking up.

The Compassion-distributed tents help. But for the people living in tent cities where the rain has already turned their dirt floors into mud bogs, more help is needed. For Naika and Jean Guierrier, "more" is not necessarily shelter at this point — it is ongoing medical care.

Compassion has already stepped in to cover the costs of counseling for children suffering from post-traumatic stress and of tending to the lingering wounds and other medical needs for children like Naika.

The girl's leg wound needs regular cleaning and fresh dressings to avoid becoming infected. Still, huge challenges remain.

Which is why Compassion's response is, and always will be, focused on one child at a time.

"In the midst of this difficulty we are focusing on individual attention," Compassion Haiti Country Director Guilbaud Saint-Cyr says.

"In fact, our program requires that. It is why we provide individual care to every child in families who have a need."

Despite lingering fears of aftershocks, post-trauma stress, and a rainy season that will surely make a hard life even tougher, it works.

Just ask Jean Guierrier, his wounded arm freshly cleaned and dressed.

"Who would have done this for me," he says with a smile, " but Compassion?"

As Haitians surveyed the damage from the worst earthquake their country has experienced in recent history, Compassion was quickly mobilizing to offer food, medical care, water and counseling to earthquake survivors.