Haiti: Life is born amid the rubble!
Haiti: Life is born amid the rubble!
Port-au-Prince (Haiti). We share the testimony of Sister Vilma Tallone, Economer General, who speaks to us of what she saw in Haiti.
“I have been in Haiti since February 4th and thanks to the availability of Sr. Marie Claire, provincial of Haiti, I have been able to travel across the city of Port-au-Prince in all directions at several times . We say “travel across the city” but it is rather a mass of ruins encountered everywhere.
Venturing estimates, perhaps a fifth of the city is completely destroyed, three-fifths are extremely damaged and certainly to be torn down, one fifth has suffered little damage and would be safe for habitation, On the outskirts of Port-au-Prince we have two Thorland houses, one of which is the novitiate, there were once 48 schools today 4 are useable, among which is our own. Going along the streets we meet a multitude of tired, nervous people, who move like a river in search of food, trying to find the place of distribution, keeping their eyes fixed on the trucks that could be transporting food and supplies. There is a true struggle for survival, because the help arriving is infinitely inferior to the need and the distribution is not well organized.
Tent cities have arisen spontaneously in the few available spaces: squares, gardens, courtyards, and they give the impression of refugee camps after a mass exodus. Practically no one sleeps in a house; after 7 pm it becomes impossible to circulate through the streets because the people improvise tents there: sheets and covers serve the need.
I journeyed with an anguished heart, often in silence. At every corner there are signs of the drama. We go up a side street, open only a few days: all the houses, but really all, have collapsed. I listen to Sr.Marie Claire or the driver who observe: “There are still people buried here, here there was a certain religious Institute, a church…Wealthy homes, palace and hovels, all are now leveled and there are no more differences…those who had more have, in general, lost more…The poor dare to crawl over the heaps of ruins, some to recover pieces of metal from crumbled columns, material, the remains of mattresses, some , perhaps, looking for hidden treasures, and no one takes the trouble to protect mouths, noses, hands…
Some Haitian trucks, some heavy duty vehicles that have arrived from outside the country begin the work of recovery. Passers-by are kept at a distance, but perhaps here there are family members who know that with the extracted remains of their dear ones there will also be those that will not have burial. Mourning in this circumstance will not be possible and makes it difficult to absorb the tragedy, but even, said Sr. Annecy; it is harder for hearts that were not able to cry.
-Our houses that have space that is not in danger of collapsing, welcome thousands of persons. There are 7000 at Thorland, but in the evening at least a thousand more slip between the tents and sleep on the grass. Everyone says that it is the best organized tent city in the area, where the strong hand of Sr. Annecy and the Sisters keep at bay the interminable line of persons, where cleanliness is perfect and one does not smell the stench despite the mass of humanity living with few sanitary facilities.
-Thank God, our two houses and the large primary and secondary school did not suffer damages and perhaps will be able to open the doors not only to our students but to others, if the State commits itself to its responsibility in the support because beyond the salaries for teachers, we must provide necessities and food each day for the children and young people. In the nearby house the Salesians welcome about 5000 refugees and have 2 clinics. Sadly, their structures have been ruined and therefore the organization is more difficult.
- The house of “Mary Help of Christians”, the first in Port-au-Prince that recently celebrated 75 years of foundation, has been very tried in the structure with the loss of the large chapel, a scholastic edifice, a building under construction and probably the Sisters’ house. At least 600 people are living there in tents and among who is the pastor. The garden serves as a parish and parish offices and this is also the distribution center for the neighborhood that is very poor and in great difficulty. In this area food distribution if not contemplated by the organization, therefore it is carried out only because of the ingenuity and knowledge of Sr. Silvia, who moves politics and society so as to be able to feed many persons, keeping at bay undesirable elements who have always established their general headquarters in this area. The Sisters’ tent is in the midst of the others, says, Sr. Silvia, and it is a sign of solidarity, but it also helps to keep them good.
- Approximately 600 families have found a space in the courtyard of the community at “Cité militaire”, where the structures are fairly good, but with some parts that will require more interventions to be safe. The new classrooms being built did not survive the quake and are crumbling.
Given the position of the house and the availability of rooms, it has become a collection center for the aid sent directly from the Sisters, especially from Santo Domingo but also from Puerto Rico and then sorted in our communities and in those of the Salesians.
- The community of “Cité soleil”, is in very difficult slum neighborhood has no place to accept anyone except a few more known families because the school has suffered grave damage and constitute a danger. The house is small and needs repairs to be livable.
- Petion Ville is certainly the city that was hardest hit with the collapse of the Sisters’ house and the great damage suffered in the large school for 2000 students and it must be demolished. Three Sisters were in the house when the earthquake struck, among whom was Sr. Mathilde who, wounded and was saved, thanks to two young men from the school who courageously leaped on the debris to help her to escape. Of Sr. Marie Laurence’s room, all that remains visible is a little curtain over an empty hole. The earthquake swallowed up everything: bed, nightstand, closet, all disappeared while the Sister, certainly guided by her angel, found the right way out. Groups of children, teachers and other Sisters were still in school, but miraculously succeeded and saving themselves among the falling debris. The Sisters and aspirants have not yet been able to recuperate their personal objects and life the same stripping of the people. A page of history for them has been completely erased!
- The Provincial House held firm, notwithstanding unlivable sections that will need repairs and it has become a real point of reference not only for the people of the neighborhood who profit from the distributions organized by the Sisters, but also for the Sisters of other Congregations. A Sister who had been imprisoned in the rubble and was seriously wounded as welcomed into our house and cared for. Other different Congregations find food and shelter with us. Presently four adult volunteers from Puerto Rico and the United States are lending their much appreciated service, accompanied by Sr. Maria Esther of the Antilles Province. The community seems to be a little variegated camp with 45 resident children who remained with us, aspirants, laity and the Sisters. Today the Sisters of Santo Domingo who continue to live genuine family fraternity with the Sisters of Haiti, continue to conduct a seminar of formation in the house, offering to all the Congregations instruction on the technique of preparing projects for reconstruction, something that is very necessary and urgent.
… There are signs of life that continue, like the red flowers that spring up and the rubble, flowers of the color of blood because Haiti is living its Good Friday, but knows how to await its Resurrection.”