2:39pm

Wed January 12, 2011
Haiti A Year Later

Haitians Remember Quake Victims, Consider Future

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 10:32 am

Several thousand people gathered in front of the collapsed main Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince Wednesday for a Mass to mark the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.

"We are here to remember the victims of the earthquake," said Cardinal Robert Sarah. "The lives, the wealth, the properties we lost."

The cardinal, who had been sent by Pope Benedict, praised the heroic acts of Haitians one year ago as they helped to pull their fellow citizens from the rubble. But Sarah also criticized government corruption and said that money is blinding Haitians and that young people are being tempted by power instead of education.

"As Pope John Paul II said here in 1983," he warned, "something must change in this country."

He called on Haitians to be brave, work together and not give up as they enter the second year of recovery from the devastating earthquake.

The service was held under several large white tents that in another setting might have sheltered a wedding or a garden party. Much of Haiti's elite, with the notable exception of President Rene Preval, sat in plastic chairs near the makeshift altar.

Mirlande Manigat, the presidential candidate who by some counts got the most votes in November's election, repeatedly wiped tears from her eyes.  Throughout the Mass, bursts of wailing punctuated the air from different places in the crowd.

Monsignor Louis Kebreau, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Haiti, said Haitians must unite for a single cause. "Today must mark the true reconstruction and healing of the country," Kebreau said.

After the service, dozens of people crowded in front of the cathedral's towering statue of Jesus on the cross that somehow survived the quake.  Hands raised to the heavens, many with their eyes closed, they swayed from side to side while chanting, "There's nothing that God can't do."

Altagrace Charlotin, 39, sat on a pile of rubble in front of what used to be one of the stately wooden doors of the church.

"I don't think things are getting better because, if you look around, the population is still under the tents. Like I said to people, get yourself out of this. Don't wait for the government or international groups to come," she said. "Just like me, I fixed my home myself. Did what I had to do. Even though I don't have the means to provide for myself, at least I repaired my home and I have a place to stay."

There were numerous memorial services and Masses across the Haitian capital. But for many people, this anniversary is as much about this moment as it is about what happened a year ago.

At the Golf Course camp, Boncon Coulange runs a small shop from a stand in front of his shack. He sells cold drinks, canned milk, cigarettes.

Coulange says things are getting worse in Haiti. He says the most difficult thing is not knowing when he will be able to move.

"Here they've set up hospitals so we can receive some health care," he says. "They give us water, which is good. But living under the tarps is difficult. It makes us sick."

He says things are becoming permanent in the camps. There are drainage canals and dirt streets. And all this makes him question whether he and his family will ever be able to leave.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Haiti is marking a tragic anniversary. One year ago, at least 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake and estimates range still higher than that.

Today, more than a million Haitians live in tents and makeshift shelters and progress seems distant in the midst of a cholera outbreak and political chaos after the recent presidential election. Amid those struggles, Haitians remembered the dead at memorial services today.

NPR's Jason Beaubien takes us there.

(Soundbite of singing)

JASON BEAUBIEN: Several thousand people gathered in front of the collapsed main Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince for Mass today to mark the one-year anniversary of the quake.

(Soundbite of sermon)

Unidentified Man: (speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: We are here to remember the victims of the earthquake, said Cardinal Robert Sarah. The lives, the wealth, the properties we lost. The cardinal, who had been sent by Pope Benedict, praised the heroic acts of Haitians one year ago as they helped to pull their fellow citizens from the rubble. But the cardinal also criticized government corruption, said that money is blinding Haitians and that young people are being tempted by power instead of education.

(Soundbite of sermon)

Unidentified Man: (speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: As Pope John Paul II said here in 1983, the cardinal warned, something must change in this country. He called on Haitians to be brave, work together and not give up as they enter the second year of the recovery from the disaster.

(Soundbite of singing)

BEAUBIEN: The service was held under several large white tents that in another setting may have sheltered a wedding or a garden party. Much of Haiti's elites, with the notable exception of President Rene Preval, sat in plastic chairs near the makeshift altar. Mirlande Manigat, the presidential candidate who by some counts got the most votes in November's election, repeatedly wiped tears from her eyes.�Throughout the Mass, bursts of wailing punctuated the air from different places in the crowd.

Monsignor Louis Kebreau, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Haiti, said Haitians must unite for a single cause.

Monsignor LOUIS KEBREAU (President, Catholic Bishops Conference of Haiti): (speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: Today must mark the true reconstruction and healing of the country, Kebreau said.

(Soundbite of singing)

BEAUBIEN: After the service, dozens of people crowded in front of the cathedral's towering statue of Jesus on the cross that somehow survived the violent shaking.�Hands raised to the heavens, many with their eyes closed, they swayed from side to side while chanting: There's nothing that God can't do.

Thirty-nine-year-old Altagrace Charlotin was sitting on a pile of rubble in front of what used to be one of the stately wooden doors of the church.

Ms. ALTAGRACE CHARLOTIN: (Through translator) I don't think things are getting better. If you look around, the population is still under tents. Like I tell people, get yourself out of this. Don't wait for the government or international groups to come. Just like me, I fixed my home myself, did what I had to do. Even though I don't have the means to provide for myself, at least I repaired my home and I have a place to stay.

BEAUBIEN: For many people, this anniversary is as much about today as it is about what happened a year ago. At the golf course camp, Boncon Coulange runs a small shop from a stand in front of his shack. He sells cold drinks, canned milk, cigarettes. Coulange says things are getting worse in Haiti.

Mr. BONCON COULANGE (Shop Owner): (speaking foreign language)

BEAUBIEN: The most difficult thing for me, he says, is not knowing when I'll be able to move out of here. Here�they've set up hospitals so we can receive health care. They give us water, which is good. But living under the tarps is difficult. It makes us sick. He says things are becoming permanent in the camps. There are drainage canals and dirt streets. And all this makes him question whether he and his family will ever be able to leave.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.