‘Every day they have to fight’

Online update on Haiti’s situation brings Presbyterians the voices of Haitians and those who walk alongside them

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A photo of Haitians affected by Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake. (Photo by Julio Forges of FONDAMA)

LOUISVILLE — David Guervil, who’s been consulting for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Haiti throughout political unrest, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake and the tropical storm that followed, told an online gathering Thursday that most Haitians survive “on a daily basis. Every day they have to fight. Every day they struggle for the next day.”

Guervil joined a panel that included Fabienne Jean, executive director of World Mission’s longtime partner in Haiti, FONDAMA; Cindy Corell, a mission co-worker who’s been sheltering in place during the pandemic but is typically walking alongside the Haitian people; and the Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s associate for Disaster Response in Latin America and the Caribbean. Darla Carter, communications associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, hosted the gathering, which can be viewed here. PDA and World Mission joined to produce the gathering.

“Surround those who have been shaken by this tragedy,” González-Castillo prayed to Almighty God to open the session, “that they may find you and be comforted by you.”

“This is a very heartbreaking situation. All of you know what the Haitian people have been going through for years now,” Jean said. When Grace, a tropical storm, dumped rainfall on the collapsed homes, shops and workplaces that the earthquake had caused only days before, “people had to get back to their damaged houses because it’s so hard to spend the night in the rain, even though they knew their house could collapse at any time.”

Fabienne Jean

“There are no words to explain what people are living through now. They’re asking for anything,” Jean said. “For now we are letting them know we are there. I try the best I can to report what I have heard, that things are very, very difficult for now.”

“Even though we come from outside, the people of Haiti give us hope,” Corell said. “They carry us and teach us so much. To see the people we care about hurt so deeply, trauma upon trauma — it’s a great sorrow.”

Haitians are strong people, Corell said, having won their independence from France. But “the rest of the world has not supported them or given them their due,” Corell said. “I have walked alongside the people of Haiti for 10 years, and this is the first time I have really felt hopelessness. It’s not a hopelessness I share, because our God is big. But people have the opportunity now to lift the people of Haiti. It’s humbling work to be with the people of Haiti during this time.”

Saturday’s earthquake and the rains and landslides that followed are only examples “of so much disaster in an already fragile area,” González-Castillo said. “It is hard to see in this ongoing situation, but we pray to God for those glimpses of hope. The love and care [Haitians] have for each other — we respect that and we try to respond in a humanitarian way.”


The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo

PDA, he said, “works with local people on the ground who know what the reality is and can provide an assessment of the needs of their community. Fabienne and David have families there. We reached out to them and asked, ‘What do you need? How can we become the hands and feet of God in the community?’”

“Our hope,” González-Castillo said, “is that once the emergency stage ends — that could take weeks or months — we can start working with our partners in the long term similar to how we have in the past. We can do that in a way that can mitigate future disasters.”

González-Castillo urged Presbyterians to give money rather than any food or supplies they think Haitians might need.

“If you send a lot of water today, it might be food they need tomorrow and materials for construction” the day after that, González-Castillo said. “PDA seeks to find out what are the needs of the moment based on the assessment done by the people in need.”

“The help from the international community is urgent right now,” Guervil said. “They need shelter, help and psychological support. I think if we all work together, we can help them through these very hard days.”

David Guervil (Screenshot)

Up to a half-million children were affected by the most recent earthquake, González-Castillo said. Guervil said it’s unknown how many Haitian children are now orphans. They are among those who need the most urgent help.

“These children don’t know what happened. They know they lost their parents and they don’t know what the future will be for them,” Guervil said.

Corell said she was living in the United States when the 2010 earthquake impacted Haiti. What struck her then and now is how PDA, World Mission and the Presbyterian Hunger Program responded during Haiti’s time of need.

“I had volunteered with PDA before. To watch [officials with the three programs] sit and talk to the people most affected, it was life-giving to watch those connections being made,” Corell said. “The people of Haiti aren’t used to being listened to. We practice humble listening, and we have the expertise of David, Fabienne and others.”

She remembers the day in 2016 that Jean, Valéry Nodem, PHP’s associate for international hunger concerns, and others were talking with Haitians following Hurricane Matthew.

Cindy Corell

“The people of Haiti care about their families and they care about their neighbors,” Corell said. In the community of Torbeck, in the south of Haiti, farmers had seen their crops ruined by Matthew. They needed to plant gardens quickly just to feed their families.

Suddenly, Corell said, a woman interrupted the conversation.

“You think we have it bad?” this woman asked. “Think of the people in the mountains. All they have left is God.”

“The people of Haiti do that naturally and easily,” Corell said. “They put aside their own concerns to make sure everyone is being fed.”

“It’s not easy at all,” Jean said. “I can say that the Haitian people are the most resilient people … They are there for one another, and that’s what keeps them alive day after day.”

Click here to donate to One Great Hour of Sharing to speed Presbyterian Disaster Assistance help to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

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