When devastation and catastrophe strike at your home, community and entire nation, where do you turn for comfort? Where do you turn for safety? Where do you turn for society? In many cases, in Haiti, it is to the parking lot of the ward buildings at night.
Most all the people of Haiti are frightened to go into their homes by day, if any remnant of their homes remain, but utterly terrified to go into them by night. With at least 63 recorded aftershocks since the first major quake on January 12, the Haitians are frightened and hurting and are seeking shelter away from walls and buildings-a place where they can close their eyes and hope to wake up in the morning.
We visited on of the local Port-au-Prince wards at night, the Croix-des-Missions Ward, and we saw things you would have never dreamed seeing the local LDS parking lot.
Despite the impact of the devastating earthquake in Haiti-January 12-a date marked in everyone’s heart and EVERYTHING is referred to as before or after the quake-people need to talk, to be social, to share in each other’s woes. People are hungry. People lack an abundance of water and sanitation facilities. The water system was, for the most part, destroyed in Port-au-Prince, so even this LDS Chapel has no interior running water-only pumped water from a generator and water source for irrigation.
All the families of the now devastated neighborhood knew about the LDS Meetinghouse in their area. There are many investigators at Church each Sunday.
As we walk by the children bedded down for the night, many of them try to speak a broken English and say, “What is your name?” or “Good night, my friend,” as we walk respectively through the camp.
Characteristic of youth in any country, they gather in their own little area to shoot the breeze and talk of the schools they no longer have (the majority of the schools in Port-au-Prince were destroyed). About half the people in this camp are members of this ward.
Families try to stay congregated in one area. Sleep does not come easily as the children are so restless and have plenty of energy to play with their friends late into the night.
Many of the people sleeping here have injuries that are still healing from the quake three weeks ago. The deeper injuries in this group are in their minds as the slightest shaking of the earth sends them into gripping fear again.
The rule here is for the people to stay outside of the Church building. Many of the members, however, gather each night in one of the larger classrooms and practice singing hymns. As this piece is being written I can hear the Saints in the room next to me singing, “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy.” It is impossible not to be moved by their faith.
Fortunately the temperature is mild here with temperatures averaging around 84 in the daytime and overnight lows approaching the mid 70’s Fahrenheit. No rain has fallen here for some time, but the people ask us every day if there is any way we can get them a tent for their family.
The little children are remarkably good sports about all of this. They are smiling and each night they throng us with hugs and laughter and love.
Little did the construction workers ever know that at some future time the paver bricks of the parking lot would be the “Serta Mattresses” for hundreds of people each night following the quake.
Continue to follow all of Meridian’s Stories of Haiti at www.ldsmag.com/haiti