In Haiti, the power of konbit honored along with those lost

NEW YORK/PORT AU PRINCE -- The second anniversary of Haiti’s tragic earthquake is first a time to honor those who died and extend compassion to their loved ones, not simply to turn critical eyes to what hasn’t been done, says the head of humanitarian agency Church World Service.

“It is easy to look at the monumental amount of work that has yet to be done and point fingers at failures, even after two arduous years of relief and recovery efforts,” says the agency’s Executive Director and CEO the Rev. John L. McCullough. “But right now is the time to pay tribute to those who were lost and to the indomitable Haitian spirit of those who are carrying on.

“It is the Haitian spirit of konbit – that Haitian tradition of cooperative community labor and solidarity, in which able bodied neighbors help neighbors prepare growing fields, build and rebuild – that is making the real difference in Haiti. It is a spirit that took a mighty blow, yet another of many blows, but it has risen from the ashes now and it will not fail,” he said.

McCullough, whose agency has worked in Haiti for more than 25 years, acknowledged that since the disaster, while it seemed that the world came rushing to Haiti’s rescue after the January 12, 2010 quake, there are still more than half a million people in Port au Prince living in tents, in dismal, unsafe camps, and that much of the funding promised by world donors has yet to be provided or spent.

But, he says, “It is also vital and also a tribute to those who were lost for us to note what has been done—not just by donor money, thousands of foreign aid workers and volunteers, but by Haitians themselves – Haitians helping Haitians – because it is in their actions, their participation, their decisions and empowerment that Haiti’s real future lies.”

McCullough also noted that in honoring Haiti’s survivors today, special tribute is due to those who are disabled – the many who were disabled as a result of injuries from the quake and those living with disabilities prior and who had suffered painful discrimination.

Working with local Haitian partners, CWS is one of the few NGOs doing permanent house repair in Port au Prince and supports the only program in Haiti focusing on providing permanent housing for people with disabilities.

CWS says housing programs generally, which were slow getting started in Port au Prince and elsewhere in the country, are now advancing at a more encouraging pace. Supporting Haiti’s strategy on decentralization, CWS has also focused on improving and expanding housing and providing new housing in rural agricultural cooperative communities in Haiti’s Northwest and Artibonite regions, to welcome and provide better opportunities for families to resettle in areas where food security and self-sufficiency offer new hope.

While enormous challenges face the new Haitian administration under President Michel Martelly and those world donors whose promises and honorable intentions are still on the line, and while Haitians still living in tents today are mourning their lost loved ones for a second year, Church World Service says in Haiti, konbit lives.

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net