Georgians help Haiti, find much needs to be done year after quake

Elizabeth Clairvil still hears stories about the young children who roam alone through Haiti's tent cities.

Clairvil, who lives in Auburn, Ga., started an orphanage last March -- roughly two months after a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the island nation -- that is now home to 15 children.

"We can't really take them all," said Clairvil, 45, who is studying theology and psychology at Saint Leo University and works with several Haitian groups in Gwinnett County. "We have to take it slow, but there is so much need."

Georgia volunteers, nonprofits and corporations were among those who rushed in to help after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and still maintain a presence there.

Clairvil, who was born in Port-au-Prince and moved to the United States in 1980, estimates she has spent about $25,000 of her own money to start the orphanage, which currently consists of large tents on an acre of land. She plans to build a well and a structure where the children will live. It will take time, however, and more money.

She's frustrated at the lack of progress in Haiti.

"It's a political fight," she said. "They're not really cooperating on doing this thing the right way for the sake of the people who live there."

According to a recent U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti analysis, 63.6 percent of public sector pledges for earthquake recovery activities have been distributed. This does not include private donations, such as from individuals and foundations.

The earthquake struck a country that was also on its knees in many ways. About 80 percent of the population was unemployed before the earthquake, and the U.S. State Department's website puts Haiti's adult literacy rate at 56 percent, based on a 2003 census.

While others share Clairvil's frustrations, they say they are committed to rebuilding the country.

"They're like our family," said Elisabeth Omilami, of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless in Atlanta. She has worked in Haiti for several years and said there's been little done by way of rebuilding any of the homes leveled by the quake and there's still a dearth of medical care.

"I will say, at least, that people are not sleeping in the trash," she said. "The only good thing I can say is that they are sleeping on the ground under covering."

In the summer, she plans to lead a medical mission to Haiti, taking more than $300,000 in medicine and medical supplies.

Others are continuing their work as well. MedShare in Decatur has shipped 28, 40-foot containers (one container is roughly the size of a tractor-trailer) of medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and clinics in Haiti. Additional supplies will be sent at the end of January.

CARE, which is based in Atlanta, also continues to work in Haiti. The group's work has included distributing food, building transitional shelters and constructing latrines and promoting hygiene.

Habitat for Humanity, which has been in Haiti for 27 years, has a five-year plan to provide shelter to 50,000 families displaced by the quake.

Habitat’s target is to complete a total of 2,000 transitional shelters over the next several weeks with thousands more planned for 2011. In addition, the nonprofit expects to begin construction of more than 600 permanent homes this year in Léogâne, a city near the epicenter of the earthquake and where an estimated 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

"Our experience over the past year only reinforces that it’s critical to work collaboratively with the government at both the national and local levels, the community, beneficiary families, donors and other organizations in Haiti," said Claude Jeudy, national director of Habitat for Humanity Haiti. "Given the level of work and the complexity of what we are doing, you can’t go it alone."

The United Methodist Church's North Georgia Conference has raised more than $1 million for Haiti relief efforts, said Jamie Jenkins, executive assistant to the bishop. Several work teams from Georgia are already scheduled to return to Haiti this year.

On Saturday, members of the conference will gather in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta to observe the one-year anniversary of the quake and to remind people that more work needs to be done. A giant container of rubble will be used to illustrate the magnitude of the destruction. The event starts at 9 a.m.

"The cleanup has barely begun," Jenkins said. "When you look at the vastness of the destruction, the scope of the poverty in the area, it's hard to assess what progress has been made. The scars still run deep."


What: The United Methodist Church's North Georgia Conference will observe the one-year anniversary of the Haiti quake.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday

Where: Centennial Olympic Park