Thomas Awiapo on Haiti’s Big Questions

On January 12, 2010, a 33-second earthquake destroyed almost half of the the beautiful, mountainous historical city of Port-au-Prince and turned buildings, including the solid presidential palace, into rubble. It is estimated that 250,000 were killed, 300,000 injured and 2 million people were internally displaced. What an inconceivable human tragedy! This unfortunate tragedy provoked a powerful surge of generosity across the international community and billions of dollars were poured into Haiti coupled with an influx of humanitarian organizations into the country.

The famous genuine and provocative question everyone now asks is, how come 13 months after the earthquake the city of Port-au-Prince is still covered with rubble and millions still living in tents? Why is the promised rebuilding of Haiti taking so long? As an outsider who has spent just 10 days in Haiti, toured the city of Port-au-Prince, seen a lot and asked lots of questions of Haitians and non-Haitians, this is my attempt to reflect on the question above and please forgive me if you don’t agree with me.

First of all, it is impossible to wrap one’s head around building houses for 2 million displaced people in one year. A lot of long term strategic planning, dialogue with government and civil society and collaboration among actors and stakeholders has to take place in order to pave the way and lay the ground rules for the job of rebuilding to begin if the job is to be done well. It’s not an easy task and will take some time. Yes, I agree, lots of money has been donated and we want results right now; we want quick fixes. Unfortunately, this is one of the situations that quick results and quick fixes will not work.

The majority of the people still living in tents in Port-au-Prince were renters prior to the earthquake. The issues of land and house ownership need to be resolved if peaceful resettlement of families and communities has to be ensured. After the earthquake, all major constructions were halted until a standard national building code, which is to ensure that basic earthquake proof criteria is designed, is passed into law. Brilliant idea! How could one ignore this and start rebuilding?

Come to think of it, in the spirit of subsidiarity, aid agencies can only help the government and the people of Haiti to rebuild their country. Most ministerial offices were destroyed by the earthquake thus rendering political systems and structures somewhat hampered. To tell you the truth, no wise aid agency will ignore all the above outstanding issues and forge ahead with the rebuilding process. I know CRS is ready and eager to start the rebuilding process but obviously careful not to put the cart before the horse. Like most major aid agencies, CRS is working with the government of Haiti, the UN, and other international and Haitian organizations to resolve reconstruction issues.

In the meantime, it would interest you to know that CRS intervention in the immediate relief and recovery stages of the earthquake prevented further loss of life. Believe me, it could have been worse; many more would have died after the earthquake. CRS continues to improve the lives of the most vulnerable survivors by providing temporary shelter packages, food aid distribution, water and sanitation services, and educational programs to get children back in schools. I have never been more proud of the work of CRS. Let me take a moment to honor the roughly 700 CRS staff, both local and international, working so hard in a tough terrain and under difficult circumstances to improve lives in Haiti. It’s a great apostolate. Keep it up.

To the American people, I know you do have more questions than answers regarding the work in Haiti through CRS. With absolute confidence, I say to you, let your hearts not be troubled. CRS has made a solemn promise and commitment to account for every single dollar you gave for the rebuilding of Haiti. I have been in Haiti for the past 10 days and I can vouch that CRS, guided by the principle of good stewardship, is working diligently and judiciously with every dollar you have sacrificed for the Haitian people.

– Thomas Awiapo
As a child in Ghana, Thomas Awiapo was a beneficiary of CRS school feeding programs. Now, as an adult, he works for CRS Ghana and travels to the U.S. annually to tell his inspiring story to American Catholics at schools, parishes and communities. Thomas will be a featured guest blogger and will be reporting from Ghana about the issues he witnesses firsthand.

Watch the video: Empowered for Life: The Thomas Awiapo Story.

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