The white gleaming palace remains knocked to one side. The Canado High School, one of the country’s most prestigious, has been knocked out, replaced with makeshift classroom. And the Sacred Heart Church, the parish of some of Haiti’s most prominent citizens, is no longer standing as parishioners attend Sunday masses under a tent outside.
While the earthquake crippled most of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest and most important city, it seemed to have saved its fury for three cherished institutions in the mountainous Caribbean nation of roughly nine million people: L’etat, L’eglise, L’ecole or the three Ls as people in Haiti have referred to The State, The Church and The School.
The number of death from the earthquake is a mind numbing 250,000 people. Many of them perished inside churches, schools and government buildings. According to eyewitnesses, thousands rushed into churches for safety, thinking wrongly of course, that the sanctuary would save them from death. After, all, this is the house of the lord.
The schools, particularly the universities and technical schools suffered tremendous loss of lives. When the earthquake occurred around 5 PM, classes were full with young people. The brick and mortars crushed them and dealt them an untimely death. What is devastating is that these are the same people that the nation was counting on to help itself turn around.
All but two ministries were left standing after the earthquake and a year later, most of the government’s business is carried out under tents or makeshift offices. So shaken after the earthquake, President Rene Preval made his now infamous statement: “My palace is destroyed. I’m homeless.”
The Haitian people didn’t take too kindly of that statement made in English to American journalists a couple of days after the seism shock and many analysts believe those words have not set too well with most of the Haitian people who see the American built palace as much their home as it is the president’s house.
“It literally shook us to the core,” said Charles Manigat, a professor of sociology at the University of Cap Haitien . “For these institutions to be so physically destroyed, it affected our emotions tremendously. We are a God fearing people who treasure education and government is our bedrock, despite itself.”
Out of the so-called three Ls, the state has not fared too well in getting its footing back up. Many had expected that by now scaffolds would surround the palace, a sign of progress and that the country was on its way back, albeit slow. But the planning that was necessary to accomplish such tasks has not taken place. Instead, Haitian officials dusted up old plans and tried to get funding for projects that seemed disjointed to the giant crater left by the earthquake.
To be sure, the government has been for the most part ineffectual with little ability to enforce the rule of law and to earn the people’s respect. So it is not surprising that a year later, it is struggling to handle the arduous task to rebuild itself and the country. Preval, for his part, did little follow up after a donor’s conference at the United Nations in March. On that day, about 50 nations pledged an estimated $10 billion for the Haiti reconstruction effort. But Letat, never ramped up its diplomatic ranks or hired lobbyists to ensure that these commitments are respected.
“The earthquake was an opportunity for bold and ambitious moves,” said Jocelyn McCalla, a political consultant who has worked with the Haitian government. “Instead the government of Haiti and the international community have limited themselves to taking baby steps, relying on international charities to keep handing handouts to the people of Haiti.”
McCalla said that the so-called friends of Haiti share part of the blame for little headways to the extent that they hide behind a good principle, that is Haitians should be masters of their own destiny and we should take our cue from Haitians.
“But turn the whole thing upside down by relying on the GOH’s leadership and guidance, a non-starter; Its transitional arm, the IHRC is a failure because it wields little authority over the rebuilding.”
So as government figures out what to do, the school, on the other hand, was able to bounce back, a bit too early for some. A month after the earthquake almost all of them opened their doors. Perhaps, being private entities helped, save from red tapes that have plagued state entities from themselves. But there are many who question whether the country, so traumatized, was ready for formal education.
Instead, what should have been done was to take time to prepare the curriculum and the teachers who were teaching our children,” said Georges Boursiquot, a Brooklyn entrepreneur who has followed the Haiti situation closely. “But that demands a heavy dose of leadership from civil society and the government. It seems that everybody is in a rush to do things to satisfy the Monday morning critics.”