Haitians gathered in makeshift churches and even a UN supply base on Thursday to mark the second anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake, holding ceremonies that mixed remembrance with hope for a new beginning.
The disaster killed 316,000 people and displaced 1.5 million in this impoverished country of 10 million. More than 500,000 are still in temporary settlement camps as Haiti struggles with a reconstruction effort that has been thwarted by a messy election, political paralysis and absence of aid coordination.
“We need to keep telling future generations about this so that we can help the country build better,” said Eddy Jean-Baptiste, 46, wearing a dark gray suit and carrying a Bible on his way to a church in the mountains that surround Port-au-Prince.
For its part, officials in Haitian President Michel Martelly’s government emphasized the need for education by inaugurating a new university in the north and announcing plans to rebuild a college specializing in science.
“It’s a day when we remember and then we make the decision to move on, which is very, very Haitian,” Haitian Prime Minster Gary Conille said. “We bury the dead and go back to work immediately.”
Services on the national holiday ranged from roadside affairs to a government-organized observance near a mass grave north of the capital led by Martelly and attended by Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Duvalier, the former dictator who made a surprise return to Haiti almost a year ago, was flanked by his longtime partner, Veronique Roy, and former Haitian president Prosper Avril.
Churchgoers in Port-au-Prince donned dark suits and white dresses and, with Bibles in hand, walked to religious services throughout the capital of 3 million.
In the hillside city of Petionville, the congregation filled up a church and spilled onto the street as they sang hymns that asked God for security and courage.
Fabien Jean-Baptiste recalled the terrible events of Jan. 12, 2010. She said she had just stepped out of her home to run errands at a market when the earth heaved at 4:53pm. Her six children had stayed home and she thought fearfully that there was no way they could have survived and she assumed they were dead.
“I said, ‘God is in the sky, thank you,’” Jean-Baptiste, 35, said between her morning prayers on the cracked sidewalk outside the church.
The street vendor lost two siblings to the quake, but took solace that her children survived.
“God gave me the grace. I’m here,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I still have my children.”
Haiti’s government, Western embassies and foreign charity groups were targeted by criticism as a mobile wake drew several dozen protesters and passed through downtown Port-au-Prince, one of the hardest-hit areas in the quake.
Carrying signs that called the government “imported,” the demonstrators focused on the need to house the 500,000 people still without homes.
“We’re asking for the state to give us good homes because we really don’t have any,” said Fritznel Joasil, 36.
Former US president Bill Clinton and Conille announced that the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund was donating US$2 million in hopes others would match that for an effort to rebuild the University of Haiti’s Faculty of Sciences.
“To build a modern economy, Haiti needs more engineers, architects, chemists, experts in information technology,” Clinton said. “This faculty will help to provide the means for you to build your own future.”