Ten Years: Daring To Hope

Special Needs Program Coordinator Gena Heraty shares a touching poem about the 2010 Haiti Earthquake that reveals lasting pain for lives lost and enduring optimism for a country she loves.
January 13, 2020 - NPH International

Gena Heraty: Remembering those who perished in the earthquake

I remember how much you loved your sisters and how you always came to see them. You loved to do their hair. Before you ever left the home, we knew you would always be back to visit. You were eight months pregnant when you died.

Every mother with a sick child that I referred to our St. Damien Children's Hospital went with a piece of paper with your name on it. You received a nation of sick down through the years. And you received them with much love and efficiency. Two of your colleagues from St. Damien also died that day.

You were a teacher with us, and always with a smile on your face. Your two children must have loved your great, warm, loving ways. You were alive after the quake. You and your kids together, trapped. No way out.

I imagine you there, sitting in front of your house, chatting with friends and then the ground shook. You ran in panic to go look for your son. The falling property wall stopped your run—and took your life. You had worked with us for years.

All three of you survived the quake and were talking to your brother afterward. But you were trapped inside with no way out and no way in. You had all grown up here in the home and days later came home to be laid to rest. Three coffins. Three siblings.

We always knew you were special. You had such kind, loving ways. We were looking forward to you finishing your studies when we would have a priest in the family. You were so looking forward to living a life of service.

You were at a school, an engineer discussing a renovation project. All 150 of you in that school died that day. Most were kids in afternoon classes. Your wife, our medical director and friend, had one day of frantic searching before she had news of your death.

I can see us all sitting on the wall in the sun and later all you younger ones playing Jenga. ‘Twas the weekend before the quake and everyone seemed happy on that sunny day, on the wall drinking Prestige. Two days later all four of you were together in our old hospital—a six-story building that had once been a hotel. All four of you were there along with a volunteer doctor.

You were a volunteer with us. Your uncle had volunteered with us many years before and you were inspired by his stories. You were always smiling. Always seemed to have a child in your arms. I remember oh so clearly our last conversation before you went to your death. You had a funny story to tell about one of the children. Your friend had come to visit. You were in the same building. She on the 6th floor and you on the 4th, I think. Your friend and the doctor made it out alive.

You had also come to visit—to visit your sister who was volunteering. A kind young man with a big heart. You were on the 6th floor and your sister on the 5th. She was buried under the rubble, but eventually miraculously rescued. You were not so lucky. Jenga has never been just Jenga since then.

It is 10 years. I force myself to bring out these memories. They are never far away and on any given day they easily pop to the surface. But, as I have said before, I don’t like to let them out. No one does.

Solidarity and sadness walked hand in hand after that massive earthquake. Grief, pain, and shock united a nation. Injured comforted injured while they suffered together in hospitals. Families of the injured helped other families care for their wounded. An awful time, an amazing time. Despair and hope. Terrible stories of pain and loss. Miraculous stories of survival. I cannot find words.

As we remember with sadness our dead, let us celebrate the survivors. Celebrate those who came out from that rubble and did not give up. Those who never ever got to bury loved ones and those who lost every family member that mattered to them. Those who dug through the rubble with their bare hands to get to loved ones and to get to people they did not even know. Celebrate those who saw so many terrible things. Those images of pain and suffering scorched so many souls and left scars for life.

Let us lift them up high and celebrate their great determination to keep going. To transform their pain into something positive. Let us celebrate their determination. Their unwavering hope.

Let us learn from their great courage and their great strength of character. Let us engage together to create a Haiti where such a tragedy does not happen again and where these great survivors, these heroes, are recognized for what they are: warriors for life. Despite so many odds stacked against them, they battle every day to survive, to make Haiti better for their families, for their children, for future generations.

Let us remember and celebrate the amazing show of solidarity from the international community—so many people reached out to help. People of all ages, all round the globe, in all kinds of weather, organized events to raise funds for Haiti. Teams and teams of volunteers came to Haiti. Haiti was in pain and the world cared. Care became an active verb.

It has been 10 years—a massive earthquake, cholera, hurricanes, political unrest. Who could have ever imagined that one small impoverished country would have to face so much in 10 years? Ten years of one disaster after another, piled onto an already fragile economy and a population already experiencing terrible poverty.

A new year has begun. A new decade. Dare we hope that the next 10 years will be kinder to Haiti? Dare we hope? Yes, we dare.

One of my favorite Haitian proverbs.

Toutotan tèt w pa koupe w ka espere mete chapo.

For as long as you are not headless, you can always hope to wear a hat someday.

Please support out programs at NPH Haiti and St. Damien Pediatric Hospital by visiting nph.org.

Gena Heraty   
Coordinator, Special Needs Programs, NPH Haiti




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