The hurricane season has started. Hurricane Alex (as you probably know, hurricane are named alphabetically in each season) passed by us last week, and a wild and wet visitor he was. He took away most of the tents on our campsite, and soaked most of everything else that we have in our uplands base. And he wasn’t even categorised as a hurricane by the time he made landfall here; instead, he was just a small yellow swirl, barely the level to be categorised as a tropical storm. Hurricanes Celia and Derby are building themselves up nicely offshore, somewhere in the Atlantic as we speak. I’m not sure what happened to the ‘B’ hurricane, but I can only be thankful that it didn’t come to anything and went by without us even noticing it.
The people here are all still living in tents, and the tents took a beating from Alex. I – and I’m sure, they – worry so much about the upcoming letters of the alphabet, and how many of them will be like Alex, how many like the mysterious ‘B’, and how many like more ominous names ….. Katrina, for example.
Before I came to Haiti a man in a church I was at told me that he believed that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s punishment on a people who had gone away from God and were worshippers of Voodoo. The fact is, the United States get just as many earthquakes and hurricanes; annually, they prepare and survive several events. The only difference is poverty; and that isn’t God’s curse on these people, it is man’s. In the States they have houses built to withstand earthquakes – in 1982 a similar size earthquake to the one in Haiti on January 12th struck the San Andreas fault. Only 41 people died in the States, but 210,000 died in Haiti. Every year in the Southern States homes are braced against cyclones, with shutters and shelters – but in Haiti people live in crudely constructed shelters, or currently tents, which could never be designed to withstand such windspeeds, and with a Government that does not have the capital to be able to provide safe shelter for it’s people.
We have been talking to some of the people in this area about how they deal with hurricanes, and many of them talk about going to the church or school for shelter. Of course this year, the church or school is just a pile of rubble, and the hurricanes are still coming.
The last week I have been spending all my time involved in writing the funding proposal for the coming year, deciding what activities we will be doing, what projects we will be involved in, and trying to work out in the budget how we can afford it. I felt proud as I watched my colleague spend an evening playing around with the design for the shelters we will be building so that he could improve the design and give the people more space for the same amount of money. But it doesn’t help me feel less guilty; sat here with my laptop, ruthlesslessly cutting projects we can’t afford to do, deciding where to spend our funding and where we can’t afford to intervene. In our draft we originally wanted to build 10 schools to a standard that they would serve as hurricane shelters, and protect whole communities for the annual onslaught; funding restrictions, and the capacity of of our staff, have cut us back to 5. I don’t think that we should feel any more negativley about that – five hurricane shelters will have a huge impact in this region, and may even save lives – it will certainly give many families the peace of mind they crave, and release them from their current fears. I guess however long I do this job, I never quite feel like I can do enough.
Someone told me recently that I had to get past my desire to want to save the world. Saving the world is God’s job, and He is managing just fine in doing it. As long as I do what I am meant to do to play my part, I should live my life in freedom, not guilt. To the person who wisely told me that, I can only say that I keep learning and that I keep trying to take your advice. With God’s help, I might get there one day.
I attach a photo of our valiant toilet, our loo with a view, that survived Hurricane Alex. Where all other tents failed, he stayed standing. It’s the same with the resiliance of the people here too; although they lost so much, they stayed standing – and with whatever they were left with, they started to rebuild. Hope did not fail them, and I pray it will not fail me too.