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Earthquake Survivors Tell Their Story





Haitian school children overcome with grief.                       School children tremble in the immediate
aftermath of Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake.
Schools, colleges and universities 
suffered tremendous losses as a result.


Q: Okay lets speak with your volunteers at the Fondation. (n.b. The volunteers do speak a bit of English but our Haitian translator Bertho, decided it would be easier if they expressed themselves in Creole and he would do the translation).


Placide Jean CédieuI was in my house and I was struggling for the house not to collapse on me. So I asked everybody in the house to leave, so that then we could go and help other people. After that I tried to call other friends to find out what was going on, because I thought the earthquake only happened in my area. So I called to try and find out if it had happened across the country. But after the earthquake we couldn’t reach anybody via phone because some mobile phone companies they were damaged.  So I tried to get in touch with people in my area.



Q: Did you lose any family members, or close friends or colleagues?


Placide Jean Cédieu:  I have people, who lost family members but not in my family.




Patrick Nore, 20, a university student, was at school when the earthquake struck.

His left arm had to beamputated three days after he was injured because

he had not received assistance in time.



















Christina Julme was in her linguistics class when the earthquake struck,

and she was buried for two days under the rubble.




















So if your family lost their home, were are they sleeping now?


Placide Jean Cédieu:  People are sleeping on the backyard, because the house hasn’t collapsed totally but it is quite dangerous, to try and sleep in the house.



Q: Haven't you got any tents?


Placide Jean Cédieu:  At the beginning people were managing to find a way to sleep away from their homes. So at the moment people are just waiting for help. But initially people found their own ways to sleep.





Only a few Haitians have been able to get tents, the vast majority however sleep on the streets

Notice how the people pray in front of tents during a three-day mourning period for the country.




Q: How has your life and circumstances changed as a result of the earthquake and how do you need our help?


Placide Jean Cédieu: I was a student in accounting at the university but now I cannot continue with my studies. I was in the fourth year, the final year, almost finished but like many other young Haitians I cannot carry on. At the moment there are programs going on but I cannot see these programs being useful for us students. But as students we come together to try and find a way find our own solutions within Fondation Félicité.


Q:Is part of the problem the fact that international aid organisations are putting on various programs but they are not coming back and relating to Haitian students what is going on. Is that the main problem, they are spoon feeding you rather than asking you what kind of help is going to be effective within your community?


Placide Jean Cédieu: The program they have built is not reflecting our own needs. So we try and pull ourselves together and create the program that will reflect own needs.


Q: Well we are going to do our best to help you and the other students Placide, and also your community. Thank you for your time


Placide Jean Cédieu:  Thank you.








Q:(This female student Guetchline lost her home and school) Greetings Guetchline, could you tell us how people have been affected by the earthquake in your area?


Guetchline Jean Louis: My house has collapsed, my mother has been affected mentally, because of what has happened, and I can no longer carry on with my studies. The only activity for me to do now is to come to the Fondation (French spelling) and see what I can do to help.




Woman places her belongings on top of her ruined home.




Q: What were you studying?


Guetchline Jean Louis: I was studying economic science.



Q: This is really telling us how the intellectual capital of Haiti has been affected. Some of these students will now have to come out to the UK and America, France etc to continue their education and finish their studies. What coping mechanisms are you using, it must be really hard in Haiti, how do you keep the faith?


Guetchline Jean Louis: The same way that the slaves about 200 years ago they managed to get freedom. So it’s the same way that I will find the strength to survive and to cope with the situation, because I bear in mind that help is coming. So I will continue to struggle like the slaves did to get freedom.



Q: Can you just describe to us what Haiti looked like before and what it looks like now from your personal opinion, just going out everyday what do you see around you?


Guetchline Jean Louis: Before the situation wasn’t that good, but people managed to live, they found a way to live in Haiti even though it is a third world country; the poorest in the western Hemisphere.  So after the earthquake things got worse. Cause people like teachers no longer have work because the majority of schools have collapsed so most people are out of work at the moment, especially people who had daily jobs.




Haitians search for food inside a destroyed shop.




Q: In terms of the crime rate do you think it has increased? And also in terms of the orphans who have lost their parents, their mums and dads, where are the kids going, who are looking after them now?


Guetchline Jean Louis: After the earthquake people started looting, getting food from collapsed food stores. In terms of orphans Haitians got the children together who had lost families or mums and dads and neighbours, they took over, children who have uncles were taken in by them, and children who lost everybody were taken in by neighbours.



Q: Guetchline, we want you to know, that people of Haiti are in our prayers and we shall be doing whatever we can to help, you are not alone.


Guetchline Jean Louis: Thank you



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Q: Bayyinah, some touching stories there from the volunteers at Fondation Felicte.


Bayyinah Bello: Yes, they have lived some very tough moments and they are very strong and they are working and concentrating on helping the community and not crying about what has happened to them.



Q: They do sound very strong given all that they have seen. I am not sure if I would cope.


Bayyinah Bello: You would cope. That’s why we believe in the Fondation, it’s the training right now people need training, and to believe in themselves, self-confidence, psychological also. You have to be strong and once you do that then you can take the situation in hand and do something about it.



Q: What are your coping mechanisms Bayyinah, it’s been hard for you, how do you personally keep the faith?


Bayyinah Bello: Well I don’t seem to need to do anything it just comes naturally, whether we are sleeping under a tree or in a house, the important thing is who you are. And who you are is inside of you, and probably also regular spiritual practice, they keep us balanced, and we know that we can always trust the spirit to help us. Everything in our spiritual tradition is done with sharing, nothing, is an individual thing. So its very natural for us, like people come to me and say miss can I sleep in your yard, I’d rather sleep in your yard than by the streets, and we open the gate and let them in. Of course it could be that there is something else. But generally everything works out quite well, that we trust the others. Once you trust yourself you can help the other. If you don’t have any trust in yourself, if you lack knowledge of self, then it’s very difficult for you to do something for someone else.  We have been invaded by certain religious groups in particular saying we did something wrong to bring about this earthquake. So I say to them, look what happened in Chile, so what was wrong in Chile? If something goes on in Japan, what was wrong with them? We were invaded by missionaries telling Haitian people that it is something wrong that we did. That’s horrible.



Q:  Yes, it's backward to look at the earthquake as some sought of divine intervention. It is really just a natural disaster.


Bayyinah Bello: That’s why we need to train our folks to grab themselves, to grab their insides, and understand that no one will resolve this, no one will do anything for Haiti or for Port-au-Prince. People are saying the entire country is destroyed, no some places like Port-au-Prince has problems, Léogâne,has problems and Jacmel and Petit-Goavehas problems.They are badly damaged that is true. But one thing we are planning to do, is to take the students on a trip so that they can go and see that some towns have no damage. So they can trust again and know that things can get back in shape.




(Right) What used to be the Ministry of Culture and Information office. Bayyinah Bello and some colleagues

just about escaped whilst having a meeting. Unfortunately two persons at the meeting died.

                                                                                                               (Left) The top floor of the Minsistry has fallen through.




Q: Bayyinah, as a professor at the University of Haiti, does it mean you are now out of a job?


Bayyinah Bello: Right, but we are lucky that the faculty that we are working in, is still standing. So we are working on what original ways that for those students who can come back to school, we can work with them in the yard. We are looking for very original ways to get back to work. But right now since January 12, there have been no classes. I also work at the ministry of culture, but the ministry is totally destroyed. The building is totally smashed up.  So there again we are looking at putting tents in the yard and get people back into some kind of routine of getting back to work. And to provide psychological help, for those who are having more difficulty. Because for some people it has become a real traumatised thing, even if a building is fine, most of us are now afraid of any standing buildings; people don’t want to go into buildings. So it’s very traumatic for some folks.





  Professor Bayyinah Bello speaking about the Haiti earthquake, February 2010.




Q: Would you welcome people coming over to help young people in the education sector?


Bayyinah Bello: Certainly help is welcome. But the problem often with the help that is given, they don’t want to hear what you feel is needed. They want to give you what they want to give you. For example, there are tons of rice, here in Haiti (foreign rice), so what is going on right now is that the rice produced in the country people can’t sell it. Even people who are in areas that are not damaged, like Artibonite, there was no earthquake there. They’ve worked and produced the rice but now with this massive (foreign) rice that is available, we hear people don’t want to buy the rice that is produced locally. So you are putting out of work someone who has work and who can continue a decent life. 


So yes we want help, we might even consider that some students do need to go away and study for a while, particularly those who are too traumatised by what has happened in their school. But they have to go on condition that after the year or after six months or after the licence they come back home. We can’t have continuously all trained Haitians running away.


So again I do thank you for the offer of educational help, I know of many people who want to help in that way. I am sure there are many things - techniques, principles, that we can share, that you can teach us. But we also know that we have a lot that we can share. So when it’s like that; when the help comes I give you, you give me, then we each stay whole and become stronger. So thank you, thank you, thank you, for caring, for wanting to help and doing what you do.



Q: Thank you for letting us help you also. I know we taken up a lot of your time this morning, its 6am in Haiti.


Bayyinah Bello:No problem it was a pleasure spending time with you.



Q: Bayyinah, last word with you.


(Bayyinah Bello): Well, my country is a very rich country. We are rich because we are extremely creative people.  We have an inner force and we can rise from any situation. What we need more than anything is that those who want to help, do help us without asking us to down our dignity. We are grateful, we know that everyone who gives become richer. We thank you for wanting to help us, especially the young people because, they have to handle tomorrow. We are grateful to all those who will contribute. We are very very grateful. And we do want you to know that we also have things that we can contribute to you. So whenever it is possible you think we can do something let us know. We want to receive your help but we also want you to know that we are willing to help you.



Q:Thank you, God Bless you all, we are going to do our best to help Fondation Felicite in Haiti.


Bayyinah Bello: Thank you very very much, we will make good use of all that you give us. Bless you all.





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