Haiti: We Begin Anew

August 14, 2013

New life is, after all, what we, as Christians, celebrate in the Resurrection of our Lord. It is what we celebrate in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti as well.

It has been three years – and counting – since the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake when lives, schools, churches, and employment were shattered in 35 seconds. With 255 schools and 37 hospitals and clinics, the Diocese of Haiti felt keenly the loss of 80% of its infrastructure. In Port-au-Prince, we lost not only the cathedral, but also Holy Trinity Primary, Secondary, Music and Trade Schools, the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Margaret (all on the cathedral complex), St. Vincent’s School for the Handicapped, our university, Colege Saint Pierre, income-producing rental properties, and more.

In Leogane, our acclaimed nursing school withstood the tremors and continues its rigorous education. In the coming years, it will welcome a new neighbor: a recent University-approved, four-year program of Occupational and Physical Therapy, whose students will intern at St. Vincent’s, the first school for the handicapped (founded in 1945) and still the only education for the blind in Haiti. Architectural plans call for an increased enrollment there of 300 students, 165 of them residential. St. Vincent’s is home to Haiti’s only handbell choir – all the members are blind. Already rebuilt is the prosthetics clinic where some of the older deaf children learn a trade.

Under the entrepreneurial eye of Pere Diegue, cathedral dean and headmaster of the trade school, this school has built and opened a small complex in Croix des Bouquets. Formerly, it had 1,700 students on the cathedral complex; now, only 600 of them can get to the new location. So, we train these 600 – in automotive repair, plumbing, refrigeration and air-conditioning, and electrical work.

Primary and secondary school students eagerly grasp their educational opportunities at Holy Trinity School, albeit in temporary wooden structures. It is still one of Haiti’s finest schools academically – those standards haven’t dropped – and architectural plans call for its rebuilding around a central courtyard, annexed to the trade school, on the cathedral complex.

Holy Trinity’s music school still produces glorious sounds. The students practice in our makeshift cathedral, then sing and play in both Haiti and the United States. The only orchestra in Haiti is an Episcopal orchestra; and it makes the heavens resound! Plans are under way for an expanded music school in Cange and a new music school in Cap Haitien, as well as a new facility near the Port-au-Prince campus itself.

Holy Trinity Cathedral will, once again, be an architectural icon. And it will also, once again, be a cultural as well as a worship center. Flexible space will seat 1,000 worshippers, or concert and dance performance attendees. Salvaged historic murals will be incorporated into the final design. Already, geotechnical engineers are testing the soil composition to determine what correction may be needed to fully support the new structure.

The Diocese of Haiti is not waiting; it is moving forward.

In the countryside, 33 new schools, built to international hurricane and earthquake-resistant standards, have already served successfully as community shelters during Hurricane Sandy. Haiti took a direct hit from that storm. Another 13 schools are being constructed now. Each school educates some 400-800 students. Funding comes from a variety of organizations, the Presbyterian Church, and Scandinavian NGOs, which reach well beyond their denominational boundaries.

There are many resurrection stories in Haiti, and most of them are church-related. As one of our bishops noted: “Only the Church can restore the soul of Haiti.”

That work has already begun. It must continue.

To help Haiti begin anew with its cathedral and cathedral complex construction, please send your gift to The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the Development Office, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017. To discuss naming opportunities, please call Elizabeth Lowell at (212) 716-6041 or email her at elowell@episcpalchurch.org.

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