If earthquakes deliver despair, they also deliver hope. The proof is in the eyes of Benjamin and Elise Savage. Just two years old, they are among the youngest survivors of the earthquake that struck Port Au Prince, Haiti exactly one year ago.
But their story is much different that the million and a half survivors who now live on the streets or in make-shift relief camps. Ben and Elise have a home. Just as important, they have a family.
When the earthquake struck at exactly 3:53pm on January 12, 2010, Mike and Kristen Savage were a continent away, just two American parents waiting to adopt two children from Haiti. Not just any children, they were waiting for Ben and Elise. In the quake’s aftermath, time seemed to pass as fast a crumbling buildings.
Kristen recalls the panic, “Thankfully within probably with 15 minutes of us finding out the earthquake had happened, we got a phone call saying that the children in the orphanage were safe.”
The orphanage walls had collapsed, but the kids were all right. Today, both Ben and Elise are safely in Kristen’s arms inside her Savage, Minnesota home.
For Daniel Wordsworth, it’s been a year of worrying about the children and adults left behind. “It’s been an awful year, yes.”
Wordsworth is the president of the American Refugee Committee, a Minneapolis based international relief organization with a large footprint in Haiti. ARC has 15 international staff members on the ground in Haiti along with 200 paid local staff members all working to manage relief camps for the homeless.
From Wordworth’s view, the progress is slow. “You have people that lost their homes, but before we can rebuild those homes we have to create an artificial environment with temporary shelters and temporary communities where we can locate those people while the long term reconstruction happens,” said Wordsworth.
In the year since the earthquake though, reconstruction has barely begun. Wordsworth estimates only five to ten percent of the debris has actually been removed. Most of the effort he says, have been focused on establishing the camps.
“I mean, the earthquake destroyed a city like Minneapolis. Two-hundred thousand houses were destroyed in 35 seconds of the earthquake. You can’t just rebuild that over night. It takes more than a year.”
Hurricanes, riots and a cholera epidemic have not helped. ARC’s perspective is that the next year will see greater progress in removing debris, even in areas where there’s only enough room for a wheel barrow. Full recovery is perhaps 5 years away—provided there are no more earthquakes.
For the Ben and Elise Savage, they get to live out their life far away from the destruction. They are now part of an American family, but they’ll always be Haitians too. Their new adoptive parents intend to make sure of it. “Haiti is a part of the culture of our family,” said Kristen Savage. “And something that I think we will want to remember and take part in for years to come.”