Today we met with Pastor Fritz in Carrefour, the approximate epicenter of the Jan 12th quake in Haiti. Fritz is the one who took in Rood, the boy who lost eleven members of his family – and his arm – when disaster struck.
Fritz's house was half demolished by the quake, with the second floor of the home now sitting at ground level. Everything below was crushed by the weight of everything above. A visiting pastor and his son were in the home at the time and had to wait two days to be rescued. The young boy is still in the hospital. I climbed over boulders of cracked concrete and into Fritz's unstable bedroom. I sat on his crushed bed and stared across the slanted planes. The trapezoidal shape of the contorted, buckled room provided a perspective much like the funhouse mirrors and wacky rooms at carnivals. As I looked at all the debris on Fritz's bed, including a heavy concrete pillar that folded down the headboard, it became apparent that, had the earthquake occurred a few hours later, Fritz would not be one of our host pastors right now.
Fritz took us to Rood's house. We pulled up to a massive wreckage. Unknown to me when Rood first shared his account with us, was that his home was on the ground floor of a large two-storey building that housed many families. Much like Fritz's dwelling, the remains of the second level now sat at ground level. Rood's home was literally crushed to about one foot in height. He was dug out within six inches of reaching freedom. The portico entrance of his house still stood and we entered it in order to peer into the space from which he was rescued. The stench in that thin dark space indicated that various members of his family, and perhaps his arm, were still entombed there.
On the second floor (now ground floor) only one room stood, directly above the area Rood was taken from. This room above was charred by flames and resembled an outdoor kitchen, except that a lonely ceiling fan still clung to the ashen ceiling. We learned that the body of Rood's mom was actually burned there – a quickly-assembled funerary pyre that incinerated her remains directly above the gap where she was first buried.
There are many piles of ashes and bone fragments in Carrefour as people frantically worked to dig people out of the ground, not bury them there. There will be many more impromptu funeral fires belching smoke into the air before all is said and done.
I walked the perimeter of Rood's apartment building and came across a lone girl in pink and braids who stood in front of the remains of another portico. A metal grated door was heavily-bowed out as the mass of the second story had crashed down upon it. Nine year-old Valentina pointed at the door and quietly said "famille." I didn't have to understand French to know that she was hanging around the ruins of her family home. I called over a translator to hear her story.
Valentina was near Rood's house when the tremors began. As Rood ran to escape his home, Valentina ran towards hers. She got to the metal door just as a neighbor screamed. "Don't go in Valentina, it's not safe!"
Valentina was forced into a front row seat to the worst horror movie she's ever seen. The level above her home crashed down right before her eyes while her whole family was inside the level below. In an instant everything she knew, everything she loved, imploded inches from her scarred face. Like Rood, Valentina's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all in the house. When I asked her how many relatives were inside she replied, "I don't know. Too many to count."
A neighbor has temporarily taken her in, but she apparently mulls around the rubble of her former life. Maybe she thinks she will rouse from a waking nightmare and see her house and life as it once was. Maybe she's expecting her mother to arise from the debris at any moment.
Maybe she wishes she were under the concrete with them.
Aaron (Bent Tree Bible Fellowship) and I tried to process all of this a few moments ago. We didn't know Valentina. We didn't know her family and daily life. What we do know is that there's a scared, lonely girl out there who's hanging outside the door she tried to enter. And I know one other thing: If that was one of my little girls hanging outside the remnants of our former home and family, my heart would be breaking until she joined us in eternity.
Valentina says that some bodies were eventually pulled out and "burned like wood," but that many remain. I get the sense that her mother and father are two of them who are still there . . . and that she expects them to kick open the buckled door someday.
Rood and Valentina were neighbors. One was close enough to escaping that he was eventually dug out alive, inches from the door. The other was close enough to entering that she could have crossed the threshold that would have trapped and killed her. Both lost their whole families. Both were witnesses to their deaths.
Rood is ready to testify and make a difference. Valentina simply longs for the past.
Block after block contain similar stories inside the rubble and outside the doors – countless Roods and Valentinas who are counting on the church for help.
By helping the church, we help them.
Learn how at www.HaitiOrphanRelief.Org
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT) can be found on Facebook.
Abandoned-Orphaned is the personal blog of Paul Myhill, President of World Orphans. Subscribe to the blog in the upper right-hand corner of the home page. Paul can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @paulmyhill.
Please start your own campaign for Haiti at Paul's FirstGiving Page.