I was in my front yard with my daughter. What happened in the next few moments and days is indescribable.
What I choose to hold on to, however, is not the memory of the destruction, but the truest manifestation of collectivity that I have ever witnessed in my life. What was already true of this beautiful culture and people was simply magnified by the Richter scale.
Having lived in Haiti during the 14 years prior, I was no stranger to the capacity of the Haitian people to rally together for the common good.
I witnessed villagers in rural communities build neighborhood schools, pull trucks out of ditches, help each other plant and harvest their gardens, pool resources to build caskets and hold funerals for impoverished neighbors unable to do so for their deceased loved ones.
I witnessed massive demonstrations for political and social change, and collective outcries against injustice. But never did I witness the Haitian capacity to ‘move’ together to help each other as I did during the days and weeks following the January 12th, 2010 earthquake.
It wasn’t the big or splashy things that impressed me, like the hordes of helicopters flying all over the place or the massive distributions of water and tarps and food. These were important, sure, life saving, even.
But what touched me most were the small, quiet gestures of love. The men in my neighborhood who walked our street every hour of the night to check in on everyone and provide security as we all slept outside.
The friends from the mountains who filled every empty bottle they could get their hands on with spring water and carried them down to distribute to city folks.
The way in which people gathered, young and old, to organize and share resources, to care for each other’s children and the elderly.
The capable Haitians who responded by bringing their calm wisdom and their Haitian Creole to the efforts of the adrenaline-driven international relief groups.
It seems important that, on this third anniversary of such incredible human and material loss, we once again give honor to these Haitian people, whose amazing courage and ability to work together shined so greatly as they brought their life-giving energies into the midst of such destruction and confusion.
Much was reported about the destruction and aftermath. Much has also been reported about the success or lack of success of the relief response. We’ve read those stories. We will continue to read more.
I’d like to tell you a different story: a story of quiet heroes.In Port-au-Prince in late 2009, 15 groups of women began gathering in small circles every week to learn and talk together about child rights. They were well on their way to becoming child rights activists, protectors of children, teachers of other adults and parents when the earthquake hit. Many of them lost loved ones, and almost all of them were displaced into chaotic camp settings. You might think they’d have stopped meeting altogether.
Instead, in the midst of mourning their loved ones and scrambling for survival for themselves and their families, they quickly found each other and figured out a way to continue gathering, to continue learning, to continue to build a movement to protect children in their neighborhoods.
Each week, they sat in a circle and shared. They shared about abuses of children they witnessed in their neighborhoods and brainstormed together about how they could intervene to stop the abuse. And then they went out and stopped it.
They shed tears together as some of them shared about their own children that they had, out of desperation, sent to live with other families as child servants. The group provided safe space and solidarity to help these women bring their children home.
Though their neighborhoods had for the most part been destroyed, their motivation to be agents for change grew. Within two weeks after the earthquake these women began meeting again to finish their training and to look beyond their devastated neighborhoods and tent cities to make sure children were protected.
Beyond Borders provided additional training to help them identify and help children who had become separated from their families because of the earthquake.
When so much in their daily lives was out of their control, they courageously assumed their roles as protectors of children. In the midst of it all, these women gathered.
They formed small circles and built a quiet movement for real change in the world immediately in front of them. They didn’t run for president. They didn’t build a hospital. They didn’t even pass a law. They simply gathered. And from that they gained the courage to save hundreds of children from abuse and reunite many others with their families.
Rufus Jones wrote, “I pin all my hopes on quiet processes and small circles in which vital and transforming events take place.”
Beyond Borders is honored to support the women who led these groups as they continue to facilitate more and more of these quiet processes and small circles in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.
Because of the work of these women and others, Child Rights dialogue groups are transforming regular women and men into child rights activists. Volunteer Child Protection Committees are emerging and leading small neighborhood movements for improved respect of the rights of children.
Because of these women, children are protected and saved from violence, every day, one child at a time.
Beyond Borders Child Rights Program Director