January 12, 2010 a day that will be go down in history as one of the worst earthquakes to strike Haiti. Over 3.5 million people were affected, 200,000 were killed, and 300,000 wounded. It took only 30 seconds for the world to literally flip upside down for Haitians. The 7.0 magnitude quake struck near the town of Léogâne west of Port-au-Prince. The sheer scale of this earthquake was so great that 52 aftershocks were reported until January 24th of that year. Helping Hand USA immediately launched its Haiti Earthquake Relief fund and provided emergency relief to a country that would soon become a home for long term HHRD programs and projects.
HHRD’s Haiti Coordinator Saqib Attique, who led HHRD Youth for Haiti trips and several emergency relief operations while serving as the main point person for Haiti efforts, recalls the magnitude of the situation. “When I first arrived at the airport the flight could not land because the airport was completely destroyed. Therefore, we had to land in the Dominica Republic. Then, we drove from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which normally takes 6 hours but took us 18 hours due to the border crisis.”
HHRD Southern California Regional Manager, Karim Hakim was part of HHRD’s first Youth for Haiti trip in 2010. This Youth Empowerment project took college students from across the USA on a two-week humanitarian trip overseas to receive a behind the scenes look at the work of relief workers. “I had visited developing countries before and witnessed people in dire situations but none of it compared to the scale of devastation I saw in Haiti. You basically couldn't go 10 feet without seeing a destroyed building or, now homeless or injured, person. It was nationwide tragedy with imagery that is still a challenge to explain to people,” remembers Hakim.
The country sits on the Enriquillo Plantain Garden fault system where tectonic plates suddenly slip past each other causing devastation on the ground above. Since 2010, Haiti has been through countless natural disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes. HHRD’s Emergency Response and Disaster Management team has been working continuously in the country to provide essentials to those who need to rebuild after every disaster. Despite facing hardship from natural disasters and now the pandemic, the Haitian spirit cannot be destroyed.
“They are amazing people with great spirit and energy, and I hope everyone has the pleasure of meeting a Haitian brother or sister one day. We were there just a matter of weeks after this deadly earthquake shattered their lives. Every single person I met had lost a loved one to the earthquake. Many were homeless or living in makeshift tents. There was so much uncertainty surrounding the day-to-day necessities of life. Yet we were constantly met with smiles, friendly conversations, and hospitality. They would share their precious food and cook for us despite the poverty. We are bonded for life. And you better believe their food was delicious, too,” recalls Hakim.
Over the past 12 years, HHRD team members in Haiti have ensured the successful implementation of HHRD’s Orphan Support, In Kind Gifts, Emergency Relief and Seasonal Foods programs. “HHRD never left Haiti and continues to make it an important campaign to this day. It's become a well known and loved organization over this decade. And the reality is that HHRD is a necessity in Haiti,” shares Hakim. HHRD has focused its efforts in Miragoane, Port au Prince, Port-de-Paix, Les Cayes and Jeremie while working with local team members to assist where needed.
Donor support, the motivation of volunteers, and the passion of the HHRD staff continues to fuel HHRD’s mission of empowering lives. There is much to learn about the history of this country, the stories of its people, and the resilience of those in need. “I would tell everyone to invest in the Haitian people. Look at what they've been through in the last decade or so and how they bounce back time and time again against all odds and with such little support. It's nothing short of heroic and admirable,” shared Hakim.
To learn more about HHRD’s work in Haiti visit www.hhrd.org/Haiti
Sana Khan is HHRD’s Senior Marketing Manager and Content Development Lead. For the past 13 years she has been highlighting HHRD’s programs and projects across the globe.