With the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti approaching, Craig Kielburger travelled to Haiti with actress and humanitarian Mia Farrow, to see first-hand how the country is recovering.
Every day as our team headed out into Port-au-Prince, we passed a two-storey home that sat on a 45-degree angle.
A bearing wall had completely collapsed on one side and nearly all of its concrete had crumbled in piles. The roof remained intact though, complete with the home's water system, on an obscure angle that unfairly preserved a lasting memory of someone's former life.
In fact, the whole image seemed frozen in a moment in time – a moment just before 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island nation of Haiti.
Just days following the disaster, a team from Free The Children and I travelled to Haiti. The organization has been active in the country since the late 1990s. As the images of devastation rolled in over the evening news, we were anxious to check on the status of our schools, our students and our friends.
Nearly a year later, I still feel that apprehension as the small nation remains fragile. With the one-year anniversary of the earthquake approaching, our team decided to travel back to Haiti with my good friend, actress and humanitarian Mia Farrow -- documented by W5.
I was eager to see what progress our communities have made. Free The Children was opening its eleventh school in Haiti. We wanted to share that moment with Mia, who visited in 2008 following a string of deadly hurricanes and has since felt a deep connection.
Arriving in the country, we didn't go looking for a politically-volatile situation. But, what we found was a country that resembled the house we passed each morning -- frozen in a moment from a year earlier thanks to the inefficiency of a national government and the slow response of the international community.
A Country Immobilized
Our visit happened to correspond with the results of the highly-contested election -- Haiti's first since the earthquake.
On our first morning out, we planned on visiting an internally displaced person (IDP) camp near the airport. Within minutes, our car was stopped by a mass protest.
Thousands made their way up Rue Delmas. While United Nations peacekeepers kept watch over the protest, people still set fire to stacks of tires every few hundred feet in the streets.
Despite the intimidating presence of these pyres, people were surprisingly friendly. After a year of inaction following the earthquake, they were intent on informing us that they would no longer tolerate what they saw was government corruption.
Their frustration was understandable. In sprawling IDP camps, we found hungry children, unpurified water and overflowing latrines. The people of Haiti are justified in wondering what happened to the billions of dollars that were promised to alleviating their suffering.
As we watched the anger boil over, we witnessed how the political impasse further immobilized an already-struggling nation.
Across Port-au-Prince, ports, roads, banks and business were closed due to violence. As always, it is vulnerable who have no voice in these matters, but suffer the most: children.
At an orphanage Free The Children supports in the neighbourhood of Carrefour, the administrator Brother Jeff fought to provide a home and an education to 400 boys -- street kids who spent their adolescence on the unforgiving streets of Port-au-Prince, and children newly orphaned by the earthquake one year ago. He explained that due to the political violence the orphanage was unable to get money out of its bank account to provide for hundreds of kids. And more children were being dropped at his doorstep every day.
Our group then travelled to the rural village of Hinche to deliver medical supplies. There we met Dr. Pierre Prince, the director of the city's hospital and overseer of its cholera ward. Months ago, he and his colleagues had made a public appeal on the radio to delay the election until the epidemic was under control. Now, the violence in the streets had made those infected with the bacteria too afraid to travel on the roads to seek treatment at his hospital.
As he had predicted and feared, an untold number were dying at home.
Dr. Prince sighed heavily, and voiced that he would continue to treat all who walked through his doors. Since Oct. 23 the hospital, one of the largest in-patient cholera treatment centres in the region, has cared for more than 3,500 patients with only 27 deaths.
It was an astounding contrast. In Port-au-Prince, protesters fought a corrupt government by immobilizing the city. Elsewhere, we found others who fought for the same cause by trying to mobilize their communities.
There's certainly no lack of resilience in Haiti, or an absence of will to create better among the population. Where things have gone wrong is in the lack of resources to move this country out of a frozen moment in time.
Free The Children is an international development and youth empowerment organization. Given its 10-year history in the country, the organization immediately responded following the earthquake with a strategy focused on helping children. This included initial shipments of $1.6 million worth of emergency supplies and $2 million in medical aid for IDP camps, hospitals and strained communities.
To date, the organization has built eleven schools, a nutrition centre, sanitation facilities and helped support teacher salaries and technical training for students.
Nearly 2,000 children in Haiti attend Free The Children schools. The organization has also committed to long-term development by implementing clean water, health and alternative income programming and eliminating all barriers towards attending school.
This holistic approach ensures that rebuilding the nation, post-earthquake, is feasible and that young people's minds continue to develop while the rest of the community benefits as well.