After the Storm: Giving Thanks in Haiti

While Americans are getting ready to join family and friends around tables of abundance this Thanksgiving, Haitians are living a much different reality—especially those in the areas pummeled by Hurricane Matthew on October 4. Thinking back to that evening, community members throughout the southwest region of Haiti recall a night of horror when heavy winds and rain barreled into their villages taking almost everything they had. While their homes were collapsing around them, metal roof sheeting sailing into the ferocious night sky, and their crops being ripped from the earth, they ran to safety. Children, the elderly, and the sick were picked up by neighbors and brought to the only structures in their villages that were built to withstand a Category 4 storm—their buildOn schools.  And for this, they are thankful.

Mulet is one such small community perched on a mountaintop along the southern coast of Haiti. Just two months prior to the storm, the community members of Mulet put the finishing touches on the first permanent school in their village. The school was constructed by the village in partnership with a U.S. Trek team of Beyond Asana yogis. They were extremely proud that 104 students would start the new school year in the classrooms they helped to build. In fact, the community contributed 1,526 volunteer work days to build the school—which is well above buildOn’s goal for community involvement.

Destroyed home

(Pictured above) A home in the village of Mulet was reduced to rubble after after Hurricane Matthew swept through.

At that time, none of the community members could have imagined that the school would serve another purpose on October 4 and in the weeks following. Last week, a small group of local leaders gathered in the school to reflect on the night of the storm. Leadership Committee member NevRien Polema said, “If this school wasn’t here, many people would have died.” Although, NevRien’s statement sounds like it could be hyperbole, it is anything but—four people who stayed in their homes in Mulet were killed by collapsing walls.  The fate for about 300 community members who sought shelter in the school was different…they are alive and grateful! “It is because of the school that we are alive,” NevRien said. “God sent buildOn to this community to work with us to build a school.”

The CASEC Serdieu Severe, who is a government representative for the locality of Mulet, praised the entire community for accepting to work with buildOn and being active partners in the development of their village. He thanked them all for providing the unskilled labor, the local materials (sand, water, and rocks), for hosting the visiting U.S. Trek Team during ground break, and for donating the land for the school. He told them that without their commitment and hard work, they would not have the school that saved their lives.

Naomie Esperance was also in the school last week and reflected on her experience. In her arms she was holding a small infant who was born three weeks after the hurricane.  Naomie was carried to the school on the evening the hurricane destroyed her home and the homes of each person in the village. As she was nine months pregnant at the time, she was not able to traverse the mountain paths as the hurricane tore through the village. With debris from homes and trees falling around her, Naomie made it safely to the school. For many weeks after the hurricane, about 200 residents of Mulet, including Naomie, used the school as a shelter. It was here in the school with the village destroyed all around her, that Naomie gave birth to her daughter Bethsaida. She chose the name because it is a place mentioned in the New Testament as a place of miracles.

Bethsaida born in the school

Naomie gave birth to her daughter Bethsaida (pictured above) in the community’s buildOn school after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.

Naomie, Bethsaida, NevRien, and the CASEC Serdieu, along with the entire community of Mulet, face tremendous challenges ahead. But just as Naomie’s last name signifies (‘Esperance’ means hope), the entire community is hopeful. After they are able to meet some of their basic needs (housing and food), they would like to partner with buildOn again to construct another school in their community as the old, pre-buildOn school building, which was still in use before the hurricane, collapsed. They all agree that education is necessary for life. In addition to being hopeful, they are also thankful to buildOn and to each other. Together they built the school that saved their lives.

Mulet with old school destroyed in foreground

(Pictured above) The buildOn school stands behind remnants of Mulet’s old school building which collapsed during Hurricane Matthew.