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Two days after the earthquake, people work together to search the rubble for survivors or bodies. Photo by Ben Depp/MCC.

Two days after the earthquake, people work together to search the rubble for survivors or bodies. Photo by Ben Depp/MCC.

On site: The depth of destruction

Daryl Yoder-Bontrager
January 21, 2010

Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, of Lancaster, Pa., director for MCC's work in Latin America and the Caribbean, writes from Port-au-Prince, where he traveled to support the MCC Haiti team.

It's been a sobering trip here. Mountains of rubble everywhere. Thousands of people trying to go about their lives, such as they are with practically nothing functioning. No banks, a couple of grocery stores, very little fuel, no electricity, no city water … spotty internet connection. People are generally accustomed to living with few public utilities in Haiti, but none is extreme even for this city.
 
Earthquakes are cruel. They ripple the earth, wreaking havoc and death and fear, dashing the illusion that the ground is solid. And then they taunt an already panicked people with pitiless aftershocks. This morning one woke us at dawn and sent us running outside. There wasn't any real danger, but the fear that those felt who had lived through the earthquake was strong.
 
So much rubble. This city will have piles of rubble laying around for decades. The sobering thing is that so many of those piles have people buried in them. People walk around with their noses covered to give them a little protection from the smells, and maybe from thinking of what is buried there in the smashed concrete.  
 
One of the things we're trying to emphasize is doing disaster relief in a way that preserves the dignity of the earthquake survivors. It will be a challenge. Even on a good day, rivers of aid flowed into Haiti, leaving a too-prevalent mentality that all good things come from outside the island. To always receive keeps a national self-concept pretty low. … 
 
An MCC-sponsored campaign over the last several years that was highly popular was a series of TV ads that urged Haitians to buy their own food (locally grown food) instead of always getting the cheaper imported foodstuffs. …
 
Now we have an unimaginable disaster... The question many of us are asking: "How can we give food and goods to the people who desperately need them in a way that builds their dignity?" I don't know, I wish I did. May the question stay right there in front of us – in big, bold letters.
 
Today we drove a cycle out to a city of 100,000 that is 80 percent destroyed. Eighty percent! That's like total. How is a city like that ever supposed to function again?
 
Gradually, way too slowly for most people, we're getting MCC organized to carry out what for us will be a huge disaster response. The MCC workers here are incredible people, dedicated, sometimes scared, always showing much respect for Haiti, always ready to dig in and help out in every way they can. Keep them in your prayers too.