Amid catastrophic loss, two people find themselves as Haiti bounces back from 2010 earthquake

Published: Saturday, June 30 2012 1:02 p.m. MDT

Near the top of the hill, on a small plot of dirt, a man named Pierre is using a wood-handled trowel to spread cement between two cinder blocks of his house. A local engineer trained by Build Change watches from a few yards away. Sticks of rust-colored rebar support the blocks, a feature Pierre hadn't seen in any of the houses in his neighborhood before the earthquake. He's been guiding this entire process — buying the blocks from local merchants, choosing the layout of his house, picking the contractors who help him with the work.

"A lot of times when people come in after an earthquake they build houses that don't really fit the neighborhood, or with materials that aren't available locally, so it's not really sustainable," Kathleen says. "We're trying to change the way people build here permanently, kick-start the economy, and empower (locals) with that knowledge so that when we leave they pass this knowledge on to others."

As Kathleen drives back to her office, it's clear that the work of rebuilding will last for years. Tent cities still occupy nearly every corner of open space in Port Au Prince.

But something about her time here has filled her not with frustration, but with a sense of purpose.

"I've changed," she says. "The things that used to matter to me, that I used to worry about, don't really matter as much anymore."

She has never met Berthony Theodor, but they have likely passed each other dozens of times on the busy streets of Port Au Prince. There are dozens of people like them in this city — aid workers from the Netherlands, doctors from Spain, missionaries from Louisiana. Kathleen says she never wants to leave, even though her friends back in Boston keep asking when she'll return. And in this way, Berthony and Kathleen are the same. To both, Haiti will always be home, and despite its troubles, there's no where else they'd rather be.

After the earthquake Berthony's extended family in the United States asked him to come and live with them in Arizona. Berthony thought about it, but something about the move felt wrong. To leave now? Too many people were counting on him.

Today he's driving out to Canaan, a settlement that sprung up on a mountain slope after the earthquake. It sits 9 miles out of Port Au Prince in the open countryside. It reminds Berthony of the place where he grew up. The air smells of goats and wet grass poking out from beneath the white rocks on the mountain.

It is here that the LDS Church is building 200 homes. Every few weeks Berthony drives out here to check on the project. This afternoon, one of the bishops is supervising the framing of a simple A frame house, and as Berthony approaches the work site the sound of hammers nailing down a metal roof echoes across the valley.

"I would never say the earthquake was a blessing, because we lost so many people," Berthony says. "It was a horrible thing and for those who lost people, they can't get them back. But we also learned our strength."

He looks toward the house his fellow members are building. He thinks of a family now living in a tent who will move here when the work is done. It's a small project compared to the challenges Haiti still faces, but it is something, and it is a beginning. He talks about the other projects he's running for the LDS Church, which includes the initiative to get scholarships for kids not attending school, an employment program for members out of work, and an immunization outreach effort with the Haitian government that will potentially save the lives of millions of children under the age of 10. "The people of Haiti, they will bring this country back," he says. "For me personally, this experience changed me. I spend my days thinking of others, more than I ever did before, and so I'm grateful for that."

"We still have a lot of work to do," he says, looking back towards Port Au Prince. "But we'll get it done."

He still has his personal goals and dreams, despite the earthquake. He has meetings at his church, the duties of his job, and the responsibility he takes most seriously — the raising of his three kids. And he still has his rituals. Every day he gets to school early, parks his car in the shade, and pulls out his tattered textbook to study in the quiet of late afternoon.

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