After a major earthquake rocked Haiti last year, a teenaged girl approached the Rev. Edith Woodling, chaplain of St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Brookhaven, as she was helping direct cars lined up at the end of the school day.
The young girl handed Woodling $100, a gift the girl decided could be better used by the people of Haiti.
“I don’t need it. I want you to add it to the funds we’re raising,” Woodling recalled the girl saying.
A year later, the devastation in Haiti has faded from news headlines. The help needed in the country, however, is as important as ever, according to local community activists.
The gift was part of an outpouring of concern shown after the Jan. 12, 2010, Haitian earthquake by residents of Buckhead, Sandy Springs and north DeKalb County for the ravaged country.
The Rev. John Porter, a faculty member at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, took a recent trip to Haiti. Porter planned to take upper-class students from the school in January, but the trip had to be called off until spring. The conditions in the country are simply too unsafe, school officials said.
His agenda for the students once they eventually arrive in Haiti?
“I insist that they do nothing,” said Porter, who has been involved in building schools tied to the Episcopal ministry in Haiti for more than a decade.
Instead, the small group of students should soak up both the plight and the triumphs of the Haitian people, who are “materially poor, but spiritually rich,” Porter said.
Since the earthquake, the country largely has been cleared of the debris of crumbled houses, government and office buildings. But little reconstruction has been accomplished, Porter said.
Thousands of the country’s displaced people live in ramshackle camps – which are marked by shelters made of corrugated metal, scavenged wood and cardboard boxes. The camps are ringed by portable restrooms.
At night, it’s pitch black in Haiti. The country doesn’t have electricity in most parts. No police or security protects people from criminal gangs that roam the island country. No one leaves the safety of the camps at night, Porter said.
“People say what Haiti needs is a big bomb to clean things up and start over,” he said. “Well, Haiti had its bomb and it’s worse.”
While the reality of the Haitian people may seem bleak, Porter sees a spirit that will sustain the ravaged island country – something he wants to impart on his students.
“Their artists paint as if the country were beautiful,” he said. “The trees and the flowers and the green grass is all there.”
Holy Innocents’ raised roughly $7,000 in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, but Porter has a larger goal. The school, through Porter, is selling individual Legos for $10.
That may seem like a lot of money for a cube of plastic, but it represents 40 cinder blocks that can be manufactured in Haiti to help rebuild the country.
The campaign gained steam around the holidays because the blocks could be used as a Christmas ornament, but the campaign is continuing beyond the traditional giving season, Porter said. “We’ll call them winter blocks, or spring blocks, it really doesn’t make a difference.”
As Porter’s efforts continue, the collective help of local communities has had a lasting effect, activists say.
About a year ago, Max Barab, a Buckhead student, raised $8,300 through a yard sale to help Haiti.
The money went for Hope For Haiti Now, said Max’s mother, Benita Baird. The relief efforts of the organization are focused on rebuilding the area and fighting a cholera outbreak in the country.