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Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of Plan Canada (Jason Ransom/Jason Ransom)
Rosemary McCarney, president and CEO of Plan Canada (Jason Ransom/Jason Ransom)

Rosemary McCarney

Don't give up on Haiti Add to ...

The rubble is still everywhere. So much of Port-au-Prince appears unchanged from the moment the earthquake struck one year ago. Thousands of people are still living in makeshift tents - or less.

Canadians, who led the world with their outpouring of generosity in the wake of Haiti's earthquake, are seeing these images today and asking themselves: "Hasn't anything been accomplished?"

The answer is an emphatic "Yes!" But even after a year of unprecedented assistance from around the globe, we've still only just begun.

So it's appropriate to assess the progress to date and to take the pulse and to learn from mistakes, but also to remind ourselves of the monumental scale of the task before us of rebuilding Haiti - not just reconstructing physical structures but rebuilding the human spirit and capacity needed for the Haitian people to carry their nation forward. Building back better has been our consistent vision.

A year ago, once the scope and scale of the calamity was assessed, it was clear to every international relief and development organization that billions of dollars and 10 to 15 years of hard work would be required. That remains true today. These brutal but realistic expectations demand patience, tolerance and a realization that this was never a one-year project. We must remember this and also that, for this small country, today is a national day of mourning for the estimated 250,000 family members and friends who were killed.

Despite the task before us, there is much progress - and the return of hope is everywhere.

A few days ago, I was at Camp Corail, a massive refuge for 10,000 Haitians left homeless by the earthquake. Plan Canada is responsible for all health-care services in the camp and for several thousand more people living in makeshift tents on the camp's perimeter. When I was there in May, we had a couple of open tents on the fringe of the camp. Today, we have half a dozen newly built structures in a compound that provides emergency care, prenatal and postnatal assistance, nutrition, cholera treatment and inoculations to tens of thousands of children.

When I was there Saturday, an 11-year-old girl was brought to the clinic desperately ill with cholera. I stood and watched the health-care unit swing into action and save her life. Six months ago, the outcome would have been different. But, today, thousands of lives are being saved. Slowly, but steadily, things are moving forward. Newly minted local nurses are trained to triage new arrivals, patient care is documented, and order and organization now exist.

Elsewhere, people are moving from emergency tents to more permanent and semi-permanent shelters. Many of the camps are shrinking as people are able to reclaim their lives and rebuild their homes. Malnutrition is declining, as are maternal deaths. And tens of thousands of children are back in school - perhaps one of the most tangible signs of hope.

Last February, we consulted more than 1,000 Haitian children and young people to understand their priorities for reconstruction. They were clear: Get us back in school. So schools are being built - hundreds of them. More important, thousands of new teachers have been trained. The human capacity of this next generation - the decision-makers of tomorrow - is far more important than any physical infrastructure.

Haitians will be marking the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in solemn, quiet ways just as we would. They will visit the individual and mass graves where their loved ones lie, and will gather with the family and friends who survived. And then they'll return to the task of rebuilding their country and their lives. Canadians must stand with them.

Rosemary McCarney is president and CEO of Plan Canada, an international development agency that has been operating in Haiti for 38 years.

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