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Near the Epicenter in Haiti

May 2010

When staff member Jean Hess left in January for the Haitian mission trip she'd been making each year since 1991, she never expected she would experience and survive an epic earthquake. One of 59 women who traveled with the Lifeline Christian Mission to Grand Guave, located 45 minutes from Port au Prince, Hess was to teach a course on worry and anxiety to Haitian women. "How ironic," she says.

Grand Guave is only 12 miles from the January 12 earthquake's epicenter, and Hess recalls journaling the aftershocks all night from her makeshift bed on the compound's lawn. Post-quake, Hess says, her group quickly transitioned to emergency mode, organizing medical supplies and keeping the Haitian people calm. "The Haitians thought their world was coming to an end," she says.

And no wonder: The situation was dire. At one point, Hess found herself working to fashion two leg casts for a 5-year-old girl whose hip and both legs were crushed when a wall fell on her. The child was rescued by her aunt after the girl's mother and two sisters perished in the earthquake. Lacking proper medical supplies, Hess and others used what was available-rolled cotton, wood glue, flour, water and a tube sock. It took two hours with a hair dryer to get the cast to set sufficiently.

Since returning to the States, Hess has shared her story with the campus community and sought support for the "Build a Haitian House" program, which funds "structurally sound" two-room houses constructed of rebar and concrete. The houses constructed in Grand Guave over the past 15 years through Lifeline withstood the earthquake with minimal damage, further sparking the drive to create adequate housing when rebuilding Haiti. Each "block" costs $5, with 650 blocks required to build a home.

Support from St. Ambrose has already funded one home, and Hess hopes to raise enough for a second. Not surprisingly, she already has plans to return to Haiti in January 2011, when she is eager to continue being of service to the Haitian people and reconnecting with some of the friends she made during the disaster.

"The Haitians have been so inspiring, finding the will to survive when they already have so little," Hess says.

–H. Venema


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