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Haiti's Slow Recovery: 'Even When I Slept, I Wept'

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti - Lately, spontaneous singing often spills out from churches in Haiti and fills the streets. The voices sound like they are growing louder as the Haitian people approach an ominous anniversary.

Almost five years have passed since a 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook the island nation and killed about 250,000 people in only 30 seconds.

The country's recovery has been slow. But it has taken some survivors nearly all of the last five years to find hope again.

Matthew Moore arrived in Haiti from North Carolina in 2010 to lead Compassion International's response to the disaster.

From Disaster to Recovery

In a recent interview with CBN News, Moore recalled his last five years of work in a country whose distinctions include: lowest life expectancy, lowest income, and lowest literacy rates in the entire Western hemisphere.

"The recovery from the earthquake has been slow, but it has happened," Moore said.

"Five years ago, Haiti was literally a disaster zone," Moore continued. "There was rubble in the street and most of the economy, government, and business was shut down."

"Haiti now is much better off than it was then," he added. "There are still many, many problems. I see progress. It depends on who you talk to whether that progress is good progress or bad progress."

Progress includes new construction projects, home-grown businesses, and the daily sound of children playing without fear.

While many disaster relief agencies have packed up and left Port au Prince, a commitment to Haiti's future has kept organizations like CBN's Operation Blessing in town to run an orphanage and provide a number of other services.

Compassion International has been working with children in Haiti for nearly 50 years. The organization began serving Haitian children in 1968.

Today, more than 79,940 children use the organization's 270 child development centers throughout the nation.

Compassion works with churches to give Haitian children a real opportunity to rise above their circumstances.

"Once we raise up a generation of godly men and women, that will bring change to Haiti, that will bring hope to Haiti. It's already begun," Moore told CBN News.

"These people are particularly vulnerable," he said. "And so after the earthquake, they are not going to be the first ones helped. They are probably going to be the last ones helped."

'I Never Saw My Mom Again'

Pierre Elisee is one of the children Compassion serves. It's taken workers years to help Elisee find his voice after the earthquake.

Elisee's mother died in the disaster, leaving her three children behind. He recalled the events of January 12, 2010 to CBN News. That's the day the earthquake hit.

"I remember it happened around 4:40," Pierre said. "School was over at 2:30. I met my mom on the streets at 2:45. I never saw her again."

"The next morning, we woke up and went looking for her," he continued. "In that moment we realized how big the impact of the earthquake was. We went out and saw people on the ground. It was weird seeing that many dead bodies. So I said to myself, 'Oh my God, maybe my mom is dead, too'."

A severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) left the 17-year-old angry and bitter. But he refused to share his feelings with his father, siblings, or anyone else. 

"I didn't want to do anything, except to wait for death to come and take me," Elisee recalled. "So, I became so scared, scared to go to school, scared to go to church, and scared to go out."

Tears, Prayer, and Scripture

He bottled his pain for more than two years, until he attended a Compassion International camp for young earthquake survivors and met with a child psychologist.

"I was facing the shore, under the shade of a coconut tree," he recalled. "And she started talking to me. I started to weep and I wept for the rest of my time at the camp. I think that even when I was sleeping, I was weeping."

Tears, prayer, and scripture ended his nightmare and taught him that there is "nobody greater than Jesus."

Pierre now dreams of bringing that message of hope to other suffering children in his country as an evangelist and engineer.

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