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Haiti, nearly one year later

Haiti, January 9, 2011

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January 12 — which is only a few days away — marks the end of one of the hardest years that Haitians have known in a long, long time. It also marks that single day of tragedy when a 7.0-magnitude quake killed 230,000 and destroyed Port-au-Prince. Loved ones, homes, jobs, valued possessions — the earthquake took away all of these things from hundreds of thousands of people. The majority of them already knew great want in their lives to begin with. It has not been easy for them to start over.

How does it feel to be here?

For me, I feel a lot of sadness for how much people have lost and how hard it has been for them to start over. There's a lot of uncertainty in the air about how the Presidential election will be resolved. At the same time, I also feel a lot of admiration for how resolutely Haitians have continued on with their lives.

Undeniably it's a time for reflection about Mercy Corps' work here. We arrived a year ago, amid chaos and heartbreak. Since then, we've been able to help hundreds of thousands of men, women and children with immediate emergency assistance — and we've also made a lot of progress with helping them lay the foundation for a long-term recovery that includes restarting economies, creating jobs, building local knowledge, and preparing for future emergencies.

Our donors' support has made a huge difference — I've personally sat in front of dozens of Haitians who have told me thank you for the help that Mercy Corps has given them, and who then explained how it has changed their lives.

One of the most moving of those was Iphomene Jean Louis, a mother of three who lives in the tough neighborhood of Cite Soleil. Iphomene was standing outside the Bon Samaritan church building where Mercy Corps' Moving Forward sports program was being held for local kids. It wasn't yet time to pick up her son, she told me, she just enjoyed seeing the kids play so much that she stayed to watch.

"I've really seen a change in my son since he started coming to these activities," she told me. "He had a lot of anxiety after January 12. He would get scared very easily, especially when he heard loud noises. Since joining this program he's not as jumpy. He has asthma and I've noticed that the activity is helping him breathe better. The best thing is that he's laughing and relaxed. I want to say thank you to Mercy Corps, Bon Samaritan and the mentors. They really care about the kids."

Post-earthquake Haiti hasn't been an easy place to work — and certainly we all feel like we wanted to do more in the last year to help the many Haitians who are still struggling to rebuild their lives. But today our team is even more determined to build upon the progress we've already made. Our programs continue and we remain here to work with Haitians to build the country they want to see.

Haiti is a hugely complex place. There haven't been easy answers here anywhere. In the last year, Mercy Corps has faced the challenge of how to help Haitians survive the earthquake, and at the same time address the emergency that many Haitians have been living in for the last 30 years, which is some of the deepest poverty in the world.

My job over the next couple of days will be to talk to U.S. reporters — who are back in Haiti to cover the one-year mark of the earthquake — about what Mercy Corps has been able to accomplish here, and what challenges we continue to face.

This week you'll likely be seeing a lot of stories from Haiti, on the radio, television and Internet. Here on the Mercy Corps Blog, you can also read perspectives from our Haiti team. Some are long-time emergency workers and can compare their experiences here with other post-disaster situations. Some are Haitian, and can speak to the progress and Mercy Corps' work from that point of view.

Over the last couple of days, I've also gone to Port-au-Prince camps and visited the smaller coastal city of St. Marc, to talk with Haitians about what the last year has been like for them, and get their perspectives on the recovery.

"I'll be speaking to a lot of reporters and people who still care about how Haitians are doing after the earthquake," I said. "Do you want to say anything about your experience that you'd like me to share with them?" I'll be writing about their responses.

One of the things that I've learned over the last year, working in a place as complex as Haiti, is that in order to understand what is truly going on, you need to listen closely to the whole spectrum of voices and perspectives. I hope you'll return to the blog this week to hear more.