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Five years ago today — on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 — a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the island of Haiti. Its epicenter lay just 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital.
Within 4 days, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. The estimated death toll varies from 230,000 to 320,000 dead. Another 300,000 people were injured, among them many Haitian children.
The Knights of Columbus quickly responded in an effort to help the victims. They soon focused their efforts on caring for the children who were injured, especially those who had lost a limb. Together with the University of Miami-affliated Project Medishare, the Knights established “Healing Haiti’s Children”.
To find out more, Aleteia spoke to Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, who was in Rome on Saturday for a Vatican-sponsored conference to mark the 5th anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Anderson discussed the K of C’s project to provide child amputees with the prosthetic devices and rehabilitation they need, how the problem came to their attention, and Saturday’s conference aimed at re-energizing efforts to rebuild Haiti.
Earlier that day, Anderson was received by Pope Francis in a private audience, together with three remarkable young men who as children who lost a limb in the Hiati earthquake. Today they are skilled players on “Team Zaryen”, a soccer team made up of amputee athletes who travel the world demonstrating their skills and teaching other amputees how to play on crutches. The three young men showed off their incredible skills in Rome on Friday, in a scrimmage with Roman players at a Knights of Columbus field not far from the Vatican.
Anderson talked to Aleteia about their inspiring meeting with the Pope.
Mr. Anderson, how do the Haitian soccer players who met Pope Francis today embody the whole story of Haiti over these last five years?
I remember Mother Teresa saying once that the real wealth of nations are its people, and the Haitian soccer players really exemplify that. The resilience, the spirit, the determination, the courage, and the hopefulness. You can see the natural resource in Haiti, which is its people, could make Haiti a great country, if we could just help to rebuild the society, the civil institutions, because the human resources are there.
What have the Knights of Columbus specifically contributed to the rebuilding, and what remains to be done?
Our project of doing what we set out to do, which was to give all the children who lost limbs in Haiti the prosthetic device and rehabilitation they needed — has essentially been done. We’ve also trained the Haitians to be the rehabilitators and the fabricators of the prosthetic devices.
The difficulty with children, of course, is that they grow up. They keep growing, and so unlike adults they keep needing a larger prosthetic device. There’s some sharing of that, and we’re committed to making sure that as the children get older and taller they have the device they need. So we’ll continue to be part of the scene there in Haiti as long as something needs to be done.
How did the need among the children come to your attention?
We have worked for about 15 years now with an organization called the Global Wheelchair Mission. So we first went there with wheelchairs for the amputees and then as we began to see the situation, and the problems, it came to us that of course the first people to get this kind of assistance are the adults, and mostly the men, and if something is left over, the women. The least productive members of society are the children, so they almost never get this kind of help, so we decided we’ll take care of the kids and make sure they come out okay.
Has Haiti has been forgotten after 5 years?
The problem with global communications being such as they are is that everybody’s aware of the latest crisis. We seem to go from crisis to crisis, whether earthquake or typhoon or fire. So I think there is a certain kind of forgetfulness, because we turn our attention to the latest event.
I think this conference was very important because it helped to re-energize a number of people and at least indicate to the country of Haiti and I hope to the government that a lot of us have not forgotten, that we’re going to stay the course and really do what we can to make the situation better.
You and the Haitian soccer players were received in audience by Pope Francis today. What did you find most significant inspiring about the meeting?
Well, I think there are two inspiring things about Pope Francis. First himself, because it’s so obvious that he’s personally committed to the poor and suffering. That doesn’t mean his predecessors have not been. It’s just that he evidences it in a very special and personal way. Secondly, his words of encouragement were very important to us.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.