On Our Feet Again: A JDC Disaster Relief Expert Reflects on the Earthquake in Haiti
As a native of Haiti, Djerhy Jn Baptiste was deeply affected by the recent earthquake that struck his home. Here, he talks about JDC's work in Haiti, as well as what disaster relief means to him.
By Djerhy Jn Baptiste - JDC Disaster Consultant | October 1, 2021
A native of Haiti, Djerhy Jn Baptiste was deeply affected by the catastrophic earthquake that struck the nation this past August. As JDC’s consultant on the ground there now, and as our representative after the 2010 earthquake,, Baptiste shares his experience growing up on the island, why disaster relief matters, and how JDC is partnering with local organizations to bring aid to the most vulnerable Haitians.
I was in Port-au-Prince when disaster struck.
It was 2010, and I was studying business management and working part-time as a translator and at a call center.
Then everything changed.
The 2010 earthquake shook the very foundations of Haiti, my home country, as well as my entire life’s trajectory. I was not physically injured, but I lost family members and a lot of friends. Experiencing a disaster of this magnitude first-hand is hard to describe and hard to revisit. But it brought me to JDC.
My transition to relief work was as immediate as the earthquake itself. I had a powerful spontaneous reaction to neighbors, friends, and strangers who needed help. I couldn’t stand on the sidelines while my fellow Haitians suffered: I had to do something.
I knew I had a chance to help when JDC responded to the 2010 earthquake. My first task was to update JDC on the work our partners were doing in the immediate aftermath. Later, once the partnerships and projects had been well established, I was to make sure that JDC remained integrated with the long-term rehabilitation efforts.
As a proud Haitian, I bring a lifelong perspective to the disasters that struck my country
As a proud Haitian, I bring a lifelong perspective to the disasters that struck my country. On its surface, the 2010 earthquake was worse than the one in August. It had a wider geographical scope, a higher death toll, and it injured more people.
But Haiti was already reeling when disaster struck in August. The pandemic, unparalleled economic hardship, and social and political unrest all exacerbated the disaster. Still, I’m filled with hope.
Haitians are good, generous people. Solidarity is a core feature of our culture. I ask that people see past our resilience; no one should be defined only by their ability to survive hardship. We also experience joy, celebration, and love. We are more than the problems that have befallen our country.
I know this because I’ve seen Haiti change dramatically over the years. I was born during a time of political unrest and have lived through many crises. Compared to when I was a child, many Haitians now want to leave the country. This wasn’t always the case. Still, many stay.
Right now, JDC is helping its local partners get medical supplies, water, and other essential items to the most vulnerable earthquake victims. With JDC assistance, our partners can now reach the most affected people in the most remote locations, far away from some of the main treatment and distribution points.
From 2010 until now, I’ve seen firsthand that JDC is unlike any other humanitarian organization. JDC brings logistical savvy to otherwise chaotic situations, mobilizing its local partners and listening to what they need. These local partnerships are crucial for a successful disaster response; these organizations are deeply-rooted in the communities they support, with decades of outstanding impact.
But logistics aside, I am most inspired by the values that animate JDC’s work. The philosophy of tikkun olam — repairing the world — and other Jewish values, are embedded in JDC’s history and identity. I have seen this compassionate, humane approach to relief, both in the way JDC representatives interact with beneficiaries, and in the more formal programmatic aspects of its operations. JDC puts people first.
The relief effort is far from over. Haitians still need water, food, medical supplies, and shelter. We also need people to know that we are more than our problems, more than “the poorest country in the western hemisphere,” more than a label. I have met and worked with enough young, educated Haitian leaders, both in Haiti and abroad, to remain confident that we can correct our country’s downward trajectory.
When I think about the strength of the Haitian people, I picture my friend George Exanesius. George is a professional dancer who lost his right leg and had his hand crushed during the 2010 earthquake. He thought his dancing career was over.
A few years after the earthquake, I saw him perform. Thanks to a JDC-supported clinic, George was able to meet with an orthopedic surgeon, treat his injuries, and continue his career. Seeing him dance again, in competition, with the biggest smile on his face, I was reminded of why relief work matters. Many died, many suffered, but George is still dancing.
These are the moments we live for; George is a testament to our collective spirit and potential. And with JDC’s help, I hope and believe that Haiti, too, will stand on its feet once more.
Djerhy Jn Baptiste was born and raised in Jacmel, Haiti, at the epicenter of the recent earthquake. After the deadly 2010 earthquake, Baptiste became JDC’s local representative on the island, monitoring and evaluating a multitude of JDC projects across Haiti. Baptiste has also managed projects for the Inter-Development Bank, the Kellogg Foundation, and the TK Foundation, among others.