March 4, 2011

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

A testament to the human spirit

David SilerIt is simply impossible to put into words what it is like to stand in the midst of a “tent city” of more than 30,000 people near downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

I was absolutely overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness that I have never before experienced.

However, the “president” of this makeshift city—a 33-year-old Haitian man, who looks to be more like 20—still has hope.

This man named Genesis is married to one woman—yes, rather unusual in Haiti—and has a 4-month-old adopted son, who like many, lost his parents in the earthquake.

I asked Genesis where he was on Jan. 12, 2010, when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck, and he told me the story of how he had just walked out of his house to go meet a friend.

He was only a short distance from his house when the ground shook violently. He turned around to see his house collapse—with his 18-month-old son inside. His son was crushed.

He would tell me later that day that he had another son who died of an unknown illness a year before the earthquake. I was the one with the tears running down my face. I asked him how he keeps going.

He simply replied that he still has his wife, who he loves very much, a new son and “his people,” who are counting on him.

I asked Genesis what he wants at this point in his life and he said, “I want a job—I want to work” so that he can take care of his family.

He is among the vast majority of Haitians, and especially among those people who lost their homes, who have no formal, steady work.

Genesis rents himself out to drive visitors and serves as a translator, which was what he was doing for me on this day. His wife, Irene, has opened a beauty shop in a tent near the tent where they sleep.

When I refer to a tent in Haiti, these structures are actually just tarps—most which carry the stamp “U.S. Aid” on the side—held up by tubing, sticks and rope.

Although Genesis has appreciated the food, water and other aid brought in from around the world, he just wants himself and his community to be able to make it on their own, and he says that jobs are what are needed now. Of course, this has been the issue in Haiti for many years, not just since the earthquake.

The poverty in Haiti is not unlike the earthquake of 2010—downright crushing. It weighs heavily on nearly every Haitian every day, every moment.

But just like Genesis, who has experienced so much pain and suffering, most Haitians that I met still have hope. I am awed by the human spirit of people that, when given hope, can endure just about anything.

You can learn about the construction of a new temporary shelter for Genesis and his family at

Raphael Smith, a Cathedral High School graduate and Purdue University graduate, designed the uber shelter.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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