On the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, a Lawrence resident and earthquake survivor fasted and prayed, a local nurse worked to gather medical supplies for a return visit, and a Kansas University student was in the country filming a documentary.
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake buried much of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in rubble on Jan. 12, 2010. More than 230,000 people died, and another 810,000 were left homeless.
A year later, recovery is slow as Haiti struggles with a cholera outbreak, political unrest and criticism on how aid money is being spent.
While the earthquake’s tremors were far from Lawrence, its force continues to shape the lives of some Lawrence residents.
The sound of the house collapsing and images of dead bodies remain vivid for Rachelle Esperance, who survived the quake with her 3-year-old son, Olivier.
“It’s like a movie. I still can’t believe that I was in that situation,” the 39-year-old Lawrence resident said.
Esperance and her son were watching television in a second-floor apartment in Port-au-Prince when the quake struck one year ago Wednesday.
Esperance, a nursing student at Kansas City Kansas Community College, returned to her native country a few weeks before to get her student visa renewed.
She and her son suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. She sometimes takes medication to get sleep, and Olivier (pronounced Oh-LIV-e-yay) is frightened by strong winds and storms.
“I am doing better, but I still feel pain,” she said.
Esperance is marking the anniversary with a three-day fast. She prays every day.
She has 11 brothers and sisters. Four of her brothers live in Lawrence, and three of them took care of her oldest son, Sebastian Edward Joseph, 13, while she was in Haiti. One brother has moved to Lawrence since the earthquake. The rest of her siblings live in Port-au-Prince, along with her father, Gerard Esperance, 70.
“They are doing OK,” she said. “They stay together and try to survive.”
Some of her family rents housing and others are living in tents. An aunt has cholera, an infection that causes diarrhea and vomiting. Sometimes, they are unable to find food.
“Life is very, very expensive over there. It was expensive and now it is even more expensive,” she said.
She blames the Haitian government, and said it is trying to profit from the quake while other countries are trying to help.
“That makes me sad,” she said. “They don’t care about health or sanitary conditions.”
Her father made a trip to Lawrence in June, and he saw a doctor and got blood pressure medication.
“Seeing my dad was very emotional,” she said. “We had some good times. It was hard to let him go back to Haiti because we know what’s going on over there.”
A little less than a year ago, Lawrence Memorial Hospital nurse Karin Feltman was packing aspirin, ibuprofen, antibacterial creams and latex gloves as she prepared for a mission trip to Haiti.
On Tuesday, she’ll return to Port-au-Prince with One Heart Ministries working in clinics, visiting orphanages and handing out medicine.
The supplies are different, but the intent is the same.
“It isn’t about what we can accomplish, but that we can show them we still care and haven’t forgotten about them,” Feltman said.
For this trip, Feltman plans to distribute cards that have facts about cholera and its symptoms. She also will be carrying cards with a recipe to help with oral rehydration, which will assist those suffering from severe diarrhea. And she’s packing fungal creams, vitamins and medicine that will treat acid reflux and aches and pains.
Along with a fresh round of supplies, Feltman will be armed with two local recruits: Paula Westphal, a fellow nurse from Overbrook, and Emilie Durgan, a Lawrence 20-something who’s a family friend. They will be part of a six-member team that will serve in Haiti for 10 days.
During her first trip, Feltman saw the piles of rubble, tent cities and hunger that engulfed the city after the earthquake. She also witnessed moments of hope and compassion.
This time around, Feltman fears the hope might be waning as the country struggles to recover.
“I’m worried about going and them not viewing us as helping, but as something negative,” Feltman said.
When the earthquake struck Haiti a year ago, Feltman didn’t hesitate to start preparing for a mission trip. She’d already served on medical mission trips in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and in Kenya, Honduras and Malawi.
In one of Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods, Feltman worked at a clinic that served 2,000 people and helped feed 3,200 people while she was there.
Her trip ended with a 16-hour delay on a hot tarmac as she waited for a flight home. When she landed in Kansas City with 34 hours of no sleep, Feltman vowed she would return.
“Part of it is just because I know how easy it is to move onto the next disaster and to forget about something like this,” she said. “I always try to go back at some point just to show them forces are coming and that people haven’t forgotten about them.”
One year after getting stuck in Haiti with his pregnant wife, Karen, Adam Buhler is already back in the country working on a documentary.
Buhler, who was working as a photojournalist at the University Daily Kansan at the time he was trapped in Haiti, is shooting video and still photography for the Nap Kenbe Project, according to his mother, Beth Buhler.
The aim of the project is to chronicle the nation’s efforts to rebuild.
The couple made plans to return to Haiti soon after coming home.
“We’ll go back,” he said at the time. “We were planning on going on future trips before. Even more so now.”
Adam was introduced to the country through his missionary work with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I just walked back from the exact spot I was standing in when the quake hit last year,” Adam said in a brief e-mail on Wednesday. “It was quite surreal.”
Adam’s father, Dave Buhler, said that he was gathering interviews for the documentary, and actually ran into a woman who recognized him from when he was there last time.
Karen is home with the couple’s son, Everett, who is now 6 months old.