Haitian Students Reflect On Earthquake, One Year Later

01/12/11 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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VPR Photo/S. Keese
Billy St. Louis and Olivier Durand outside Burr and Burton Academy.

(Host) A massive earthquake devastated Haiti a year ago today.

A few months after the quake, American diplomatic officials stepped in to help Haitian students continue their educations at U.S. schools.

Three students were placed at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester. One of them graduated last year. But two remain in Manchester.

And as VPR's Susan Keese reports, they're still reflecting on the disaster and its aftermath.

(Keese) Billy St. Louis had gotten home from school and was watching television with his brother when everything started shaking and banging. He grabbed his brother and ran into the street.

People there were yelling that a tidal wave was coming, that the world was going to end.

His father and his sisters weren't home yet, and it was several hours before he knew they were okay. But St. Louis says the worst thing was the aftershocks that just kept coming.

(St. Louis) "It kept shaking, shaking, shaking. So you wasn't safe anywhere. You couldn't think about anyone, just think about yourself."

(Keese) St. Louis says, though other houses on his street were flattened, his home was okay. But the family slept outside in a tent for quite a while.

(St. Louis) "We couldn't go inside because it kept shaking. We didn't know if after an aftershock it was going to fall down. So, we stayed outside."

(Keese) It was a week before he learned that his two cousins hadn't been so lucky. Both were killed when their schools collapsed.

St. Louis and his Burr and Burton classmate Olivier Durand are both from middle class Haitian families.

Durand's family kept close to their suburban home in a sort of siege mentality. He says there was a rumor that escaped prisoners were running the streets, looking to steal things.

Durand says the one good thing about the quake was that people put aside their class differences - for a while.

(Durand) "When I finally get the electricity back, when we were watching the TV you could see people were all together in the camp. They were like singing, praying god all together. And then you could see all people could work together."

(Keese) But it didn't last. Durand believes that one of Haiti's biggest problems is the anger that the poor feel towards the rich, and the fear the rich feel towards the poor.

Shortly after the quake, St. Louis ventured into the worst hit part of Port au Prince to find out how his friends had fared. There were sad stories, and a lot of happy ones. He saw dead bodies in the streets, and found his school destroyed.

(St. Louis) "And I stayed home for two or three months. There was absolutely nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. "

(Keese) With no prospect of school anytime soon, both boys applied at the American embassy and became part of a group of students who fanned out to schools around the U.S. and several other countries.

Durand remembers during the bus ride in Vermont, someone said the students all should try to help  Haiti when they go back.

But Durand says it isn't so easy.

(Durand) "Like the fact that maybe you have more money than him, he hates you for that. And even if you're trying to help he, he doesn't care. The fact that you have more money, that's the problem. "

(Keese) Durand went home for Christmas and was discouraged by the lack of progress. But both boys say they will return and work to make things better. St Louis:

(St. Louis)"I still have hope. I know for sure It's not going to be like this forever."

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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