Faith in the Face of Devastation
Kari O’Grady, Ph.D., brings research interest, pastoral counseling resources to Haiti
More than six months after the quake, 1.6 million Haitian families remained homeless, living in makeshift tents, sleeping on dirt with their children amid the rubble, still waiting for billions in pledged international aid to materialize. Before the earthquake, the Haitian government could not provide basic services such as education and health care to most of the nation’s nine million people. During the quake, most government ministries collapsed, and nonprofits, private contractors, as well as a chorus of humanitarians and missionaries—including a strong Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presence—stepped in to provide basic survival amenities such as water, shelter, and vaccinations.
O’Grady expected that by the time she traveled the survivors would have encountered a new set of mental health issues in the recovery process. “Usually by six months the basic needs have been met, so we’re talking about helping them grieve and recover from loss,” said O’Grady, who found that many of the earthquake survivors in Haiti were at an earlier stage because the poor infrastructure has not met their fundamental needs. “There is a sense of meaning-making happening, but there’s also the facing that this may not be so temporary. So that’s requiring them to draw upon their faith in a different way than I expected.”
HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS
A motorcycle ride through Port-au-Prince’s ravaged streets to conduct interviews at an encampment is heartbreaking. Filling every inch of cleared land, even the median strip, are the faded flower-patterned sheets and electric blue tarps stretched taut across sticks and crumbling concrete walls. Children carry jerricans of water between these huts, their corrugated tin confirming O’Grady’s suspicion. Indeed this is not a temporary situation, so much as an open-ended purgatory taking root and anchoring its stakes before the rain.
While in Haiti, the Loyola team asked individuals to share their experiences with the earthquake, including how they are coping, what helps them cope, what continues to be difficult, the role of spirituality during and following the earthquake, the meaning they derive from the experience, the implications they feel this experience has on their future and the future of Haiti, and how the event has impacted their views of God and their overall faith.
This turned out to be no small task. “Most people in Haiti do not understand the purpose, nature, and process of filling out surveys,” Rollison said. “It is a Western concept. Much time is vested in explanation of the process.”
It is no exaggeration to say that in Port-au-Prince, many have lost everything—from loved ones and limbs to homes, schools, jobs, and, for that matter, hope for the future of their community and country. While for some individuals a tragic experience can trigger a crisis of faith, O’Grady’s findings in the field have revealed that many Haitians have stubbornly clung to their spirituality, even in the face of Jobian suffering.
“I very well could be coming back next summer and may still have to treat it the way I would if it was six months later because of the lack of progress,” O’Grady said. “Only once our survival needs are met, can we begin to make meaning. But if those basic needs are not met, it’s very difficult for them to ever move past that.”