In the aftermath of the January 12th earthquake EDC’s Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Project (IDEJEN) is helping youths rebuild their futures.
Widny Laurent, 18, is sleeping with neighbors under a makeshift tent at Place Boyer in Pétionville, Port-au-Prince. And he has been since January 12 when the earth—and his life—underwent a shocking upheaval.
Before the quake, Laurent was a student, learning the trade of carrelage (stone paving) through EDC’s Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Project (IDEJEN). The day the earthquake shook, Laurent was inside one of the training centers. He didn’t even have time to think.
“A block fell on my head during the earthquake,” he says. “A lot of blood was falling.”
Laurent wrapped an IDEJEN shirt around his bloody head and rushed to a nearby hospital, only to find it mobbed. He went to another, and then to a third before giving up. He returned to the IDEJEN center and waited for news about his family, but instead heard nothing.
The injured teenager finally set out to find his family in the wreckage, only to discover his home had been demolished in the 7.3 magnitude quake. Finally, at 1 a.m., he got some good news.
“Someone told me they had seen two of my sisters and took me to them,” he says.
But his stepfather, brother, another sister, and his mother were still missing. Laurent’s father had died before the earthquake.
A community comes together
“I went to school but after second grade, I had to stop. I didn’t have the money to continue,” Laurent recalls.
Then one day, as a teenager, he saw a gathering of people on the streets of Port-au-Prince.
“I asked what the meeting was for, and they said ‘IDEJEN,’” he says.
IDEJEN, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, provides education, job training and placement, and small business development to Haitian youth ranging from 15 to 24 years old. Laurent signed up on the spot.
Of course, in the last few months, his objective at IDEJEN has changed dramatically. Everything has.
This earthquake was the worst one to hit Haiti—the poorest country in the western hemisphere—in 200 years. The death toll is now more than 250,000, and among those lost were EDC field agent Kencia François and technical trainer Jacqueline Despagne. Of IDEJEN’s more than 2,000 young participants, at least five were killed when their training center in the Delmas area of Port-au-Prince collapsed.
“We still don’t know how many youth or trainers have been killed. We haven’t yet found everyone,” says EDC’s Suzanne Kratzig, who was in Port-au-Prince on January 12.
As Kratzig was evacuated from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, she had only a glimpse of the horror unfolding outside: a sheet in the road covering a body, lines forming outside buildings, tents being pitched in parks, and people pawing through mounds of debris.
Unfortunately, Laurent experienced it up close. He lives in one of those tents. “I still haven’t found my other family members, so I know they must be dead,” he says.
In the weeks and months since the quake, IDEJEN employees have coordinated with Catholic Relief Services to distribute food and hygiene materials, including towels, toilet paper, rice, and oil, to the project’s youth throughout the area. IDEJEN’s staff members also arranged psychosocial support and other programming for the youth, in spite of the fact that they themselves had lost loved ones and were now homeless and forced to sleep outdoors.
But Laurent isn’t only on the receiving end of the relief effort. He is also distributing food.
“As I help other youth, I help myself because I am doing something and not sitting in a corner thinking,” says Laurent. “We are getting closer because there are many people who died together, but we have survived together.”
Still, there is one thing that hasn’t changed. Laurent relies on the carrelage skills he is learning in IDEJEN. Only now, he is using them to rebuild his community.
“My mother has died, my father has died. I continue to live, I survived,” says Laurent. “I only have hope with IDEJEN.”
Originally published on April 15, 2010