Avec Mis Nouveau Amis, Monsieur Antoine

“It was terrible, just terrible,” says Delille Antione. He’s speaking about his experience during the earthquake on January 10, 2010 in Port-au-Prince. “I really don’t want to talk about it; I don't want to think about it again.” And unlike a lot of people over the years I have met who say things out loud like they “do not want to talk about it,” I can tell Delille is not being coy. He really does not want to talk about it, but I connive him into doing so anyway with soft words and encouragement because sometimes that is what we journalists do: Persuade kind and thoughtful people into describing horrible things they would rather not remember or say out loud. It is not malicious; we don’t mean to be sadistic. We are just trying to get the historical details right so you, dear reader, can understand what happened and how people survive such things.

So in this way I discover that when Delille, the director general of Haiti’s Commission Épiscopale Pour L’Education Catholique, was downtown for a business meeting in Port-au-Prince with a colleague on that dreadful afternoon, the building they were in collapsed around them. His colleague was killed instantly as the ceiling flattened over them and her body fell across his legs, which broke under the strain. His wife eventually called to check on him that day after the buildings fell, and he was able to use his cell phone to assure her that yes, he was OK, to ask for water and to direct his rescue. He lay there for 20 hours with a cadaver over his legs. By the time he was extracted, the damage was complete. He and his broken legs were flown to Canada where he spent the next five months getting healthy and learning to walk again. When he was done with this job, he went back to Haiti to return to his duties, keeping the nation’s Catholic education system, its best hope for the future, he will tell you, alive. He was 75 years old when the earthquake changed everything.

Advertisement

Delille takes me on a tour of the commission’s temporary office on the outskirts of the city center. He expects that the employees of his commission will return soon, after three years, to the Port-au-Prince center in a new building. The commission’s previous headquarters had disappeared in a puff of gray dust on Jan. 10, 2010. Now its office workers convene each day at the site of its for-profit printing press on the outskirts of town, next to its for-profit mango field across from its school-bench factory. All of these various enterprises, initiated or compelled by program grants from foreign donors or part of the natural landscape of financing the Catholic school system in Haiti, Delille somehow tracks in his mind in addition to his primary duty of seeing to the best education that he can for Haiti’s young people. He is telling me how many benches he must produce according to the grant from a German NGO and how much money was disbursed for this program when I ask him how he does it. Doe he ever weary of the alphabet stew of foreign NGOs financing so much of his office’s activities? Does he every tire of the various for-profit enterprises he has concocted not for their own worth, but to find a way to finance Kreyol text books on the desks of Haitian first graders? He smiles broadly at my insipid queries.

“No,” he says, an indulgent smile broadcasts across his face. “I can remember ten times that number in my head.” He begins reciting a litany of European and American NGOs and the programs they have financed. He is laughing gently and I, a man, who has to look up his own cell phone number more or less every day, have no cause to doubt but that he is speaking the truth.

Find out about more about the state of Haiti's education system.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
David Smith
5 years 10 months ago
It seems that with all the attention Haiti received in this country after the Port au Prince earthquake in 1910, there should have been more than enough financial and feet-on-the-ground assistance to put things back to right.  It's been almost four years.  Was aid from outside simply far from adequate?  Were local organizations poorly prepared to put it to use?

Advertisement

The latest from america

Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018
Kevin Clarke tells us about his reporting from Iraq.
Olga SeguraOctober 19, 2018