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Haiti re-emerging — 4 1/2 months after the quake, Haitians 'lost a lot of things, but now we feel OK'

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — His eyes don't have bags under them anymore. His doleful expression is gone. His soft voice no longer sounds sorrowful.

Harry Mardy looks like a new man without the heavy burden of caring for hundreds of Haiti earthquake victims. The bishop of the LDS Church's Petionville Ward has returned to "almost normal" life.

"I'm doing OK. I feel better now. All the people out."

The Jan. 12 earthquake took a large toll on Petionville, a hilly community just outside Port-au-Prince. In the weeks that followed, more than 600 survivors sought refuge in the courtyard and palm-tree covered grounds outside the chapel.

Bishop Mardy lovingly tended to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his flock and continues to do so but in the more traditional way for Mormon bishops. Though many still face earthquake-related struggles, they say things are getting better.

Hervé Constant lived at the church without a tent for 20 days after the quake. His house wasn't damaged, but he felt a responsibility to help fellow ward members. People were filled with uncertainty as they struggled for food, water and shelter.

"We lost a lot of things, but now we feel OK," said Constant, who serves as Sunday School president in the Petionville Ward. "We've come to life."

Church services have returned to normal schedules. Schools and businesses have reopened. Some people have jobs again. But life remains hard.

After the earthquake, about 600 people whose houses fell down or were damaged took up residence outside the chapel. Church-issued tents and tarps filled every corner of the paved courtyard and grass. Suitcases and laundry baskets dotted the grounds. When mattresses and sleeping pads came out at night, there were few places to walk.

People were tired and depressed. They didn't know how long they would be forced to camp out, living on one meal of rice and beans a day.

"In January, it was very bad. Everyone was scared, fearing everything," said Jean Baptiste Richardson, a member of the Frere Ward. But now, he said, "We have opportunity to live the new life."

Due to an impending stake conference, local church leaders asked the people — mostly Latter-day Saints, some not — living outside the chapel to move the week of Feb. 14-20.

All of them left, though not necessarily to a house.

The church set up a camp for people who didn't have permanent places to live, Bishop Mardy said. Some moved to tents outside their collapsed or damaged homes. The church also continues to provide food for people who need it, he said.

Bishop Mardy has an intact house but like many Haitians, his family sleeps in a tent because, he said, his wife is scared to sleep inside. In fact, he has four tents for several friends and nine orphans the Mardys have taken in.

Ernso Jean-Pierre, a married 39-year-old father of two, lost his computer business in the quake. He lives at his shop, while his wife, 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter stay with his mother-in-law.

"I didn't have any way to make money," said the Petionville Ward member.

He's trying to get a job with one of the many humanitarian aid organizations still in Haiti.

Constant found work with the LDS Church building small but sturdy houses from wood, metal and plastic. The homes are constructed for individual families who have a plot of ground. He said the houses take about two days to build, but workers hope to speed that up to one a day. So far, he said, they have put up 13 houses.

Ryan Jackson, an LDS Church member from El Paso, Texas, has been in Haiti since Feb. 7. He had taken time off work to earn a master's degree in public health but decided to put his medical skills to work as part of the relief effort. Trained in general medicine and child psychiatry, he has found himself doing a little of everything, including hustling relief organizations for food and environmental work.

"When I first came here, people were miserable. They lost their businesses. They lost their friends. They lost their families," he said.

But, he says, he has seen improvement in people's demeanor.

"They're starting to deal with the loss. They're starting to see they can get on with their lives."

Bishop Mardy said despite their difficulties, people continue to rely on faith.

"For the members, we receive lessons from the leaders to have the members work by themselves, to have faith in the gospel, to choose the right, to serve others, keep being good, to pay tithing."

All those things, he said, are happening. Furthermore, he said, members who were not attending church prior to the earthquake have returned.

Richardson, who serves as Frere Ward clerk, said not only have people come back to church, they're working harder at living the gospel, adding that tithing donations have increased.

Neil Jean-Louis wasn't in Haiti when the quake hit but arrived two days later.

"It's not like the life before, but it's not the same Haiti I knew when I got here Jan. 14," he said. "There is no more extreme emergency. You can see people laughing" again.

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com