PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, Famfan Jean Arnold was at work attending to his driving school business when a deadly quake rocked Haiti. He rushed home in a panic, fearing the worst for his family. He found his house in rubble — but his wife and young children were alive and unharmed.
Suddenly homeless and staggered by the scope of the disaster (more than 300,000 Haitians were killed) Arnold lost his business. His family lived for a time in a tent. Still, thanks to his faith and grit, he never lost hope. He believed better days would come.
Today Arnold lives in a small but sturdy new home east of Port au Prince. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said his religious conviction provided him hope at a moment defined by hopelessness.
On Wednesday, he worked alongside fellow Mormons in Haiti during a church sponsored, nation-wide tree planting project designed to deliver hope and beauty to his damaged nation.
Thousands of saplings were planted across the country, marking the first day of the tree planting project. Many more trees will be planted in the coming days. When the project is completed, it's estimated that some 400,000 young trees will have found new homes in all corners of this island nation.
A variety of saplings — including lemon, orange, coconut and papaya — are being planted and should one day offer both fruit and shade to the LDS Haitians and their neighbors. The trees will also provide beautification in areas of the country cleared out by centuries of deforestation.
The tree planting project was approved by the church's First Presidency as a symbol of the faith's ongoing commitment to Haiti. This is an anniversary year for the LDS Church in Haiti. Thirty years ago, President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, traveled to Haiti and dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel.
On Wednesday, the tree planting project offered members such as Arnold an opportunity to serve their country and his neighbors still suffering from the impact of the 2010 quake.
"It's important to us that we plant these trees all across the country, not just in our own yards," he said.
Wednesday was a national holiday here, so church members of all ages arrived early at meetinghouses across Haiti to pick up saplings purchased at local nurseries. They were then divided into small teams before traveling to both rural and urban communities to begin planting. The work was hard and long, but the members sang hymns and had fun together as they picked and shoveled.
Lukenson Odney is old enough to remember well the horrors of the 2010 quake — but young enough to be mistaken for one of the many full-time missionaries that helped with the project.
Each new tree, he said, signals a new day of hope for a weary land. "This project offers us as church members and citizens of Haiti a special opportunity to make a difference."
Improvements have been made since the disaster, he noted. New roads have been paved and street lights now illuminate some neighborhoods for the first time.
"But the people of Haiti still need help if we want to survive," he said.
Elder Fouchard Pierre-Nau is a native of Haiti and serves as an Area Seventy in the Church. Haiti, he said, was once known "as a pearl" in the Caribbean. But deforestation has dramatically altered the country's natural landscape and beauty. He hopes the ongoing tree planting project will be accepted as a gift of hope and renewal to Haiti from members of the church worldwide.