PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti-The once-stately presidential palace downtown looked like an eerie ruin as the sun rose over the capital Wednesday morning. The whitewashed symbol of Haitian government sat cracked and collapsed-a grievous tableau of conditions in Haiti one year after a massive earthquake ravaged the city, killing some 230,000 and leaving more than 1 million homeless.
Women in long white dresses toting small black Bibles packed into an early morning church service, singing, swaying, and remembering the dead. Notoriously snarled traffic eased as many store owners closed for the day. Near the massive tent city situated on the Champ de Mars across from the abandoned presidential palace, an English-speaking voice wafted over a public address system at a morning rally: "Today is the first day of a new beginning for Haiti."
But in many ways, it was just like the day before: As much as 95 percent of the rubble in Port-au-Prince remains unmoved. Reconstruction efforts are maddeningly stalled. Tent cities fill the capital and surrounding areas. Homeless families without access to the latrines and bathhouses in some camps bathe along street sides, unable to find a patch of privacy. The UN estimates that 810,000 Haitians continue to sleep outdoors.
One reason: Of $8.36 billion pledged in aid commitments by donor nations last March, less than $3 billion has been received. The good news: About 690,000 people have been moved off the streets to new temporary or permanent housing, and of those most have adequate access to food and medical care.
Meanwhile, other disasters loom: Scores of political posters remind Haitians of a volatile presidential race marred by fraud. And though graffiti on walls in the city no longer announce the number of dead on city blocks, it does warn of an epidemic that has killed more than 3,600 and infected more than 400,000 nationwide: cholera.
And yet in other ways, Haitians continue to prove resilient despite wrenching trials and failed progress: A traditional calypso band once again greets passengers arriving at the Port-au-Prince airport. Street vendors fill sidewalks with wheelbarrows full of toiletries, drinks, and tennis shoes. Some even sell local artwork and small globes.
For Harry Derolus, resiliency is rooted in the one piece of recovery he could manage over the last year: hard work. Two days before the earthquake's anniversary, Derolus, a father of five, moved his family from a cramped tent to a simple home he personally built bit by bit over the last year.
It was no easy task: Derolus works several jobs, including as a driver for Christian organizations, a translator for American workers, and an installer for a water purification group. His goal all year: Move his family from the tent in front of their rental home that collapsed just after they felt the quake on Jan. 12, 2010, and own something of their own.
Sitting in the back of a pickup truck at the airport waiting for customers, Derolus said his house doesn't have windows, doors, or beds, but he looked genuine when he added, "I'm so happy because it's home."
Derolus said he doesn't know what might be the long-term solutions to Haiti's long-term problems, and he acknowledged that a climate of uncertainty dominates everyday life: "That's Haiti-you never know when something bad is going to happen."
But on the eve of the earthquake's anniversary, the committed Christian said he was also determined to continue to work and pray for God's blessings. "I'm thinking about how God is powerful and He can do whatever He wants," said Derolus before hopping back into his truck. "That's very important for me to think about not only for today-but also for the future.