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The earthquake in Haiti can't destroy the Village of God's spirit of survival

Haitians pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after a devastating earthquake hit the impoverished nation on Jan. 12.

His friend's "house" is a patch of grass with a shredded blue tarp, suspended between branches, as a roof. In minutes, they're bored and racing back to Wilgy's house, a slightly more substantial dwelling -- it has draped bedsheets for walls, as well as a bedsheet overhead. It's next to a deep loading dock filled with brown, scummy water.

Wilgy's mother, Jeny Pierre, suspects a clogged drain, but has been unable to find one, poking blindly in the muck for days in the closing days of January. The mosquitoes swarm.

"I don't know when I'm going to get out of this situation," Jeny says. "It's in the hands of God."

Her husband leaves the camp most days, searching for work because the metal fabrication shop that once employed him was destroyed. She seeks refuge from the punishing sun, surrounded in her bedsheet house by her other three children, ages 9, 16 and 17. In the cruel calculus of Haitian family decision-making, the parents can afford to send only two to school: one of the older children -- 17-year-old Jean Francois Gerry -- and one of the younger children -- Loosenie Pierre. The other teenager -- 16-year-old Jeny Love -- goes without and so does Wilgy, creator of "le machine."

Wilgy overhears the conversation, and jumps to his feet.

"When school opens, I want to go," he declares.

Mother looks away.

She knows that's unlikely -- the family has almost no money, and even if they came into some, Haitian education officials estimate that 75 percent of Port-au-Prince's schools lay in ruins. And she won't be teaching him herself. The Pan American Health Organization estimates that nearly half of Haitians are illiterate; Wilgy's mom is one of them.


Across the field from Wilgy's new house, Fifi Charles, the sidewalk chef with a round face who wears her hair in floppy dreadlocks, warms "Haitian legume," a dish she makes from mashed eggplant, green passion fruit, cabbage, spinach, mirliton squash and carrots. Flies form a thick film of squirming black on the dirty dishes in the plastic basin behind her. Customers hand her wadded Haitian bills, the denominations barely visible because the oils from countless fingers have turned them black and slick.

Charles works alongside 17 other food preparers in two long rows, each woman hunched over or squatting next to metal skillets. Each skillet sits on a cooking stand and draws heat from charcoal, the fuel of choice in Haiti and the root of this nation's environmental nightmare. Because Haitians have such little access to electricity or gas for cooking, they've shaved most of the trees from once lush forests. According to U.S. government statistics, 60 percent of Haiti was forested in the 1920s, but less than 2 percent is now.

Charles is one of the lucky ones in the camp: She has a way to make money. Still, the price she pays for vegetables has soared since the quake, and her family of six "eats the profits," she says.

One afternoon, the earth moves again, another aftershock among many. The ground beneath Charles wobbles, briefly assuming the consistency of Jell-O. She stands and screams: "Jesus, Jesus!" Then the ground is still again. A U.S. military helicopter roars far overhead, a display of might and technology, but it doesn't stop.

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