On Saturday, August 14, 2021, at 8:29am local time, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the southwestern part of Haiti. That day, over 2,200 people were killed and more than 130,000 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed. It was another crisis on top of what the country was already

Aftermath of erthquake
When an earthquake hit the southwestern portion of Haiti in August of 2021, it was yet another crisis hitting an already embattled nation. Photo by Pierre Moïse

facing—political instability, COVID-19, food insecurity, and the aftereffects of a previous earthquake and hurricane.

Lions Respond

Local Lions “sprung into action quickly,” says KaSondra Byrd, Division Manager of Global Grants from Lions Club International Foundation (LCIF). Just hours after the earthquake struck, Lions in Haiti gathered and immediately began developing a comprehensive relief plan. The most affected area was in Les Cayes, a three-hour journey south from the capital of Port-au-Prince. Lions had many factors to consider: what supplies were needed, how to transport them to more rural areas of the affected region, how to navigate the challenges of insecurity in the area, and how to best meet the needs of the local people. It was a tall order, but the Lions were ready.

Putting Experience To Use

Lions transfer good to be distributed
Lions in Haiti had the connections, know-how, and disaster relief planning experience from a previous earthquake to be able to jump into action.

Lions in Haiti had the connections, know-how, and disaster relief planning experience from a previous earthquake disaster in 2010, when a 7.0

magnitude earthquake hit just 25 miles west of Port-au-Prince and affected 6.5 million people living within 50 miles of its epicenter. Lions “have a better concept of what happened previously and the challenges, and organized around that,” says Byrd, who has worked with Lions in Haiti for the past 10 years.

During the first earthquake disaster, Lions had a lot to figure out, and fast: “Who can we network with on the ground? Who do we partner with?” The country was inundated with foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) trying to provide relief, and there was a lot of difficulty in navigating who had and hadn’t been helped and where the Lions could best assist with their relief efforts.

LCIF Quickly Provides Support

Man and children standing in front of tent
Photographer Pierre Moises says a lot of Haitians are interested in becoming Lions after seeing how they helped in the aftermath. Photo by Pierre Moïse

This time, with the help of a US$100,000 Major Catastrophe grant from LCIF, Lions were able to provide immediate relief to three remote local communities, providing food, water, medical supplies, and moral support. From August 21 – 31, 2021, they handed out 2,300 bottles of water, and 1,890 food and hygiene kits prepared by the Leos of Port-au-Prince.

Under the leadership of District Governor (DG) William Eliacin, shelters were established in the first three days.

“Support of all kind has been delivered to the South department by all the existing clubs in Haiti,” says DG Eliacin.

“Those donations, in terms of potable water, food, and shelters have been delivered in all towns affected by the earthquake. It is extremely important to stress the major role of the local clubs, since all of them have contributed to the relief effort.”

Support From Other Lions

With the help of the Lions of Sweden, the Lions of Haiti received 200 family-sized tents and 15 large tents, providing shelter to families who were now exposed to the elements and afraid to sleep indoors, children needing a place to go to school, and medical staff providing medical relief. Three Swedish Lions even came to Haiti to support the local Lions for several weeks, assisting with tent set-up and training. “We are not about to forget that,” says DG Eliacin.

Haitian photographer Pierre Moïse spent several days with local Lions as they pursued their relief efforts. He recalls seeing a group of young Lions walking through the city of Les Cayes, where nearly 60% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed. “[They were] doing a good job to distribute tents and aid,” he says over a WhatsApp call. He noticed the faces of the local people and recalled how satisfied they felt. “A lot of people want to become Lions,” he says.

“They see the Lions helping the population and doing good things. Hope,” he says, “Lions develop and extend it to people.”

It Wasn’t Easy

The distance was a major challenge—a majority of the clubs had to travel many hours to get to the affected areas. The trip from Port-au-Prince, where they received and readied the disaster relief resources, was a three-hour drive. But with narrow bridges, unpaved roads, traffic, and the threat of bandits, getting supplies to the area sometimes took up to 10 or more hours.

Plus, the cargo was large, heavy, and difficult to transport. According to the third report written by the Lions of Haiti to LCIF, the “200 family-sized tents and 15 large tents filled five 40-foot containers and had to pass through rough country to get there.” There are things that could help. One intermediate solution would be to have a helicopter, says Eliacin. But he would settle for more reliable ground transport as well. “Having one truck and a 4-wheel-drive pickup would be pluses, since it would spare us having to rent them all the time.”

It Wasn’t Always Safe

“Every time we move we put our lives in jeopardy,” says DG Eliacin.

“Channeling help to the needy is extremely difficult and risky. The solution is political. And due to the nature of our organization there is nothing much we can do about it.” There was one incident where an armed group of bandits held up the caravan of supplies, but Lions were able to negotiate and get past the blockade safely and with their supplies intact.

The next challenge was to determine where to leave their supplies for distribution to the more rural areas. But no one wanted to have a supply depot close by. There was—and still is—an “immensity of needs,” says DG Eliacin. And those needs drove desperation—even the local police station had experienced a battle during food distribution. Finally, after speaking with the community, Lions were able to connect with a couple willing to lend a courtyard in the Bourdet area away from the city center to distribute relief goods.

The Difficult Task of Distribution

Lions distributed by zone, deliberately targeting vulnerable populations far away from the city, some days sleeping in the street or in the car to provide on-the-ground relief. More than 6,900 people were injured and over 83,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake; there are “thousands and thousands who cannot provide the most basic [needs].” says DG Eliacin. “Literally thousands of houses and hundreds of schools need to be rebuilt, and rebuilt properly.”

Access to the depot, however, was made difficult by a small canal. Lions Marc Cornet and Josue Jean recognized the need for a bridge over the canal to help transport supplies safely and more efficiently from the local distribution depot to the affected communities. They then organized the building of a small bridge, creating a long-term improvement for the area.

Roof Checkups Ease Fear In The Aftermath

The third challenge was managing the effects of the aftershocks and the subsequent emotional trauma felt by the local population. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 22 aftershocks between 4.0-5.8 magnitude were felt days after the initial earthquake, primarily in the Nippes Department. People were afraid to sleep indoors, and for good reason—after the 2016 landfall of Hurricane Matthew, many locals replaced their tin or wooden roofs with concrete for greater protection from the stormy weather.

However, a majority of these structures were not earthquake-proof, and so when the earthquake struck, roofs collapsed, causing many people to fear being inside concrete buildings. To alleviate some of the fear, local Lions provided structural assessments of homes with volunteer engineers and technicians, evaluating each home with a color code: red for demolition, yellow for repair, and green for use. In their Phase Two plan for long-term development, Lions aim to institute a cash and food-for-work program to help those unemployed by the earthquake re-enter the workforce by clearing rubble and rebuilding buildings. To help youth reduce their stress response to trauma, Lions are hoping to promote the use of art, music, and sports in schools.

Haitian Lions Are There For The Road Ahead

Amidst the challenges, Lions are “very resilient, [and] they have the community support,” Byrd says. “They are committed to the people of Haiti and people know they can depend on them.”

“Long after the cameras turn off, the Lions are there, because this is the community where they live and serve,” she says.

Moïse knows the importance of Haitian Lions helping their own communities. “People in the earthquake area…don’t want outside people to come to them. They prefer to help themselves, they are determined for that,” he says. The local Lions of Haiti are at the core and center of long-term reconstruction efforts. The first club in Haiti chartered in 1982, and the number of clubs continues to expand across the country.

However, Lions in Haiti recognize they can’t tackle these challenges alone. “We do appreciate the help of our Lions brothers and sisters, and in the name of the Haitian people, we thank them from the deepest of our hearts,” says DG Eliacin. “Things have been tough for us recently, yet we have witnessed a spontaneous movement of solidarity toward those who were suffering the most,” he continues. “Such a country cannot die, and our modest efforts to help will contribute to creating a new Haiti where, thanks to all of us, hope will finally glow.”