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Quake survivor shares story with Conrady students


From Jim Hook
N. Palos School Dist. 117

There are few learning experiences as valuable as eyewitness accounts of historical events.

Just ask the students in Tara Damhoff and Amanda Cole's reading class at Conrady Junior High School in Hickory Hills.

Students who had been learning about natural disasters were riveted to their chairs as a survivor of the deadly earthquake in Haiti described - in compelling and, at times, chilling detail - some of what occurred on that fateful Tuesday in January 2010.

That survivor's name is Evens Paul, and he is the husband of one of Damhoff's friends who met Paul in 2009 during a church mission to Haiti. Paul was the group's interpreter.

Paul described the fear and shock he felt as the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck some 16 miles west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

"We were all very scared when the quake hit," he told the class. "At 3 o'clock the phones stopped working, and by 5 o'clock the power was out everywhere."

Paul told the students that he lost many of his friends in the earthquake, which killed more than 300,000 people and left an equal amount injured. More than one million people were left homeless.

Most people weren't even aware of an earthquake because "so many people are uneducated," he said. People didn't know what was happening or what they should do.

"Many people in Port-au-Prince hid under beds or tables which led to their deaths because they were trapped," he said.

Paul said he joined others in the search and rescue mission. Many of those who were trapped died because they were in poor health, and many children became orphans after their parents were killed, he added.

Paul, who moved to the United States in 2011, and his wife started a non-profit organization that focuses on collecting donations and sending money and other items back to Haiti. The donations have helped provide jobs and pay for a neighborhood school being constructed in Haiti. Students who do not have the financial means to attend school will now be able to attend.

Paul said he was one of the lucky ones in Haiti, growing up in a middle-class family that could afford to send him to school. He grew up in the countryside, so he had to leave his family at age 12 to begin high school in the city.

"There is no way to pull yourself up out of poverty in Haiti unless you have an education," he said.

Realizing this, Paul studied agricultural engineering so he could help teach people how to grow crops and raise animals and stop so many people from going hungry or dying from malnutrition. Students' families will be taught how to grow their own food so their children do not starve to death. A water pump is being installed to provide drinking water to the community.

Paul and his wife plan to move to Haiti in the next couple of years to continue their mission.

Conrady students were so moved by Paul's story that they offered to bring school supplies for the Haitian children.