On January 12, 2010, shortly before five in the afternoon, Myrlene Julson, 27, had just come out of a neighborhood committee meeting. She was standing on a sidewalk of busy Union Street in Port-au-Prince's Delmas 32 neighborhood, talking to a friend, when the earth started shaking. As her friend ran and disappeared in a nearby alley, Julson was thrown against a wall and instinctively grabbed on the metal fencing that barred the window of a two-story house. "I called 'Jesus! Jesus!' and I felt the building falling back with me." The wall of the house collapsed on top of her leaving her trapped under the rubble in the middle of the street. "When I regained consciousness, I realized people were walking on the rubble above me."
After being freed, and miraculously unscathed, Julson did what most of the neighborhood's residents did: she fled. While many set up camp on the lawns of the nearby golf course of the posh Petion-Ville Club or other empty lots, she went to Belladère, a small town a three-hour drive away from Port-au-Prince where she had relatives.
"After a few days," says Julson, "I received a call from Professor Toussaint, who told me to come back to help."
The man who placed the call was Louissaint Toussaint, a former teacher of hers who over' 20 years ago founded the very first school in the area. "Only a few of us stayed," said Toussaint, "a few of us and the flies! But I just couldn't leave the school." Like him, many of those who stayed were community leaders, and very soon, they were meeting and coordinating the emergency response with the help of organizations like the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).
"My family did not want to let me return, but I was determined to come back and lend a hand. I knew that people needed help and I felt I needed to be involved in the recovery and reconstruction effort." Just a week after the devastating earthquake, Myrlene Julson was back.
"It was hard to picture the area ever coming back to life," said Toussaint. "Everything we owned was destroyed." With 45 percent of its buildings damaged by the earthquake and thousands of casualties, Delmas 32 was undoubtedly among the city's most damaged neighborhoods.
Delmas 32 has over 100,000 inhabitants and is by far the most populated part of the municipality of Delmas, itself the largest and most populated of the cities that make up the metropolitan area around Port-au-Prince. The neighborhood was carved out of...