Real Lives – Charles
There are many heroic stories from the recent earthquake in Haiti, some were shown on national television but many others have gone unheard. Whilst visiting the area of Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, I had the opportunity to meet a teacher from one of the destroyed schools in that area.
His name was Charles.
When I first met him he was in the middle of teaching a small class of children underneath a tarpaulin, using a makeshift chalkboard and some salvaged church benches, surrounded by the rubble of the destroyed school.
We all know that there are some teachers who just seem to have a gift for communicating with children, Charles was one of those gifted individuals. He was dynamic, animated and clearly loved the children he was teaching.
Here’s a brief video clip I took of him in action.
This is his story from the day of the earthquake
On Tuesday, 12th January at 4:53pm a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti and lasted for about 30 seconds. Charles was still at the school playing basketball in the outside play area even though classes had finished for the day and the majority of the pupils had gone home. However, there were still twenty children within the school finishing off their homework and Charles’ immediate response was to get the children out. Fortunately, nine children were near the entrance of the school and he managed to get them out safely, the building shook with an incredibly violent force and collapsed in front of him. Charles said “There was dust and debris everywhere, I could hear people screaming close by and I couldn’t think of anything else but get to the remaining children”.
From one side of the collapsed school he managed to break through the debris to rescue two children that had been trapped, then he heard cries from the other side of the building but it was getting dark and he couldn’t see where he was going very well. He needed to climb onto the demolished school to get to where the children were crying. Charles eventually got to the area where the children were crying and tried to calm them down saying ‘I will get you out as soon as possible’. He needed to move a large concrete slab which was stopping him from getting to the children but he couldn’t see what he was doing, he said “it was hopeless without light”. He then started to think about his own family and realised he had no idea what had happened to them as he was caught up in trying to save these children. He decided that there was nothing he could do anymore at the school until there was some light, so he explained this to the two children. Both of the children cried and said “don’t leave me!” It was very hard for him to leave, but there was nothing else he could do at that point so he made his way back to his house and found that it had been totally destroyed. His sister was injured but fortunately, the rest of his family were safe.
The following morning, as soon as there was some light, he returned back to the school and went to where the children were trapped under the rubble, he went along with another adult who wanted to help him. It took several hours and Charles had to crawl through a very small opening in the concrete and then smash through a concrete block to get to the children but he managed to eventually drag them both out. One child had received an injury to the side of his face where the concrete had fallen onto him but he is okay now.
He then went on to find four more children in the debris but these had unfortunately died and so he removed their bodies from the school. He said that he thought there were two or three other children’s bodies who had died which were still under the school.
Charles had just started to teach again in the makeshift school when I met him but only a handful of children come to the lessons as they’re still too frightened of being near buildings. Charles told me that he hopes the school can be re-built so that he can get back to doing what he loves the most – teaching children.
In my opinion, Charles is a true hero.
Here’s Charles at the place where he broke through the concrete to rescue two children.
The school that Charles teaches at in Petionville is supported by Outreach International, their plan is to rebuild the school but they need donations to make it possible.
All photographs and video by Wayne Rowe / Visioning Images