My mission, my country, my lucky escape

American Jewish World Service coordinator vows to continue.

January 22, 2010 00:21
2 minute read.
Cantave Jean-Baptiste of the AJWS.

cantave jean-baptiste. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Cantave Jean-Baptiste had just left work last Tuesday afternoon in Port-au-Prince and was maneuvering his car through rush hour traffic when he felt a huge jolt that propelled his vehicle through the air.

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Cantave Jean-Baptiste of the AJWS: I understand that when the Jewish people decide to support the people of Haiti, there is a deep expression of love.

"I felt like a very big truck hit my car, but when I turned back I didn't see any car," recalled Jean-Baptiste.

His vehicle had landed with a hard thud. He then noticed that a six-story school beside him had collapsed and people all around him were screaming and crying.

Slowly he realized that he had just experienced a massive earthquake, surviving without so much as a scratch.

"My first thought was, 'Thank God, I'm still alive. Thank God, my family is not in the house at this moment," he related. The 58-year-old Haiti native knew that his wife and four sons were safe in their home in Montreal, where they live most of the year without him.

"God saved my life. That means I have a mission in this country, and that is to stay in Haiti and provide whatever help I can," he declared, deciding on the spot that "since I'm alive, I will continue to work to rebuild my life."

Jean-Baptiste is aided in that mission by the American Jewish World Service, which for more than a decade has provided assistance to development organizations in Haiti and has raised close to $3 million in the past week for earthquake relief.

As the organization's field coordinator in Haiti, he sees that the Jewish people have a mission that echoes his own.

"I understand that the Jewish people has a mission to share love with other people, and when they decide to support the people of Haiti, when they decide to support the people of Sudan, besides the religious feelings, beside the political feelings, there is a deep expression of love," said Jean-Baptiste, explaining why he believes a community with few members in the places they help nonetheless contribute in such large amounts.

"I remember when I read the Bible, and when I learned about the Jewish people, it was a people elected by God, and though there are misunderstandings between these people and God, God continues to love these people and this nation," said Jean-Baptiste, who is Christian. "What I understand is that it is an expression of love."

In his role for AJWS, he has spent the days since the earthquake working out of his car, since his house has mostly been destroyed, frantically trying to connect the donations with the right partners on the ground to distribute desperately needed goods and services, particularly outside of Port-au-Prince.

"There is an urgent need to help the families in rural areas," he said, since most of the international aid is concentrated in the ravaged capital.

"Also, we need to do long-term development and rehabilitation

"An organization like the American Jewish World Service is working not only to provide assistance but is working to build capacities," he said.

"We will feel the consequences of this earthquake for many years."

An agronomist by training with years of development experience, Jean-Baptiste wants to be there to carry this mission out, but after the strong aftershock struck Haiti on Wednesday, he reconsidered, especially because the second major quake intensified his family's concern.

"They are more afraid than before. They are questioning me about my willingness to stay," he said.

Even if he does decide to leave, it won't be right away.

"Anyway, I can't leave today," he pointed out. "There are no planes."

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