My mission, my country, my lucky escape

American Jewish World Service coordinator vows to continue.

cantave jean-baptiste (photo credit: Courtesy)
cantave jean-baptiste
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Cantave Jean-Baptiste had just left work lastTuesday afternoon in Port-au-Prince and was maneuvering his car throughrush hour traffic when he felt a huge jolt that propelled his vehiclethrough the air.

CantaveJean-Baptiste of the AJWS: I understand that when the Jewish peopledecide to support the people of Haiti, there is a deep expression oflove.

"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 asix-story school beside him had collapsed and people all around himwere screaming and crying.

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

"Myfirst thought was, 'Thank God, I'm still alive. Thank God, my family isnot in the house at this moment," he related. The 58-year-old Haitinative knew that his wife and four sons were safe in their home inMontreal, where they live most of the year without him.

"God saved my life. That means I have a mission in thiscountry, 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 willcontinue to work to rebuild my life."

Jean-Baptisteis aided in that mission by the American Jewish World Service, whichfor more than a decade has provided assistance to developmentorganizations in Haiti and has raised close to $3 million in the pastweek 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 lovewith other people, and when they decide to support the people of Haiti,when they decide to support the people of Sudan, besides the religiousfeelings, beside the political feelings, there is a deep expression oflove," said Jean-Baptiste, explaining why he believes a community withfew members in the places they help nonetheless contribute in suchlarge amounts.

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

In his role for AJWS, he has spent the days since theearthquake working out of his car, since his house has mostly beendestroyed, frantically trying to connect the donations with the rightpartners on the ground to distribute desperately needed goods andservices, 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 theravaged capital.

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

"An organization like the American Jewish World Service isworking not only to provide assistance but is working to buildcapacities," 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 afterthe strong aftershock struck Haiti on Wednesday, he reconsidered,especially because the second major quake intensified his family'sconcern.

"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."