Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kenbe la

Emily Sanson-Rejouis dug through the rubble of their five storied apartment building with bare hands trying to rescue her husband and three daughters after Haiti's devastating earthquake last January.  

Enlisting the help of some young local men, and eventually guided by the voice of her husband's friend, a visitor at the time, Emily pulled her youngest daughter, Alyahna aged one, out from underneath her father's protective embrace some 22 hours on.

Emily and her helpers rescued two others, including her husband's friend, but could not reach husband Emmanuel and daughters Kofie-Jade 5 and Zenzie 3.

Zenzie, Emily, Alyahna, Emmanuel & Kofie-Jade

More than 200,000 people died that day and for every one there is a story.

I don't really know Emily, but I can picture her dazzling smile and blonde pigtails from primary school days and later, secondary school. Her older sister Rachel was in my class for many years, and I remember playing at their house as a child.

I have been indescribably moved by Emily's story and her unimaginable loss. Perhaps it is because I have three children of similar ages.  But I suspect there is more to it than even I can understand.

For days, weeks, I kept vigil at the Facebook site dedicated to the Sanson-Rejouis family - reading the tributes and following news, firstly from Miami, and later Nelson, New Zealand as Emily, Rachel and their families worked tirelessly to bring Emmanuel, Kofie-Jade and Zenzie back from Haiti on the longest journey to their resting place in Nelson, Emily's home town and the birthplace of their girls.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofie Annan described Haitian-born Emmanuel as a "true citizen of the world" who represented "the best of international service".

Accomplished, determined, intelligent and selfless, Emily and Emmanuel have worked for the United Nations in some of the world's most challenging political environments - Kosovo, Rwanda, East Timor, Ethiopia Burundi. Both knew the terror of being taken hostage by machete-wielding men, who burst into the electoral office where they worked to foster democracy in a politically fragile state.

Their C.V.s are truly inspiring, but it is the love story that shines.  Emily and Emmanuel were the real thing.  Hundreds of tributes attested to a great, legendary love.  It is unthinkable that two people who were so right for each other shared just 12 years together, while so many relationships limp along for decades in a miserable muddle of resentment.

At the funeral service Emily said, "I was so proud to declare to the world that I had met my match and that I was to be known as the other half of the love-struck and invincible Em and Em."

Their story shakes you to the core.  And as Emily has resolved to "rise like a phoenix from the ashes" to further her husband's dreams for Haiti through her charitable trust, the Kenbe La Foundation, I think it's not too much to ask of myself that I do something a little better today in my own life.  To love a little harder, to do a little more, and to take a little less.

And to give a little for Haiti.

Kenbe la is Haitian Creole for "never give up".


Nicola said...

good on you!! I read this just in time - a timely reminder of what I have...what I have not lost...and a renewed effort to try a bit give a little more love ...I needed your encouragement at the witching hour today! thanks : )

Michelle Trusttum said...

Nick - thank you and welcome. I'm glad you found the post encouraging. I've found it enormously encouraging that you actually read it! :)