A Red Cross volunteer in Eastern Washington, Shadrach “Sam” Merezima, looks back on the events that shaped his life six years ago in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
By Gabriel Martinez, AmeriCorps serving the American Red Cross Northwest Region
It was January 12, 2010. Sam was 17 years old. He walked out his concrete school building to drink from the fountain near the gate.
Suddenly, the ground started to shake. A moment later, the school collapsed.
“I never experienced an earthquake before,” Sam said.
The 7.0 earthquake began at about 4:50 p.m., just southwest of Port-au-Prince. Terrifying aftershocks soon followed. The earthquake displaced 1.5 million people and claimed more than 220,000 lives.
Sam found his brother and they walked home to search for their family. His father was home and no one was hurt, but the house was destroyed.
“Everyone stayed outside and didn’t go back in,” he remembered. “I was not scared, but I was so shocked.”
Sam returned to school to try to help his classmates. He could hear the cries of trapped and injured people amidst the ruins of the school.
“I’m alive but I’m hurt,” some called from the rubble.
“There was nothing I could do,” Sam lamented.
The earthquake destroyed countless homes and infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Like many, Sam and his family slept outside in the open street, afraid of aftershocks and collapsing buildings.
“There was no other choice,” he said.
In the morning, Sam would be forced to walk over dead bodies, still wearing his school uniform from the day before.
Emergency workers, including the Red Cross and the US military, arrived to help. Sam’s first glimpse of the Red Cross was at a tennis court.
“They were giving first aid,” he remembered.
In school, Sam had learned a little English and he decided to help Red Cross workers, doctors and nurses by translating for them using a combination of English, French and Creole.
Eventually Sam and his family moved to a camp for displaced people near the border of the Dominican Republic. There, Sam’s English improved as he translated for American doctors and nurses. He even met a nurse named Christina, his future wife.
Christina and Sam were married in October 2015 and now live in Kennewick, Washington. Sam continues to volunteer for the Red Cross in his new community. In January, when floods affected parts of the southern United States, Sam seized the opportunity to serve once again.
In Louisiana, flooding displaced thousands of people from their homes. More than 200 people stayed overnight in 14 Red Cross shelters during the floods. Overall, flooding affected more than 12,000 people across the state.
Sam volunteered as a logistics volunteer in Monroe, Louisiana. He operated a forklift to help organize and distribute disaster relief supplies. He also worked in shelters, visiting clients and feeding large groups of people who were displaced.
“I came here to help,” he said. “I’m young, I’m strong. I came here to be useful—let me be useful!” Sam was happy to help people impacted by disaster in the US in a different way than he had in Haiti.
“I think I’m going to join the military in order to give back,” he said. In the meantime, Sam plans to continue volunteering for the Red Cross.
“I’m here for the Red Cross,” he said. “Just to give back.”