Garel Blanchard and his family, clockwise from left: father, Roland; mother, Agathe Wilfrid; brother, Rothgaland Wilfrid; and sister Garthland in a family photo near their home in Haiti. Garel moved to Madison at the invitation of Madison attorney Wil Goering  after the pair met while Goering was on a mission trip to Haiti. (Submitted photo)
Garel Blanchard and his family, clockwise from left: father, Roland; mother, Agathe Wilfrid; brother, Rothgaland Wilfrid; and sister Garthland in a family photo near their home in Haiti. Garel moved to Madison at the invitation of Madison attorney Wil Goering after the pair met while Goering was on a mission trip to Haiti. (Submitted photo)
Garel Blanchard, a senior at Shawe Memorial High School, has experienced more in the last three years than many of us do in a lifetime.

In this short period of time, Garel has come to know destruction and hope. From surviving an earthquake that destroyed most of the town he lived in in Haiti, to coming to the U.S., and soon to graduate from high school, Garel looks back while planning for the future. 

Jan. 12, 2010

"A pi ta!" See you later, Garel said as he waved his friends on. While turning the knob of the front door and entering his home, a small pebble quivered on the paved road behind him. Soon the entire house began to shake.

Time seemed to freeze, Garel said. "I thought it was a big truck going by," because large vehicles filled with sand or dirt would often shake the feeble buildings. But this was no truck. 

In seconds the quake worsened. A loud crash lured Garel outside. A large wall had collapsed on a car parked in his father's garage. He ran into the street. "Once I was out, a friend of my dad's came to me and covered my head. It was mass chaos." 

A catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake had struck the bustling city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti leaving much of the city in ruins. 

"It lasted a few seconds, and then there was a second one," Garel said. "It was the worst sight ever."

He watched as men, women and children ran through the streets - everyone covered in sand. Some helped lift crumbled walls, cars and other unrecognizable objects off survivors. Others pulled small children from beneath mounds of rock. People watched as their neighbors cried over loved ones who didn't survive.

"Everybody was crying. I don't think I saw one face not crying," Garel said. "And just as the second had ended, another began. It was the worst few seconds of my life." 

A sense of uncertainty filled the streets. "We thought it was the end of the world," he said. 

Garel eventually was reunited with his family: his father, Roland; sister, Garthland; and brother, Rothgaland Wilfrid.

As many of their neighbors began heading north with hopes of an escape, the family headed south to the town of Jacmel in search of their mother, Agathe Wilfrid, who worked in an orphanage. 

Jacmel, a 46-mile drive from Port-au-Prince, had also experienced severe structural damage, with more than 500 fatalities. In all, 316,000 died.

Three days after the earthquake, the family reunited. 

About two weeks after the crisis, global relief finally began to pour in to the small Carribean country. "Some donations like rice and beans reached the people, but of all of the families in Haiti, only a few thousand actually received the aid. All of the rest of the large donations went to the government and never reached us," Garel said. 

A year later, Garel's life changed again.

Harvest Field Missionary traveled to Haiti to provide medical assistance. In that group were several people from the Madison area, including attorney Wil Goering.

"We received (600 pairs of) glasses from various groups, including the Lion's Club. An autorefractor was donated from a Louisville group called Kendall Optometry Ministry which was used to measure prescriptions," Goering said. 

Goering was stationed at a building where men, women and children in need of glasses were sent. "We used an autorefractor to measure their eyes, and had a software program on the computer that estimated which available pair would fit." Goering said. 

Garel served as a translator for Goering's group.

"He was just another guy," Garel said of Goering. "I never thought in a million years that I would go home with him." 

But it wasn't long before Goering approached Garel's family, offering the opportunity for the teen to live with him and his wife back in the U.S.

"It was easier for us to bring him to the country because he was already a citizen," Goering said. Garel was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to Haiti in 1998. 

"I was definitely happy he asked, but I didn't get my hopes up," Garel said. He often had been asked if he would like to live in the U.S., but no one had followed through. Goering was the first. 

But the offer meant the teen would be leaving his family behind in a ravaged country. "I was the oldest and of age to work. I took care of my siblings, helped my dad work. I was pretty much the cleaning lady of the house while taking care of the kids," he said. "For my parents, it was one less mouth to feed."

In February 2011, while Goering was still in Haiti, he sent his wife, Barbara McKinney, an email.

"I got a one-sentence e-mail from Wil stating: 'Garel is a really cool 15-year-old who will be coming to live with us in about one month.' I had to trust him to know what he was doing, (so) I replied 'OK.'"

Garel arrived on March 18, 2011.

The Goerings needed groceries shortly after Garel's arrival. "I decided to go to the grocery store and took Garel." Goering said. "We got into the breakfast aisle and I asked him what his favorite cereal was, and he said, 'In Haiti we don't have favorites.'"

At that moment that they both realized a major difference between societies ... the availability of food. In Haiti, after the earthquake, the supply of food was slim. Families were forced to eat whatever was given to them. There was little choice.

Garel soon enrolled as a freshman at Shawe Memorial High School, and began playing many sports. "In Haiti we have soccer teams, that's it. There are other sports, but they are hardly played at all," he said. "That has been one of the major differences."

Jefferson County would be his home for the next three years of his life. He learned the cultural differences between Haiti and the United States, and quickly developed new friends.

Garel plans to graduate from Shawe on June 8, and is planning to attend Indiana University in Bloomington. He plans to study linguistics. "I am very nervous because of college life and the cost," he said. "I have to be independent now."

"Madison has been a really big part of my life. It has been a break from everything back in Haiti. I will definitely be homesick when I graduate."

Garel said no matter what he decides to do, or where he decides to go, he "will definitely provide every cent I can" for his family back in Haiti.

"I am glad I was led to Garel," Goering said. "Having him around will keep me flexible as I grow older. You cannot be 60-years-old and have a teenager in the house, without resilience, adaptability and true faith," he said.

And, from Garel: "To all of those who have helped me get to where I am, thank you very much for giving me a better life ... and may God bless you."