The retired Anniston firefighter had booked his trip months before the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that rocked the vulnerable, impoverished nation, killing between 100,000 and 300,000 Haitians — the exact death toll is hotly debated, though most think at least 100,000 died — and displacing more than a million.
The magnitude 7 earthquake, centered about 16 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, leveled whole blocks. Buildings toppled down on those inside, trapping families and classrooms full of students, crushing hospitals and prisons.
“Buildings were laying out in the street. There were bodies still lying in the street. A lot of people hurt. A lot of makeshift hospitals set up,” Gunter said, describing the chaos in the early days after the quake.
The international humanitarian response after the quake was massive and the country has rebounded surprisingly well, Gunter said, but four years later there remains much to do.
Hunger is rampant, and there never was the kind of safety infrastructure in Haiti that Americans tend to take for granted, Gunter explained, such as emergency medical services and modern hospitals.
“If they get one meal a day they’ve done well,” he said.
Gunter returned to Anniston in January to visit friends and family and speak to local church groups and organizations about his work in Haiti. He’ll go back later this month to open a school that will teach Haitians to become emergency medical technicians. It’s a skill sorely lacking there, which can lead to unnecessary deaths, he said.
“There are a few ambulances, but they’re more or less glorified taxis. There’s no pre-hospital care,” Gunter said.
With so many living in poverty the EMT school won’t charge students tuition, Gunter said. Instead they’ll be required to volunteer at local hospitals and clinics while training.
Although the United Nations believes nearly 9 percent of those displaced by the earthquake in Haiti have left the 300 or so camps set up for them, there remain about 145,000 people living in those camps.
“The country is structurally exposed to recurrent food crises. Haiti has the lowest level of water and sanitation coverage in the Americas,” wrote United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a Jan. 10 press release on the pending four-year anniversary of the disaster.
Gunter retired in February 2010 after 20 years as a firefighter for the Anniston Fire Department. He’s been back home in Anniston for only about three months since he first arrived in Haiti in March 2010.
He also works as a nurse at the Christian Light Haiti School, located in an impoverished area in Port-au-Prince.
The organization, operated by its founder Sherrie Fausey, a retired teacher from Jacksonville, Fla., operates a school with more than 300 students and an orphanage that’s home to 36 children. Most of the children come from a shantytown not far away, Gunter said, where hundreds live in shacks in a filthy ravine — a place so undesirable no one bothers to make them leave.
His work there has changed the way he sees things, Gunter said. Material possessions mean less today than before, and he’s learned to find happiness in being content.
“People there, they don’t have much but for some reason they’re happy,” Gunter said.
Fausey told The Star by email from Haiti that Gunter helps the children there heal physically and in other ways, she said.
“David is a friend to everyone here. He is the kind of person you can talk to about anything,” Fausey wrote. “He has gotten out of bed at night to stitch up wounds by flashlight for people who did not know where else to go. The people in the neighborhood know that when they need help, David is help.”
A Haitian pastor once told Gunter that “As Americans you don’t need God. You have everything at your disposal. You have three months of food in the pantry. You have a car and doctors and insurance. We don’t have any of that. All we have is prayer.”
Gunter has already applied for residency in Haiti. It’s where his work and his heart is, he explained.
“I plan to stay there pretty much all the time,” he said.
To learn more about the Christian Light Haiti School and Gunter’s work, visit the organization’s website at www.christianlighthaiti.org and Gunter’s Facebook page at www. Facebook.com/EMTHaiti.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.