Rescued after earthquake, Haitian girl marks second anniversary of new life with Auburn family

Rebuilding effort continues in quake-damaged nation
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It has been a month of momentous anniversaries for Claire Bryditzki. Jan. 12 marked the second anniversary of an earthquake in Haiti she experienced that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. And Friday will be the anniversary of the day two years ago that Claire arrived at her new home in Auburn and the start of a new life with her adoptive family. Claire, now 9 and a third-grade student, recalls the tense hours in a tumultuous time as Auburn’s Scott and Debbie Bryditzki worked to find a way to bring their adopted daughter to the U.S. The plane ride was a first for Claire – then 7. She was whisked from the Port-Au-Prince airport as emergency crews were flooding in to the badly damaged city. The United Nations classified the quake as “the largest urban disaster in modern history.” While Claire survived, 300,000 people died and 1.5 million were displaced to 1,300 settlement locations in and around the national capital. The Voice of America is reporting the enormous reconstruction effort is still taking place. While the U.S. has contributed $3.1 billion in economic assistance, only about half of the 10 million cubic meters of rubble stemming from the temblor has been taken away. An estimated one in three displaced Haitians have yet to return from refugee camps to more permanent housing, the U.S. government-sponsored radio outlet said. For Claire, the move from her French-speaking surrounding in an orphanage to a new life in English-speaking semi-rural America have been challenging, Debbie Bryditzki said. “But the last three months, she’s finally settled into life here,” Debbie said. “It’s taken quite some time.” Initially behind in grades at school, Claire made the jump this year from first to third grade at Cottage Hill School in the Lake of the Pines area. “She’s doing extremely well at school,” Debbie said. “Without realizing it, her peers have challenged her to rise to a higher educational level. And the Cottage Hill staff has been phenomenal.” While the changes in her life haven’t always been easy, Claire has a fighting spirit that has helped her overcome them, Bryditzki said. “She has an incredible desire to do what’s right,” she said. From her first plane ride to her first step down an escalator at Sacramento International Airport, Claire’s new life has been filled with firsts. “It was so cold, the snow was hurting,” Claire said with a smile, recalling her first experience in snow. Bryditzki said that even experiencing feelings of cold were new to Claire because Haiti’s tropical climate is warm year-round. “Life for her has been full of first times,” Bryditzki said. “Everything’s new to her. From going to the ocean to traveling to the mountains and playing in snow.” Claire has discovered sushi and tea parties, having pets, and visiting Sierra Ridge care home, where she brings joy to elderly residents suffering from dementia. The journey for the Bryditzki family is on its fifth year. The family first met her during a mission visit to Haiti two years before the earthquake and started the process to adopt her. That process came to a halt when the earthquake hit. But through an Auburn family’s will and determination, Claire whisked her away from a damaged nation. “No doubt, something big is in store for her in her life,” Bryditzki said. “She has an absolute determination and drive to be the best she can be. There’s an internal strength in this child I have never seen before.” Bryditzki said that while Claire is in a good situation, many millions of Haitians are still suffering and people shouldn’t forget their nation, two years after the quake.