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A year after quake, is Haiti better?

By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN
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One year later: Haiti in your words
  • After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, CNN created a database of more than 10,000 missing loved ones
  • Countless friends and families were reunited thanks to the effort
  • A year later, we checked in with contributors to find out how they're doing since the quake
  • Sixty-six percent said Haiti is worse off now than it was immediately after the quake

Editor's Note: During the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, CNN created a database to help document and catalog those who went missing in the tragedy. To mark the quake's one-year anniversary, CNN sent a survey asking several questions to those who contributed to the database. We received 720 responses. The story and multimedia feature Video include an analysis of those responses.

(CNN) -- Daphney Paul hasn't seen her mother in more than 20 years. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, she grew up in New York and now lives in Wilson, North Carolina. All that time, her mom remained in Haiti.

"The earthquake in Haiti quite literally changed my life," Paul said. "As a result of the earthquake, my brothers and I decided to apply for permanent residency [in the U.S.] for our mother. If it hadn't been for the earthquake, I'm not sure that any of this would have happened."

Paul and her brothers hope to soon be reunited with their mother. It's the silver lining of an earthquake that devastated Haiti a year ago and caused injuries that damaged her mom's hearing.

On January 12, 2010, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Countless others were injured and lost their homes. And outside Haiti, millions more were affected. They were people like Paul and like Rebecca Madelon of Boston, Massachusetts, who had no way of getting in touch with loved ones or even knowing if they'd survived the quake.

"You cannot imagine how I felt not knowing where my family was," Madelon said. "My TV screen was glued on CNN, praying that those dead bodies that I saw on TV were not my family members."

CNN iReport heard from so many people like Madelon that we set up a database of the missing and the found to help people get in touch with their loved ones who'd been in the quake. People around the world added family and friends in Haiti to the list, and the database quickly grew to more than 10,000 names.

Now, a year later, we've asked each of the people who contributed to the database to share their experience over the past year.

Many of their responses were tough to read. Sixty-six percent said they thought Haiti was worse off now than it was right after the quake because of disease, corruption and lack of housing. When we asked them to describe Haiti in one word, there were almost no positive responses. "Chaos," "devastation" and "hell" were among the top descriptors. Many told us about homeless family members, ongoing violence, political problems and delayed aid.

But some stories, like Paul's, were encouraging. There were a few glimmers of hope for Haitians.

One was the account we heard from Elizabeth Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian-American from Miami, Florida.

"Before the earthquake, I wasn't really tuned into my culture," she said. But it's different now.

Since the quake, Jean-Baptiste's parents have been living with her in Florida. Her dad goes online to look at Haitian news every day, and she's there looking over his shoulder.

"After the earthquake, everybody was just tuned into the current events of Haiti," she said. "It has brought me closer to my Haitian culture and has brought me more awareness of my parents' country."

Jean-Baptiste also said that since the quake, there's been more awareness around the world of Haiti's need for international aid. The need was there before the quake, she said, but at least now, Haiti is on people's minds.

"Haiti needed aid a long time ago, and it's sad that it had to get to this point to receive the aid, but we're all thankful for it," she said. "Watching the news and seeing how much people have pledged, I'm very hopeful. I feel like Haiti will one day stand on its feet again."

"Haiti was always poor; it was always a problem," agreed Madelon, whose parents are also from Haiti. "This is not the first time that Haiti's been tested."

Madelon said it seems that "every year, something bad always happens," citing not only the earthquake but violence, political corruption, kidnappings and other problems. Her family in Haiti is still living in tents after their house was damaged by the quake, but she feels certain that the nation can pull through.

"Haitians have a way of ignoring the negative past and moving on to a better future. We are strong people, and if we are positive towards one another, we can help rebuild Haiti," she said.

That positivity toward each other is key, said Rudy Joly, who grew up in Haiti and now attends Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. He says there's a "culture of corruption" in Haiti that must change so that Haitians can work together to improve their own country instead of relying on foreign aid.

"The genuine humanitarian and monetary aid from the U.S. and other countries is meritorious, but sadly serves as a palliative," he said. "I understand that people who are in the States feel bad about the situation and that all they can do is give money, but the main [solution to] the problem is with the Haitians. They have to take the initiative themselves, and other countries can provide them the means to go ahead with that. It's our country; it's up to us to find out where the problems are, and then we can get help from the States."

This idea of Haitians taking the lead was echoed by many who responded, from Haiti natives to aid workers.

"The right leadership, and engagement from the international community, are key to progress," said Roseann Dennery, an aid worker who's been in Port-au-Prince since July and plans to stay another six months. "The Haitian people are innovative and resilient, and have weathered many storms."

"Once [the Haitians] put politics and religion aside and focus on the real problems, I will gain some confidence," Joly said. "The true solution lies within the Haitian nation and the Haitian community abroad."

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