Haiti's earthquake caused huge devastation one year ago today, but it also shook up Hall County residents who have poured their lives into the tiny island nation.
"I am still heartbroken," said Tim Shoda, a longtime Gainesville missionary to the country. "So many people are living in tents. ... They have no sanitation, poor water systems and limited access to food."
Shoda and his wife, Karen, have served the country as part of North Carolina-based Jesus Way Ministries.
The nonprofit organization sponsors Hope Orphanage in Fontamara, Haiti. The home, housing 60 children, was destroyed in the magnitude 7 earthquake, which is believed to have killed as many as 300,000 people.
"Thankfully, no children (at the orphanage) were hurt," Shoda said.
The earthquake touched many lives in Northeast Georgia, not only Haitians living in the area and worrying about loved ones back home, but missionaries, doctors and others who have felt drawn to helping people in the impoverished Caribbean country.
At the time of the tragedy, Randy Puckett of Flowery Branch was in the country on a mission trip sponsored by Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Madison.
The church had planned to return to Haiti on Saturday and stay there a week to build a structure that will serve as a church, community center, school and hurricane shelter.
Puckett said Tuesday that plans have changed, however, because of a cholera outbreak and political unrest as part of the country's presidential elections.
The church group will re-evaluate taking the trip in a couple of months.
"We're letting everything calm down," he said.
Puckett and his group were caught in the quake just as they had finished building a new church in the mountainside village of Grand Place Leroy, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Despite the harrowing experience, Puckett said he looks forward to returning.
"While it scared all of us, we never really had any fear," he said in a previous interview. "It felt like (God) had me protected the whole time. That was the best feeling I've ever had."
The earthquake "made an impact on me personally and spiritually," Puckett said.
Puckett said he experienced God in 2002 after going to jail and years of drug abuse. He said he believed those moments were the closest he would get to God until the earthquake, which overwhelmed him with "an unbelievable sense of peace."
Shoda also plans to return to Haiti later this year, bringing dental teams on his journey.
He also spoke about the political issues in Haiti.
"With 19 presidential candidates, the country is a breeding ground for corruption," Shoda said. "It's a terrible situation, as far as I'm concerned."
Bill Lightfoot, dean of Brenau University's School of Business and Mass Communication, worked last year with two sisters, Macita and Yamatha St. Germain, on a fundraiser to benefit Haitian schoolchildren.
Yamatha was born in the U.S. but schooled in Haiti.
Macita was born in Haiti but has lived in the U.S. more than 20 years.
They sponsored "Taste of Haiti," a cultural mix of food, dance and song, at Brenau.
Proceeds were "used for supplies, to help kids get healthy meals and to help support transportation," Lightfoot said Tuesday. "Although we only raised about $1,300, it went a long way toward helping several hundred children."
Lightfoot since has met with students about future endeavors.
"We discussed what else we could do and were to meet again this week," he said.
One Brenau student, Kathia Laguerre, recently went for a brief visit to Haiti to see her family.
"Our plans are to see if we can support further efforts to have Kathia, and possibly one or two other students, to work with the school we provided funds to (and) to identify ways in which we can assist them further," Lightfoot said.
He said he hopes the school's rector will visit Brenau sometime this year.
"He travels periodically to the states, when time and funding allow, to help raise funds and to also secure support," Lightfoot said.