PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians gathered in makeshift churches and even a United Nations supply base Thursday to mark the second anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake, holding ceremonies that mixed remembrance with hope for a new beginning.
The disaster killed 316,000 people and displaced 1.5 million in this impoverished country of 10 million people. More than 500,000 are still in temporary settlement camps as Haiti struggles with a reconstruction effort that has been thwarted by a messy election, political paralysis and absence of aid coordination.
"We need to keep telling future generations about this so that we can help the country build better," said Eddy Jean-Baptiste, 46, wearing a dark gray suit and carrying a Bible on his way to a church in the mountains that surround Port-au-Prince.
For its part, officials in President Michel Martelly's government emphasized the need for education by inaugurating a new university in the north and announcing plans to rebuild a college specializing in science.
"It's a day when we remember and then we make the decision to move on, which is very, very Haitian," Prime Minster Gary Conille told The Associated Press. "We bury the dead and go back to work immediately."
Services on the national holiday ranged from roadside affairs to a government-organized observance near a mass grave north of the capital led by Martelly and attended by Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Duvalier, the former despot who made a surprise return to Haiti nearly a year ago, was flanked by his longtime partner, Veronique Roy, and former President Prosper Avril.
Churchgoers in Port-au-Prince donned dark suits and white dresses and, with Bibles in hand, walked to religious services throughout the capital of 3 million.
In the hillside city of Petionville, the congregation filled up a church and spilled onto the street as they sang hymns that asked God for security and courage.
Fabien Jean-Baptiste recalled when the terrible events of Jan. 12, 2010. She said she had just stepped out of her home to run errands at a market when the earth heaved at 4:53 p.m. Her six children had stayed home, and she thought fearfully that there was no way they could have survived and she assumed they were dead.
"I said, 'God is in the sky, thank you,'" Jean-Baptiste, 35, said between her morning prayers on the cracked sidewalk outside the church.
The street vendor lost two siblings to the quake, but took solace that her children survived.
"God gave me the grace. I'm here," Jean-Baptiste said. "I still have my children."
Haiti's government, Western embassies and foreign charity groups were targeted by criticism as a mobile wake drew several dozen protesters and wound through downtown Port-au-Prince, one of the hardest-hit areas in the quake.
Carrying signs that called the government "imported," the demonstrators focused on the need to house the 500,000 people still without homes.
"We're asking for the state to give us good homes because we really don't have any," Fritznel Joasil, 36, said.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille announced that the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund was donating $2 million in hopes others would match that for an effort to rebuild the University of Haiti's Faculty of Sciences.
"To build a modern economy, Haiti needs more engineers, architects, chemists, experts in information technology," Clinton said. "This faculty will help to provide the means for you to build your own future."
In northern Haiti, Martelly inaugurated a $30 million university built by the neighboring Dominican Republic. With 72 classrooms, the university will educate 10,000 students and hire hundreds of teachers, technicians, administrative and maintenance employees. It's expected to open in September.
Martelly said he hopes the university will lure hundreds of Haitian professionals from overseas to come back and lend their expertise.
On the northern end of Port-au-Prince, the United Nations held a service to remember its 102 employees, from senior officials to drivers, who died in the quake. It was the biggest loss of life for the U.N. in a single disaster.
"Today we are here not to simply to remember those who were lost and the tragedy but to renew our commitment to Haiti's future because we owe that to them," Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, said from a lectern. "There are genuine reasons for hope."
The ceremony, which showed a video of images of those who died, was followed by a wake outside in which Haitian families and others placed dozens of white roses on an iron memorial. It was designed to represent the pages of paper that floated to the ground in the seconds after the quake. It bore the first names of the U.N. workers who died.
"It's always there – the memory of that day – I try to put it aside," said Michel Martin, an analyst with U.N. police who lost two close colleagues. "I managed to put it away in a drawer. But today, I opened it, and everything came back."
Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Limonade, Haiti, contributed to this report.