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Reflections on 2010, Perhaps the Toughest Year on Record in Haiti

December 30, 2010

It is hard to believe that 2010 is almost over.

For Haiti, this year has been quite difficult. At 4:53 pm on January 12, 2010, with New Year’s confetti still scattered on the streets of Port-au-Prince, a massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. In just 35 tragic seconds, an estimated 250,000 perished under the rubble of homes and offices in Haiti’s capital city.

This picture shows the rubble of Universite St. Gerard, one of Haiti's many well respected colleges. At this site on January 12, several students and professors perished.

The earthquake not only physically devastated  Haiti’s capital, it also destroyed much of Haiti’s infrastructure – with numerous sectors with the governmental, private industry, religious, educational, and medical sectors suffering particularly severe losses.

For us here in the U.S. it it may not seem like twelve months have already passed since that catastrophic day, “douz janvye” (jan 12) which will forever be commemorated as a day of mourning for the Haitian people. Yet for the residents of Port-au-Prince’s numerous tent cities, (such as the site pictured below) the past 350 or so days must have dragged on at a painfully slow pace. Today in Haiti, thousands of quake victims still live in extremely difficult conditions.

Tent cities are still scattered across Port-au-Prince, nearly 12 months after the quake.

 

We at the Hinche Scholars project strongly believe that Haiti’s future rests with its youth, specifically the college student age demographic. In ten years from now these young people will be in charge of Haiti, a country once referred to as the “Pearl of the Antilles.” We feel that given the chance, these young folks can restore their beloved land to its former splendor.

Haiti is a beautiful place and although media reports tend to focus on the negative aspects of this island nation, we urge you in the new year to consider Haiti’s exquiste natural, social, and historic beauty. We hope one day that the first black republic and America’s second democracy will once again be cherised for its potential rather than its poverty.

This past fall, a deadly cholera epidemic struck in Haiti’s Central Plateau and Artibonite region. This disease represents the numerous complexities and possible negative consequences of foreign aid, however well-intentioned it may be. This particularly virulent strain of cholera bacteria was actually imported to Haiti in the stomachs of Nepalese UN peacekeeper troops. Given the difficult post-quake conditions and pre-existing lack of adequate sewage facilities, it has ravaged the country from Cap-Haitien in the north all the way to Jacmel in the south, killing nearly 3,000 people since September.

Haiti's natural beauty is truly breathtaking, such as this picture of the Artibonite Lake in the Central Plateau near Hinche

The cholera tragedy reminds us that in helping Haiti we must evaluate fully the extent to which our efforts are actually benefiting the country. Haiti receives millions of dollars of foreign aid and private charity funding each year. Nevertheless, this country of 10 million still struggles to feed and provide life’s basic necessities to its citizens. Recently the Haitian government has come under attack for “corruption,” and inefficacy. The recent presidential elections erupted in controversy when some election day voting irregularities and isolated incidents of violence swept the country into a state of fear and political fervor. We pray that the election crisis will soon be resolved and we trust in the resiliency of the Haitian people to carry their nation through this difficult moment.

Nevertheless, it is important to ask ourselves “how much can Haiti’s next president really even accomplish?” given the state of the country. Leading presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat once quipped that Haiti has devolved from the “Republique d’Haiti” into the “Republique des ONGs” (in other words, a republic of non governmental organizations). This statement refers to the plethora of independent agencies whose missions (however benevolent), actually end up undermining state authority.

For example, when the Red Cross is providing free medical care and when Oxfam is feeding thousands of quake victims each day with donated rice, the results are immediately beneficial. Sick children receive medical care and hungry homeless take away a hot meal. Yet the long-term consequences of such aid can be summed up with one word: dependency. Meanwhile, Haitian doctors cannot compete in private practice against the countless free clinics staffed by international doctors who fly in for weeklong mercy missions. Likewise, Haitian farmers have little incentive to work on organic and sustainable farming techniques when donated rice from Texas or Arkansas is flooding the markets of Port-au-Prince, thereby driving down the price of local produce.

This young Haitian boy is playing with a toy truck he has made out of a discarded USAID vegetable oil container

Pictures like this should give us pause when we consider the consequences of developmental aid. This image highlights the need to reflect carefully about sustainability vs. dependency when choosing charity

Haiti’s solution is not a simple one. It cannot be outlined in one blog most, or even in a thousand such posts. Yet in summary, we at the I Have a Dream Foundation, Richmond feel that that intellectual infrastructure is one step in the right direction. The Hinche Scholars Project: Helping Haiti Through Higher Education came about last spring after William and Mary student Danny Yates returned to the U.S. after surviving the January 12th earthquake. Since that time we have worked to carve out an education opportunity for a handful of talented, displaced Haitian college students, all of whom were in university at the time of the quake. With 90% of the higher education sector still trapped under the rubble of Port-au-Prince, we have searched for a way to help these young people who dream finish their studies in the United States.

Thanks to Barber-Scotia College, a small, historically black institution in Concord, North Carolina (just outside of Charlotte), these students’ dream may soon become a reality. With your continued support, both financial and otherwise, we can make it happen! We are hopeful that the Hinche Scholars can arrive at Barber-Scotia in Spring 2011 (right now we are still waiting on the visa process).

Barber-Scotia College (with Faith Hall blanketed by last week's snow)

Already, eight students from Hinche earned nearly a semester’s worth of college credit this fall when two professors travelled from North Carolina to Hinche for a monthlong, intensive “mini-semester” which focused on ESL (english as a second language), history, civics, and more. This opportunity was only possible thanks to the generosity of donors like you. Thank you, or as our Haitian friends say, “Mesi Anpil.” 

The Hinche Scholars hard at work during their mini-semester in October-November 2010 with Professors Ken Simmons and Judith Cowan from Barber-Scotia

 

It is our hope that one day these future leaders of Haiti will be able to apply and share the skills they will learn at Barber-Scotia College. Whether they choose to pursue careers in the medical field, in politics, in sustinable agriculture, or in education – their possibilities will be endless.

Furthermore, as Haiti rebuilds its university sector we hope to develop a lasting, sustainable partnership between Barber-Scotia College and other colleges and universities in Haiti, such as the proposed State University of Haiti in Hinche which may be built in the coming year.

Yet as we discuss our hopes and plans for the future,  is equally important to remember the past, specifically the tragic moments which Haiti suffered during 2010.

That is why we are not only asking for your financial support.

Click here to donate! 100% of contributions go directly to defraying room and board expenses and providing scholarships for the students. We are a volunteer organization with no overhead and all contributions are tax deductible.

We also encourage you to join us on January 12, 2011 for a daylong series of events dedicated to the memory of all those who perished on this day one year ago.

For more information, please leave us a comment or visit the Adopt Haiti website at www.adopthaitiproject.com.

Thank you and Happy New Year! For Haiti’s sake, let’s hope 2011 brings happiness, good health and propserity!

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