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Hope for Haiti?

In: Historical Events

Submitted By EliCushnir
Words 2540
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Hope for Haiti? On January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck ten miles from Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince, plummeting the already poorest country in the Western Hemisphere completely to the ground (Huttes 1). The Earth shook violently for 35 seconds, “walls rippled as if they were made of liquid,” and Haitians ran out onto the streets screaming, thinking the rapture had arrived (Woolley 41). Within days, millions of dollars of foreign aid flowed into Haiti, but every day remained a struggle for survival. 230,000 Haitians were killed instantly, morgues soon overflowed, and the stench of flesh contaminated the streets. The death toll grew so large that corpses were hauled to mass graves to be buried with hundreds of their fellow countrymen. Identities were lost forever, and hundreds and thousands of children were orphaned and left homeless. The scale of the disaster was massive beyond comprehension, and foreign aid reached only small fractions of the population. The outside world began to ask, “What would it take to rebuild Haiti?” More importantly, “What would it take to remove Haiti from their 200 year pattern of poverty and failure (Smith)?” Throughout its history, Haiti has constantly depended on foreign aid, especially from the United States and France. Today, over two years after the earthquake, they’re still in great need of assistance. We as Americans owe it to our resilient Caribbean brothers to lead them to a prosperous and thriving future. While helping in Haiti, Paul Halvorsen, a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University, speaks of the Haitian people saying, “you would not believe when you look in their eyes how strong they are and how much hope they have” (Huttes 4). In order to lead Haiti to a better future, foreign aid organizations need to focus on educating Haitians, which will lead to economic stimulus and a more self-sufficient nation. In order to make this possible, the outside world must first assist in restoring justice to Haiti by improving their police force and judicial system. Haiti hasn’t always struggled with poverty and isolation, in fact while under French rule in the late 1700’s it was commonly referred to as The Pearl of the Caribbean. It was “the richest European colony in the world” and the “main source of sugar and coffee that had become indispensable to ‘civilized life in Europe’” (Popkin 1). The great agricultural potential in Haiti remains today, and “there is so much beauty in the land and joy in the people that it would be easy to just look the other way and miss seeing the desperation in their living conditions” (Woolley 17). This begs the question, “How did Haiti transform from Pearl of the Caribbean to a broken nation?” From 1791 to 1804, Haiti underwent a massive revolution. The colony’s enormous slave population rebelled against their French masters. Toussaint L’ouverture, a former slave, led 400,000 black men and women to victory, effectively gaining independence from the French. However, the revolution completely isolated Haiti from all foreign trade and commerce, bringing their nation into a 200-year period of poverty, corruption, and misfortune. Haiti was effectively cut off from their main export outlet, which was France (Popkin 7). Ever since the Revolution, Haiti has constantly depended on foreign aid, and this dependency needs to change. Per capita, they have the most NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in the world. Before the earthquake, there were 10,000, and this number has grown vastly (Reed). The United Nations Peacekeepers have been an instrumental organization in assisting Haiti’s development ever since their independence, but the earthquake tragically killed over half of the U.N. Peacekeepers in Haiti (Smith). Even before, Haiti has constantly depended on foreign aid from both the U.S. and France. As the old adage says, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” In order for Haiti is to rise from the rubble, we must cease this pattern of their dependency on foreign aid.
In order for lasting change to occur, a thorough education of Haiti’s young people must take place, for the purpose of leading their nation’s youth toward a self-sufficient future. The improvement of the educational system in Haiti will be the primary action in removing their nation from an awful 200-year pattern of poverty and misfortune. Following the earthquake, 90% of Haiti’s schools were damaged or destroyed (Smith, 2011). Even prior to the quake, half of elementary school age children weren’t in school, 60% of those attending wouldn’t make it to 6th grade, and 75% of teachers lacked sufficient training. Less than one fifth of schools had electricity and an astonishingly low 39% had drinkable water (Haiti Statistics « HaitiPartners.org). Following the quake, education wasn’t a priority, being undermined by more pressing matters of survival. Today in Haiti, over two years after the earthquake, the reconstruction effort continues, making great progress for the future. As some initial issues from the quake begin to fade, the question arises once more, how can we lead Haiti to be a self-sufficient and less impoverished nation? The very first measure must be to rectify the educational system in Haiti. Paul Halvorsen, an aid worker, proudly reported that the Haitians’ thirst for knowledge is awesome” (Huttes 2). The outside world can quench this thirst by directing their foreign aid toward school construction projects and teacher training projects. Phil Harris, the director of the non-profit aid organization called Friends and Family Community Connection, backs up this claim with his experience of working in Haiti. He argues: “we need to honestly help educate the Haitians that are really showing promise and desire to learn.” Phil adds that, “most Haitians are sitting around in Haiti waiting for the government to bring solutions for them, which will never happen.” It is therefore critical for their educational system to be rectified, because it will begin the series of changes toward a better future for Haiti. With quality education, abundance of employment opportunities and economic stimulus will follow. Through these improvements, a relative self-sufficiency of the Haitian nation should emerge. Following the establishment of a quality educational system, an abundance of job opportunities for Haitians must emerge. This will, in turn, lead to economic growth and improvement of general living conditions in Haiti. For lasting economic growth to occur, Haiti must reintegrate into world commerce. The Haitian Revolution cut Haiti off from foreign commerce for over 200 years, leading their nation into a downward spiral of poverty and despair. It “sent shock waves throughout the entire world,” being the first and only successful slave revolt in history. Vast amounts of Haiti’s wealth were diminished upon their loss of connection with France, effectively cutting them off from their primary outlet for exports. In addition to tumbling Haiti’s wealth to the ground, the Revolution also left a lasting effect of strong racial divisions and great wealth disparities in Haitian society (Popkin, 2003). In order to mend issues in Haiti today, the outside world cannot simply donate money for aid. Officials and leaders of aid organizations must ensure that the money goes toward building of schools, factories, and other institutions that will lead the Haiti toward a future of self-sufficiency. However, all these changes cannot take place without a restoration of justice in Haiti. On the night of the earthquake, 4,500 prisoners escaped from the National Penitentiary, narrowly avoiding death as the building crashed to the ground. For the past two years, there has been a rampant crime spree all over Haiti, and the small police force present has struggled to fight back. Haiti’s police chief, Mario Andresol, has been attempting to recapture the hundreds of gangsters he had imprisoned earlier in the decade. Not too long after the earthquake, he reported it being “chaos out there,” and that “there [was] a state of fear because the escapees [were] murdering, kidnapping, [and] robbing.” Currently, there is a seven-man team of undercover police officers who are working to arrest these dangerous criminals, many of whom are recognizable by sight. However, this is an extremely difficult process, since there is a severe lack of criminal and prison records in Haiti. The government is so corrupt that many prisoners are wrongfully accused of crimes and innocently held in prison for years on end before receiving a trial. 90% of the escapees from the National Penitentiary never received their trial and innocently spent a horrid four to five years in barbaric prison conditions. The vast majority of those arrested by the undercover police force are innocent, and one year after the quake less than 700 of the escapees had been recaptured. This enormous challenge is augmented by corrupt politicians who are linked to gangsters. Additionally, there are criminals posing as police, which further complicates the situation. The leader of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Edmond Mulet, reports that unless this criminal activity is controlled and stopped, “all the efforts that the international community is doing on reconstruction, on rebuilding, on development…will be in vain.” The recapturing of these dangerous criminals and the correction of the judicial system are the first two actions that must take place in order to lift Haiti from its slums toward a better future (Reed). In order to understand the extent of Haiti’s poverty, one must comprehend the stark contrast between the daily life of the average Haitian and the average American. Here in America, we go about our daily lives in a mundane fashion, taking for granted all the privileges that make us so fortunate. It’s imperative that we take a step back to notice the world around us, and all those who are much less fortunate. In American high schools, students will fret over petty problems like getting the newest iPod or how hard their last break up was, while some 1,000 miles away, thousands of Haitian teenagers struggle to survive every day. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a gross national income per capita of $660 in 2009. In the same year, 78% of Haitians made less than two US dollars a day and 54% made less than one US dollar a day (Haiti Statistics « HaitiPartners.org). By contrast, the average American income in 2009 per capita was $38,846 (Per Capita Personal Income U.S. and All States). We as Americans and more privileged citizens of a more wealthy country must recognize this vast disparity and do our best to improve the situation.
Even if the judicial system is rectified, Haiti will not instantaneously be restored to wealth. Two years after the earthquake, billions of dollars have gone to Haitian aid, and multitudes of large organizations have poured their best intentions into relief, yet the country still largely lies in ruins. Nearly half of American households have contributed to Haitian relief, which amounts to over 700 million dollars. After the first week, millions of dollars of foreign aid were already flowing into their capital Port-au-Prince, however only one eighth of the city’s population ended up receiving food or water. The proportions were miniscule, usually being only a small pack of crackers and a little bottle of water. Vast portions of the resources donated remained at the nation’s only airport for a long time, and many planes struggled with the little landing space available (Smith). A year after the earthquake, only 5% of the 675 million cubic feet of rubble had been removed from the streets of Port-au-Prince, at least one million Haitians still lived in tents, and a preventable cholera epidemic had claimed over 2,500 lives. This all begs the question, “What went wrong?” How could approximately 11 billion dollars pledged by donor countries have accomplished so little? It is commonly criticized that many humanitarian aid organizations in Haiti, like the International Red Cross and the American Academy of Pediatrics, create a culture of dependence by usurping responsibilities “better left to the Haitian government” (Ratnesar). A proper balance of government involvement and foreign aid must be maintained in Haiti for positive progress to take place. This all regresses to the argument of Haitian self-sufficiency, because giving money or temporary resources to Haitians and aid groups won’t solve any long-term issues. Schools need to be built, factories need to emerge, and Haitians must begin an active engagement in education and employment in order to ensure a positive future. Despite all the monetary aid donated, the unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of Americans are hardly aware of the overwhelming struggles taking place in our neighbor country. It seems to me that it’s a basic question of morality and decency that we as Americans do what we can in order to bring hope to Haiti. While there may not be much that I can personally do for Haiti, I would like to feel that I live in a country where those in power to have a positive effect will take the morally just actions on behalf of a neighbor in need. As a teenager growing up in the wealthiest country in the world, it’s important that my peers and I take a step back to realize how fortunate we are compared to the majority of the world, and particularly our close neighbor Haiti. Despite the massive difficulties posed in effective foreign aid, I hope that the US and other privileged countries continue to help Haiti as much as possible. According to former US president Bill Clinton, “[if] given the right organization and support, Haiti could become a self-sustaining and successful country.” We owe it to them and to ourselves to make every effort to see this change become a reality.

Works Cited
Chen, Michelle. “The Total Failure of Global Aid in Haiti – COLORLINES.” COLORLINES. 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. http://clorlines.com/archives/2010/10/fragile_state_international_aid_regime_fails_to_fix_haiti.html>.”
Girard, Philippe R. Haiti: The Tumultuous History--From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 1-25. Print.
"Haiti Statistics « HaitiPartners.org." HaitiPartners.org. Web. 14 Feb. 2012. http://www.haitipartners.org/stories-news/haiti-statistics/.
Harris, Phil. "Phil Harris's Aid to Haiti." Telephone interview. 6 Feb. 2012.
Huttes, Celeste (2011) “Hope for Haiti,” Illinois Wesleyan University Magazine: Vol. 20: Iss. 1, Article 2.
"Office of the Historian - Countries - Haiti." U.S. Department of State - Office of the Historian. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. .
“Per Capita Personal Income U.S. and All States.” Bureau of Business and Economic Research UNM. 22 Sept. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2012. .
Popkin, Jeremy. "The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804): A Different Route to Emancipation." Lecture. University of Kentucky. Web. 24 Jan. 2012.
Ratnesar, Romesh. "Who Failed on Haiti's Recovery?" Time. Time, 10 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. .
Reed, Dan, prod. Battle for Haiti. PBS Frontline, 2011. Film.
Smith, Martin, prod. The Quake. PBS Frontline, 2011. Film.
Waldron, Heather. "Hope for Haiti." American Acadamy of Pediatrics 31.3 (2010): 8. AAP News. American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 26 Jan. 2012.
Woolley, Dan, and Jennifer Schuchmann. Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti's Hotel Montana. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 1-30. Print.

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