Beyond Basket Case: Building The Real Haiti

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While we are thinking about ways to improve Haiti’s situation, let’s not forget about Haiti’s important role in world history. In 1791, the African slave population in Haiti revolted, eventually winning independence from Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and becoming the world’s first Black republic on January 1st, 1804.

[Global: Haiti]

Many of us like to believe in something; be it peace, equal rights, or love.

On the one hand, we have activists who act on their beliefs to bring about change, whereas on the other hand we have the “slacktivists” who are content to wear some special symbol of peace, support a cause by posting a link or emailing a link, and wear a T-shirt which highlights a cause. Then there are the rest of us who are scared of believing in anything, whether it is world peace, human rights, or equal opportunity. Today is the time to ask yourself which category you fall under.

In this crumbling world, it is understandable to feel like we cannot believe in anything. We are so accustomed to being over-promised and under-delivered that we expect to be let down; we expect very little from others, from the world.  And the danger is that we soon become comfortable with failure to bring change. So whenever we cannot deliver the goods, we simply say, what do you expect? I’m only human--what do you expect? People are crooks--what do you expect? End world hunger?

Today I ask you to bring in a new perspective. Let’s step out of this culture that is always providing us with less than promised, let’s think of a different question to ask.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, reducing much of its capital to rubble, killing more than 300,000 people, and leaving 1.6 million homeless. Haiti, which occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, used to be known as “The Pearl of the Antilles” because of its beauty. Nowadays, people mostly remember Haiti as the poorest country in the western hemisphere and as one of the least developed countries in the world. Haiti in recent years has struggled with challenges from constant political upheavals to economically crippling embargoes.

But despite all, resilience and optimism has always been a part of that culture; many Haitians still believed in a better world, a better life, one day… perhaps tomorrow…

Even after that earthquake, the optimism and the positive attitude did not die.  However, this inherent belief in a better day was shaken some more with the outbreak of cholera six months after the earthquake. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are still without homes, without work and without a clear sense of how or when their lives might change for the better.

They have to call these squalid camps, which are exposed to storms, thieves, and diseases like cholera, their home. Help is greatly needed. Have you thought about how you could make a difference? This month, on the one-year anniversary mark of the earthquake that ravaged the country, when you read or heard about Haiti in the news, did you feel helpless or did you want to make a difference?  Did you decide to be an activist, a “slacktivist”, or a non-believer?

Indeed after the earthquake, humanitarian aid from around the world has streamed into Haiti. Yet, most of the communities, which needed aid the most, did not have access to it.  There is no question that the private and public donations were critical in saving many lives in Haiti.

But the aid needs to also be backed up with active trade and means to earn a living for the local community.  While being critical of the foreign aid based on the results seen thus far, let’s not quickly categorize the situation as hopeless. Instead, I encourage you to quickly do more than send money, do more than send clothes or food, do more than write an article, do more than a debate, and do more than have compassion.  I am encouraging you to think of innovative ways of helping the Haitian people help themselves.

While we are thinking about ways to improve Haiti’s situation, let’s not forget about Haiti’s important role in world history. In 1791, the African slave population in Haiti revolted, eventually winning independence from Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and becoming the world’s first Black republic on January 1st, 1804. Haiti’s independence also led the way to freedom for the rest of the hemisphere as Simon Bolivar left from Jacmel on April 10, 1816, to liberate countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.

It is also documented that, Haitians, under the command of French military officers, fought at Savannah, Georgia in 1779 and helped the Americans to escape the siege by the British. And lastly, after having been defeated by the slaves in Haiti, Napoleon Bonaparte decided that his strength should be focused on the war in Europe and signed over Louisiana--the Louisiana Purchase--to the new American nation.

In conclusion, Haiti is an important part of world history; it has contributed to the freedom and the hope of many.  Do you believe it’s worth it to try to help Haiti maintain itself?

Ask yourself how you want to be remembered in this world and what your purpose is.  Hopefully as you are asking yourself these questions, Haiti will be part of your genuine focus on the world at large.  And if it is, let's share our ideas with each other, so that we can work together to realize our potential.

Elle Jean is a native of Haiti and a PhD student at Vanderbilt University. She is a leader in the Middle Tennessee Community Haiti relief efforts. She can be reached at Haitiniger@gmail.com.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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