Why We Won’t Give Up On Haiti

A Haitian grandmother outside her tent.

A Haitian grandmother sits outside her tent, where she lives with nine other people.

It’s been six months. To me, it doesn’t seem that long since January 12. I know we’ve made progress in the recovery. But to Haitians still in need, the last six months probably have seemed like an eternity.

As someone who has visited the country a few times, before and after the quake, I am not surprised Haiti remains a mess. For homeless Haitians, they have no choice but to deal with it.

Last time I was there, I sat with a grandmother in an obliterated neighborhood who smiled, touched my hand – and reassured me – when describing her life in a tent with nine other people. She showed me how they prop up their tent on rocks during thunderstorms to allow rainwater to race underneath.

Let me step back and look at what life was like pre-quake. Before the earthquake, the fragile people – and the government – were surviving on a thread. This is a place that was enduring a food crisis, where the poorest people ate mud pies, just to feel like they were eating SOMETHING. Even then, Port-au-Prince looked a like a disaster zone.

For years, the lack of basic services and infrastructure – imagine city roads only passable by 4×4 because of rocks and ruts – and the astounding poverty (80% of the population) formed a framework of instability. Still, when I visited a year prior, the UN security force, MINUSTAH, was both tolerated by locals and was providing a baseline of stability. And amazingly, Haiti WAS slowly improving.

Countries teetering on the edge of failure, though, cannot handle something like a massive earthquake. Something of that scale would likely strain even solid governments. The quake seemed to push Haiti’s government off of the radar. It is easy to see why: nearly all of the government offices, including the presidential palace, still are in ruins.

But , here is the net effect: Right now, it is up to the desperately poor to pick up the pieces and continue on. These are people who make, on average, $1.25 or less a day, like the grandma in the tent. These are people who lost their homes, livelihoods and family members. THANKFULLY, the poor are not alone, as agencies like World Concern are providing critical assistance to rebuild.

I also know this to be true: Corruption and inefficiency remain in Haiti. I’ve heard first-hand stories about how the relief is not getting done quickly enough because of powerful people who want to control the flow of supplies – and get a cut from aid organizations. Add this to a crippled infrastructure and general complications with an enormous international response, and you have a mammoth ship with many captains that is difficult to steer.

Still, I get agitated when I hear people say that the U.S. should essentially write off Haiti. I often see comments like these in response to news stories about Haiti. The logic is, “Why don’t we spend that money here. It’s just going to waste over there.”

So – what should we do about it? What is the right thing to do about it?

I can tell you one thing for certain, that if we simply decide to look away, to say it is a lost cause, people will die. Haitians do not have the resources. Plain and simple. Thankfully, many compassionate people have decided that providing this aid is the right thing to do, even if it is complicated.

What do we value? To me, we have a responsibility – as people who are able – to save lives. In a situation like this, an epic humanitarian crisis, we must have the interest of the most vulnerable in mind, not an unwillingness to work in or with a country that has failed its people.

Though progress is slow, we are rebuilding lives. For its part, World Concern is using the money pledged to rebuild in productive ways. We have provided aid to 100,000 people in the form of some sort of relief supplies or services. We have rebuilt nearly 600 homes and are ready to assemble 500 “home kits.” And, we are restarting small businesses through grants, which total about $150,000 to date.

Without a doubt, Haiti has one of the most messed up governments in the world. And, by World Concern’s estimates, the recovery time needed to rebuild has gone from 3-5 years, to 20.

I wish people could sit with a grandma in Haiti as I have. It makes it so much more real. Instead of reciting the figure that 2 million people are directly affected by the quake, it is much more helpful to recall the individual people we are fighting for. The grandmother, who touches your hand in her miserable situation and prays and believes that she will get through this pain.

Despite Haiti’s troubles, that kind grandma, through no fault of her own, lives in Haiti – and just needs to go to bed at night knowing she won’t be washed away in the storm.

Read more about what we’re doing now in this Reuters article.

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