Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiti's story

Volunteers at Dunnville’s Calvary Pentecostal Church pack medical supplies in preparation for a week-long mission to Dominican Republic. See their story in part 2 of Dunnville's efforts in Haiti. ⓒ Allison Smith 2010

Last week, I had the incredibly honourable, interesting and daunting task of telling the story of people who were involved in some aspect of helping Haitian citizens after the earthquake that destroyed their country January 12. I and another reporter at the Dunnville Chronicle took on writing five stories within one. The experience had a big enough impact on me that I decided I most definitely wanted to post my contribution to my blog. 
I, like many others, have been quite removed from the travesty that is happening a world away from us. Seeing the odd commercial on TV appealing to people here to adopt children for $1 a day in the poorest countries of the world simply in no way prepares you to hear the stories of people directly involved in the efforts to help those people who are so much in need right now, and who will be for decades to come. I got to talk to a volunteer paramedic who walked through crowds and crowds of people screaming in pain. She said there was no rhyme or reason to who was helped because there were just so many of them. The ones who are healthy are fending off looters, desperate themselves, from taking what little the earthquake has left untouched. She spoke of people following her asking if she had forgotten about them, using a scalpel and razor blade to perform amputations and helping another doctor pull muscles and bones fractured by collapsing buildings back into place. 
When I asked her how she stayed sane as a fellow human being in that situation, she replied she stayed calm out of necessity. "It's your job, so you do it. You pull yourself together and off you go."
I was shocked at how matter-of-factly this 21-year-old talked about her experience. There are lesser people including myself who simply would not have had the fortitude to keep it together. I told her people like her are picking up after the mess our developed countries have made, before the earthquake happened and the efforts to send relief in cash and people started to flow. Millions of people across the world have donated to the effort. But like many problems, the poverty in developed countries is complex and many-sided. I don't pretend to understand it or know all the solutions. But we developed countries have to realize the disparity between us and the people in Haiti can't be ignored anymore. Our resolve has to endure beyond the charity telethons, media coverage and initial hype. It disturbs me that in 2010 there are still countless numbers of our fellow human beings who are considered "non people," with no rights to the justice, education and healthcare/other services essential to us and every civilized society. Our mindset as a society and global culture must dramatically shift not just about this one disaster in this one country but about the many that happen around the world every day. 
The words of Dr. Reza Kazemi ring in my mind.

Dr. Kazemi said long-term change needs to happen in third world countries and that the “tragedy” is that though there is much attention given to the nation now, “we just don’t learn. Our heart bleeds, we open our hearts, we give what we can, the news reports these poor people are having their legs and arms amputated…our approach is based on our bleeding hearts for the moment, not long term.” Citizens of developed countries must make better choices in the long term, he said, looking at their “effect on the environment and the effect on people. People give with one hand, buy a t-shirt made by a Haitian sweatshop, and they take away that help with the other hand. They contribute to the poverty in Haiti.”

What one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Imagine how early in life these people find that out and how jaded and hopeless they become waiting to live, or die, at the behest of forces they cannot control. Before talking to the many people I've spoken to about their experiences, I thought I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless at times. Their relaying of what they went through and the things they saw made me at least get an outsider's view of what 'hopeless' really is.
 Since the initial earthquake January 12, Haiti has also been through an aftershock, setting back further the rebuild of a country that already has so much devastation and hopelessness burdening its shoulders. Canada and the United Nations are calling on developed nations to forgive the country's $1 billion foreign debt. 
UN trade body calls for write-off of Haiti's debt
Flaherty wants creditors to forgive Haiti's debt

This quote is from a UK paper called the Telegraph. See the full article here.

Jean-Max Bellerive told an emergency meeting of ministers in Montreal, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the "colossal" effort would take "at least five to 10 years."   
He said: "The people of Haiti will need more and more and more in order to complete the reconstruction. What we're looking for is a long-term commitment. Haiti needs the massive support of its partners in the international community in the medium and long term." Responding to criticism that the Haitian government had been almost invisible during relief efforts he said it was working in "precarious conditions". 
"We are fully conscious that the prime responsibility for our future lies in the hands of the Haitian government and the Haitian people." 
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "It was not an exaggeration to say that at least 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti. 
Officials from a dozen countries, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund attended the talks to discuss the aid effort and make initial rebuilding plans. 
They looked at whether to relocate the capital Port-au-Prince away from its present site. Around 235,000 survivors have already fled the blighted city. 
The Montreal talks were expected to lay the groundwork for a full-fledged donors conference in the coming weeks at which pledges of money for reconstruction will be made.  
Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and groups including Oxfam and The World Council of Churches called on ministers to immediately cancel its full $890 million (£550 million) international debt. 
They also asked for delivery on the IMF's previous pledge to turn a $100 million (£62 million) interest-free loan to into a grant.

This is the sensible thing to do, and would be the first of many steps in rebuilding what many say is a country that must be built better than it was before the earthquake hit if it has any hope at all.

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