mardi 16 août 2011

Vail Valley Voices: What I saw in Haiti

Amy Herron Vail, CO, Colorado
I recently went to Haiti to see Haiti. I wanted to discover if Haiti is as bad and as dangerous as the American news machine would have us believe.
So in spite of the language barrier (I don't speak French or Creole), the protests of friends and family or the fact that I did not know anyone in Haiti, I bought a plane ticket.
I naively thought I would find a way to help. Indeed, almost every Haitian I met, would ask, with identical sarcastic tone and slight role of the eyes: “Are you here to help Haiti?” What was going on here? What did it mean that “help” was viewed as laughable, maybe even ludicrous?
Perhaps the answer lies amid the 10,000 or so non-government organizations working in Haiti. It is as if Haiti is being occupied by NGOs and even though this occupation falls under the umbrella of “doing good,” it still comes with all the humiliations and benefits an occupation brings to a poor, uneducated, indebted people whose strength is sapped by a history of internecine struggles.
Repeatedly NGO workers declared, “Darling, you don't understand.”
But I might. I understand that if you give away food in a tent community, you cripple the local economy by inhibiting vendors from selling their local food.
I understand that a tent school is not a long-term solution, only a short-term logistical problem. After all, if you don't provide the school supplies or the salary for a teacher, you did not actually create a school.
I understand that putting in a water purification system in a rural village that requires purchasing a new filter from a an American company every six months does not just improve the health in a community, it also creates a long-term dependency both financially and morally. And there is nothing clean about that.
I understand that homes damaged from the earthquake should not have to be demolished by hand.
I understand this is dangerous, heart wrenching work -- to return to your own home to dismantle the memories and the concrete without the use of cranes, bulldozers and jackhammers. Yet that is precisely the task people are beginning to undertake throughout Port-au-Prince, and there is no NGO providing the tools, technology or knowledge to do it any other way. The fact that these things are every day occurrences should not be understandable.
All NGOs are not created equal. There are worthwhile organizations doing beautiful, inspiring work in Haiti. I witnessed one: L'Athletique D'Haiti. On the outskirts of Cite de Soleil, Haiti's most notorious slum, a miracle is occurring. kKds are given a safe haven to be kids. It is here, on the only open soccer field left in all of Port-au-Prince, that 2,000 kids come daily to play soccer.
Since L'Athletique D'Haiti's inception 16 years ago, this non-profit has grown into an organization that provides sports training, nutrition, medical and educational assistance to underprivileged youth living throughout Port-au-Prince.
This is what an NGO is supposed to be about: providing opportunity, harnessing hope, teaching life lessons, encouraging education while providing discipline, love, and nourishment for the body and the mind.
Here I saw Universal Children Rights in action -- poor and wealthy kids, side by side participating in the joy of soccer, discovering the truths of teamwork and hard work.
It is amazing how things have returned to normal in Port-au-Prince, but in this case normal is not good. It is a structural failure, a human failure. For things to return to normal, it is a return to the broken.
I reject the notion that the average Haitian's response to immense tragedies are any different than how you or I would act if thrust into those situations. They are simply doing what they must to survive. I do not write that to belittle the Haitian spirit but to overcome the essence of separation within that statement.
The connotation that “we” are somehow different, that Haitians are not “us” but instead a “they.” I reject this.
The resilience to continue living through poverty, earthquake, cholera, camps, political oppression and social distress is not a testament to the Haitian spirit but to the human spirit. We are all connected.
Amy Herron is a Vail resident.

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