Haiti: A Media-Free Account of Where She Stands
Only a few weeks ago, Haiti was rocked by its biggest tragedy yet, a 7.3-scale earthquake that decimated its infrastructure. Mixed news reports told us that 500,000 were feared dead; then 1,000,000; then 40,000. Headlines around the world read: Haiti recovery to take decades, The end of Haiti? and Haiti: Rescue dogs depressed. Managing emotional response to the tragedy became nearly impossible because no one was certain of the magnitude of how many people had been lost.
Hitting me particularly hard was the fact that my father, a Port-au-Prince native (the city hit hardest by the quake), had not been able to verify that all of our family members and friends who live in Port-au-Prince were alive and safe. By the following Saturday, he was on a plane to the Dominican Republic, where he then took a chartered bus to Haiti in search of our family. When my mother and I heard from him two days later, we were blessed to learn that all family members were accounted for and safe.
My dad stayed in Haiti for nearly a week, aiding displaced children and families through a diaconal mission led by close family friends of ours, the Bernards. When he returned, I was finally able to get a personal, media-free account of Port-au-Prince’s true state; its spirit. Surprisingly, my father returned with a strong message of hope: though the land destroyed and the need great, at its core, Haiti’s spirit is not broken. Many Haitians, eager to return to life as normal, are making efforts to carry on their daily routines: going to work, getting food and clean water, and finding supplies to fix their damaged homes. The sense of community is stronger than ever, which can be witnessed nightly, when some roads, parks, and people’s yards are closed off at 5:30 pm to allow individuals and families to set up tents and sleeping bags for the evening — a safety measure and psychological panacea to those who lived through and lost everything in the initial and aftershock earthquakes.
The global response, emotional and financial, to Haiti’s plight has been overwhelmingly supportive, but, unfortunately, also nestled within has been several knee-jerk, and often disingenuous, reactions: restaurants adding “Haitian” dishes to their menus, emerging charitable organizations that soon prove to be questionable, and everything from companies publicly donating unnecessary products in hopes of boosting brand awareness to plain fraud and everything in-between. If our response to tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and Haiti has taught us anything, it’s that we still have warm hearts toward our fellow citizens of humanity — so much good has been done by so many — but that fundamentally, our conception of social awareness is broken. True consciousness removes the ethnocentric lenses through which we view other cultures and understands which needs are timely. It understands that medical care, food, safe water and tarps or pop-up tents to cover its one hundred thousand plus displaced residents as hurricane season nears, are Haiti’s paramount needs. It also understands that Haiti’s needs will change again in six months. In two years. And ten years down the road as the country rebuilds itself. And it’s committed to caring as much then as it did when the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country was of the moment.
Posted by Elizabeth