In the wake of the tragic earthquake on January 12, 2010, the world has come to a new awareness of Haiti. It was a shock to the system to see a nation of people who have suffered so much be literally shaken to their foundations. How you can help the victims in Haiti.
As people across the globe responded with an outpouring of support for the people of Haiti, I had a chance to speak to some of my Haitian friends, to share in their grieving and to learn about the bigger picture of what has happened and what must be done to address it.
On the morning after the earthquake, I received a Facebook message from a friend whose parents were based in Haiti. They had retired to Port-au-Prince in December to help bring medical services to the needy, and she was unable to reach them. She remained calm and positive as she spoke not only about her own family's struggle, but about the general stigma of Haiti. She told me that perhaps this would be an opportunity not only for the country to rebuild, but for the world to see its people through new eyes.
I spoke to another close friend whose parents were living in Chicago and were still frantically trying to track down family members on the ground. An immigration attorney, he too raised the issue of stigma and of the news media's constant reporting of Haiti as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. He challenged me with a question: "How did we let Haiti become the poorest nation?"
It was with this question in my mind that I spoke to a third friend, who is an influential organizer for progressive causes. Through third- and fourth-hand reports, he had been able to account for most of his family, except for an aunt who was still missing. He spoke of seeing the images of the collapsed presidential palace, the first governmental building he had ever seen. He likened it to the feeling of seeing the White House lying in ruins.
While the news media had made comparisons between this disaster and the impact of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, my friend told that what had happened in Haiti was on a completely different scale. In a nation of 10 million, some estimate that 3 million people may have been put into the streets by this event. What would we do here in America if one in every three of us were homeless overnight? Who would be left to help?
If Haiti were not a poor nation, if it had a stronger infrastructure, perhaps it would be better prepared to handle the painful aftermath of such a disaster.
But Haiti is terribly poor, as we are told time and again. But why?