This post will reflect my 25 years as an American citizen, 7 months observing the situation from a far, 4 days in Cap-Haitien and 2 1/2 in Port-au-Prince. I was only in Haiti for a week, the 1.3 million people left homeless as a result of the January 12th earthquake will likely live there for life.
What I saw in one week taught me more than I learned in any one sitting as a undergraduate or graduate student. I spent the bulk of my time with an inspirational group of people from Sonje Ayiti working towards developing one city. They showed me the side of Haiti that most Americans never see on TV. I saw Haitians helping themselves and helping each other. I saw Haitians making great things out of meager resources. I ate with them, prayed with them and slept under same heat as them. I walked the streets of Limonade, visited the local hospital, saw what a typical Haitian classroom looks like, took showers using a bucket, swatted mosquitoes, rode over unpaved roads and smelled mounds of trash. I talked with them, learned more about their stories and of their dreams for the country. I walked through the tent city outside of the Haitian Presidential Palace. I saw statues of the nations heroes surrounded by the very people they were fighting to secure a better future for since the 1700’s. I saw the direct result of too many people, too little public administration and too many NGO’s in a small area.
I saw a lot. To be honest, I’m having a hard time digesting it. I’ve visited townships in South Africa, poor communities in Guatemala and seen shantytowns in mainland China. I’ve lived without hot water and heat in Chicago. But I have never seen the things I saw while in Haiti. The experience left a deep impression on me to not only grieve but to act.
Since my visit I’m more angry at; 1) People who are against taxes and 2) People who think Wyclef Jean was a viable option to be President of Haiti.
Taxation functions as a means to pay for public goods and services. They are meant to serve the common good. Imagine this…no trash pick-up, no one to call when the electricity goes out, no running water, no one to report landlord abuse to and no public schooling for your children. Taxes pay for all of those things in the U.S. American’s STILL mismanage and take them for granted. Live in Haiti for a week and your mind will change quickly. Today a friend pointed out how taxation and tax appropriation are two different things. We could do better on both fronts in the States. I’m not arguing for big government, just arguing for the presence of a basic element. In Haiti, the basic infrastructure isn’t nearly non-existent. Be grateful and work for the future you want.
On Wycelf Jean. I have very simple remarks. Would you want him or another musician with the same history and experience as President of the United States? We have more infrastructure and resources. I’ll take this to a smaller scale. Who you want the same candidate to be Governor of YOUR State? Probably not. His nomination has been romanticized by Americans who have likely never lived in a tent city, never had to choose between paying for school uniforms or selling water on the streets. Do the Haitian people deserve any less than what we expect for ourselves? No. Low expectations are like a festering sore in Haiti, human beings deserve better.
Whether you donated to a Haiti Relief Fund or not, your tax dollars are being spent abroad (or are supposed to be). We have got to do better. We know better and can do better. Yes, the Haitian people are resilient; but no one should have to be so resilient all of the time.
As an organizer I follow the concept of organizing around the injustice we hold the most anger towards. I hate to see people living without basic necessities, dignity and the opportunity to be happy. God willing, I’ll head back to Haiti in January. I have a lot of ideas for working with the women and youth of Limonade. They are pretty much organized and just need more technical and financial support. I’m interested in working with them, not over or just for them. The road to achieving those things is just as rocky as any side street in Port-au-Prince, but it is possible. Change is always possible.