Today is the fourth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. 250,000 people died. Aid flooded in, some seeped out. The disaster has been eclipsed by Oklahoma tornadoes and Philippine typhoons and New York City hurricanes. Most Haitians have reestablished a daily pattern to their life, although that pattern was forever changed by the quake. Reconstruction continues, too little, too slow, but there is progress.
Yesterday’s New York Times editorial sums up the (lack of) progress Haiti-Unfinished and Forsaken. As usual, the article may be true, but it is only a partial truth. Haiti is a mess. But continuing to apply first world bandages to this developing countries problems will never address Haiti’s challenges or provide first world bean counters the data they crave to proclaim success. I am not surprised that a proposed industrial park to create 60,000 jobs has created only a few thousand. Anyone who ever thought 60,000 Haitians would march into factories and punch time clocks to produce goods for export doesn’t understand what motivates these proud, insular people.
I do not have the solution for how to best help Haiti, how to balance giving its citizens fish when they are starving while simultaneously teaching them to fish. I don’t know how to end the cycle of aid dependency that has ballooned since the post-earthquake foreign aid boom. But I do know the successful answer is not going to look anything like an industrial plant with 60,000 jobs. It is going to be local, decentralized, and respect that, although Haitians want a better life, they will not accept one dictated by first world interests. Haiti doesn’t want to be the United States, or Brazil, or even Rwanda. It wants better health and education and nutrition and housing. But even more importantly, it wants to be Haiti, accepted as an independent nation, warts and all, and not some poor stepchild of larger powers.
Please remember Haiti today, and tomorrow, and the next day. But please consider that the most effective way to remember Haiti, whether through donating money, time, or (even better) buying local products, is not to change Haiti. Our objective should be to enable Haiti to come more fully into its own.
My buddies in Grand Goave