Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti is a people

While driving from work to my parish last night I listened to a story on All Things Considered about the people in Haiti who are desperately trying to find work, to be employed for wages in order to make a living. As I listened to the story I thought "Well, surely after the earthquake there is plenty of need for people to help with recovery operations, with the distribution of food, water, and setting up temporary shelters, burying the dead, etc." Beyond the immediate aftermath, there is a lot of work to be done rebuilding Port au Prince and outlying towns and villages, along with what little transportation infrastructure there is. Then I thought how the relief efforts are much like the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that have flowed into Haiti just since the Clinton Administration, which, like so much aid given to desperately poor countries, seems to have no effect beyond enriching the corrupt elites.

I think much of what economist Dambisa Moyo set forth in her book of a few years ago, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, is applicable to Haiti, too. At the end of the day, we have to take the humanity of the Haitian people into account, just as we do anybody we would deign to assist in any way. While people rushing to Haiti and donating generously are, on the whole, good things, we must coordinate and distribute in such a way that we do not ignore the humanity of the people of Haiti.

What helped me to synthesize all of this today is an interview for Il Sussidiario, which appears as part of their Diary Haiti series, with Fr. Leonardo Grasso, who is a missionary priest that went from Venezuela to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. When asked what he found upon his arrival in Haiti, apart from the devastation caused by the earthquake, he said "I found people who are not as they are reflected in the current news, where they are portrayed as desperate, a prey for violence, and who are looting the aid. This is not true." He says that in his daily interactions with people he does not see, nor do people complain about all the conditions reported in the media. Rather, Fr. Leonardo says that because the Haitians "are people who have suffered greatly" that "they are also capable of facing conditions which seem impossible. These people are also very religious. They are able to recognize, in the circumstances of the catastrophe, a strength that comes from a relationship with God and with others. Haitians know the difficulties that confront them and embrace them in an extremely positive way." Most importantly, he contradicts the passivity and resignation with which the people of Haiti are portrayed, insisting that they "are responding with great initiative. Into the disaster, they breathe the desire to start over." For me this means we need to be careful not to break our arms patting ourselves on the back.

Above all, Fr. Leonardo states that there is reason for great hope in the midst of this disaster. I thought his perspective surfaced something that seems to be ignored and shunted off to the side, the Haitian people themselves. Our Lady of Perpetual Help- pray for us!

1 comment:

  1. What Fr Leonardo writes reflects my thoughts as I watch the people living their circumstances in Haiti. They are witnessing to the world their love and trust for God.

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