I've had Haiti on my heart lately. I was talking to my best friend about the extreme poverty there and he asked my why Haiti is so poor. I wasn't exactly sure how to answer. So, I asked my blogger friend Mark to write about this for me. I could have googled it, but I wanted the perspective of an insider. Not some reporter who might have spent a week there, but someone who loves and knows Haiti.
Why is Haiti so poor?
Historically Haiti has never had a period of sustained growth. It seems that every time Haiti gets to her feet from one natural disaster, ruthless dictator or health epidemic another is waiting to knock her down. Not to mention foreign governments and businesses meddling in Haitian affairs which always ends poorly for Haiti with her landscape ravaged and her people exploited. In the last several decades Haiti has suffered massively from the brain drain that happened during Papa Doc’s regime. The Ton Ton Macoute, Duvalier’s para-military hit squad killed tens of thousands of his political detractors and there was a mass exodus of Haiti’s elite, including her writers, artists, professors etc.. There is also the reality of corruption and gang violence that keeps honest business from thriving and hard working people at the mercy of the greedy and the powermongers. Add to all of this that there are no loans for people in Haiti. Not even micro loans to help start a small business. There is an extreme lack of upward mobility in Haiti keeping her people scrambling at the bottom for limited resources and jobs. All of these factors make Haiti somewhat volatile at times which in turn keeps foreign investors wary of moving industry to Haiti.
What would it take to break the cycle of poverty?
People in Haiti want to work. They want to build very small modest homes for their family. They dream of owning small businesses to insulate themselves from the 75% un-employment rate. I feel like one of the best ways to help Haiti’s people would be to offer micro-loans with extremely low interest rates. I have seen the work ethic of Haiti’s people. I have worked these past 6 months with 140 Haitian men who are tireless, who never complain, who never find a task beneath them. I know that it is a nation of resilient people who can and will thrive if given half a chance. But they remain marginalized by their economic condition, always at the mercy of tomorrow’s tragedy. Education for children that includes sustainable economic and business models would go a long way too, so yeah, micro loans and education for sure.
What is Haiti’s greatest need right now?
I think the greatest need, as far as direct aid relief, is two-fold. There is always the need for medical supplies and medical teams. Each area of Haiti has its own set of particular needs but over all there is a shortage of preventative care and simple medicine/vitamins that could save so many lives and substantially raise the infant mortality rate. The other thing I think would be construction crews to help re-build after the 2010 quake that killed 200,000. There are still close to 400 thousand people in IDP camps. These internally displaced persons are extremely vulnerable to every natural disaster and violence crime and theft. These tent communities, literally tarps over twigs, seldom have working latrines and their over-taxed water supplies are often compromised. These two factors raise very real concerns in light of Haiti’s recent Cholera epidemic. So NGO’s that would use Haitian workforce and Haitian materials to build these families homes would be incredible.
What effects of the earthquake are still felt today?
All over Haiti’s southern region, from the capitol city of Port-au-Prince to Petit Goave buildings remain in heaps of rubble. This past month the presidential palace was finally pushed down to make way for re-building but much of the surrounding areas are still devastated. With no ability to buy materials for construction due again to high unemployment and the inability to take out a loan, Haitian people, especially her poorest, have not been able to rebuild. There have been great strides in trying to get businesses up and running but where there is no money and no NGO support buildings remain shattered just like the lives of too many of their owners.
What about Sandy?
Sandy was tough on Haiti. But only from the rain. At least 50 people died in flash flooding and mud slides. There was also a slight spike in Cholera. Sandy along with Isaac before her showcased the extreme vulnerability of Haiti’s people. When a relatively small and weak storm can do so much damage you realize just how tenuous life in Haiti is.
What would it take to put a stop to the trend of restaveks? (If you've never seen the term before, it refers to a child in forced domestic servitude. More information can be found here)
I am going to defer to my close friend Megan Boudreaux on this one. She has worked extensively with Restaveks through her organization Respire Haiti . She says it is education. Making sure that each child has an education and then in turn educating people that each life is sacred and important. She has enrolled upwards of 300 restaveks in her school in Gressier, Haiti. Personally I feel this to be so true. Obviously greed and lust play a part in every type of exploitation and Governments must make strong anti child slavery laws and enforce them. I would like to see Haiti’s president Martelly make this a top priority of his government and to give local municipalities the resources to identify these children and get them to safety. But this is such a deeply convoluted and engrained part of Haiti’s culture that these children are slaves in plain sight. Church and civic leaders need to raise their voice in an united front against this injustice. It needs to become a source of national shame and the collective conscience of Haiti must turn its will toward eradication of this despicable practice. A quarter of a million children’s lives depend on it.
What issues are there in Haitian orphanages?
Too many of Haiti’s orphanages are run for profit. Spider’s as my friend Morgan Weinberg from Little Footprints, Big Steps calls them, are opportunistic profiteers who prey on the desperation of Haiti’s impoverished families. They will take children who aren’t even orphans and post sad pictures all over the web to tug at international heartstrings attached to firstworld purses. Kids are kept on the edge of starvation in tattered clothing to keep the pictures compelling. They sleep on dirt or in crowded beds, sometimes without basic sanitation or healthcare. Although there are some amazing people who run orphanages and care deeply for these kids far too many of these homes are prisons for innocent kids.
What is being done about it?
There has been a recent effort by Haitian child services to crack down on exploitation in Haiti’s orphanages, and I have seen some good trends in that respect. But at times it seems very disjointed, half-hearted and somewhat arbitrary. And I have also experienced firsthand the corruption that greases palms to turn blind eyes. Some NGO’s on the ground are checking in on these kids too. They are building relationships with honest, kind orphanage directors and fully vetting these homes before placing kids.
What can people in the developed world do to help?
Ultimately Haiti needs resources, needs volunteers. Skilled professionals such as doctors, nurses , dentists, social workers and construction experts can volunteer with NGOs already deeply invested and embedded in communities. These NGOs have already won the trust of their Haitian neighbors and isolated those most at risk and in the most dire need. Also donors should not allow their wariness of corruption to stop their donating. They need only to fully vet organizations. There are so many amazing people on the ground in Haiti doing such incredible things but always in need of more resources to meet the need.