What can I do for the people of Haiti, and how do I go about doing it? What is it like to be there?
Fairfield University has always stressed the value of service and awareness in its vision to uphold Jesuit values, so when the earthquake in Haiti destroyed so many lives a couple of weeks ago, many students and staff felt the frustration of not knowing what to do with the skills and resources they have. In an effort to bring awareness to campus, a panel came to the Barone Campus Center on Tuesday, January 26 for a more personal discussion on Haiti. They included:
- Rony Delva, a Haitian American who is project director of Fairfield University’s Upward Bound
- Father Churchill Penn, a native of Haiti and leader of the Haitian community at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bridgeport
- Pierre D’Haiti, a Connecticut Board member of the Haitian American Leadership Council in Washington, D.C.
- Professors Lary Miners and Roben Torosyan from the Center for Academic Excellence
- Winston Tellis, Schramm Professor of Information Systems and Operations Management
- Charles MacCormack, President and CEO of Save the Children
- John Suggs, Assistant Director of the Center for Faith & Public Life
Haiti, Then & Now
Haiti has a rich history of being one of the first independent black countries, and the second oldest republic in the western hemisphere after the U.S. However, years of government corruption has landed Haiti in debt of nearly 21 billion dollars. As one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, and after the mass destruction left in the earthquake’s wake, it’s hard to believe that in 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed Haiti “the most wonderful country in the world.” Those words, today, are painful to recall.
Haitian-American speaker Rony Delva stressed the importance of a long-term solution for Haiti. “Charity is great,” he said, “but Haiti needs more than charity. It needs long-term solutions. What’s going to happen once CNN leaves Port au Prince? Earthquakes don’t kill people; it’s the poorly constructed buildings that collapsed that kill people. Port au Prince was designed for about 120,000 inhabitants, but about 2.5 million were living there. And now, buildings are just randomly being built without any organization. We need architects.”
Pierre D’Haiti, the director of the Haiti Resource Center and Youth of Action, explained that one crippling problem is the mass exodus taking place in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. Citizens who are now homeless are heading to the mountains with neither food nor water to sustain them. As of the date of the Fairfield event, people were still pinned under the rubble crying for help. Haitians living elsewhere in the world want to return to their native land to help friends and family. All of this movement is hard to keep track of, and now there’s a huge issue of immigration. Lawyers are needed to help sort out Haitian documentation.
What’s most disturbing is the issue of displaced Haitian children. D’Haiti described the terrible reality for the most vulnerable earthquake survivors. “Children are being stolen out of tents, and they’re being forced to work as slaves – sometimes under the pretense that they’ll be getting food and shelter,” he said. “If you want to go to Haiti to help as a nurse, you will have to make sure that the child isn’t being smuggled away. You can’t be a chicken when you go to Haiti.”
D’Haiti also described the problem of what is known as the ‘economic orphan.’ Parents who can no longer care for their children are just dropping them off at orphanages, hoping that the child will have a better future. For more information on children and Haiti, visit the website Haitian Street Kids Incorporated.
Despite the desperation of the situation, there is hope for the rebirth of a better, stronger Haiti. The key lies in educating the population, half of which is under 25.
“Haiti is filled with nice young people,” explained Delva. “And they are known for their work ethic. I myself have been working two or three jobs at a time since I was a young kid. I want Fairfield University to welcome people from Haiti into their school. Fairfield should have students do projects in Haiti. It’s a win-win situation. Both the Haitian student and the Fairfield student could learn something.”
And what can the Fairfield community do? “We need more materials like tents and blankets. Cash is also always needed. Students and staff should rally and raise money for these materials, and give them to the American Red Cross, which has been really good with aid,” advised D’Haiti. “Bridgeport and other cities around the world are adopting cities to help. We know Haiti is demolished; now we need to step up and take action.”
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