Haiti: New opportunities for a resilient people

SERVICE asked several in the CWS and ecumenical family either working in Haiti or having visited Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake to respond to a question about next steps: What needs to happen next in Haiti for the country to recover from both the immediate disaster and the earlier, deeper structural problems that hobbled the country for years?

See also the CWS Haiti appeal update, 8/16/10

Man laying bricks
ACT Alliance-sponsored reconstruction under way outside of Port-au-Prince in the city of Jacmel. Photo: Catianne Tijerina/ACT Alliance

SERVICE asked several in the CWS and ecumenical family either working in Haiti or having visited Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake to respond to a question about next steps: What needs to happen next in Haiti for the country to recover from both the immediate disaster and the earlier, deeper structural problems that hobbled the country for years?

Here are their responses:

Burton Joseph, CWS Program Manager in Haiti

I think more than ever this is the right opportunity for all who love this country to come together as one and grab the bull by the horns and proceed with decentralization.  About three to four years ago, I was in the southern region of Haiti and remembered there once was a stronger UN and NGO presence. Since the earthquake, I asked a professional, originally from that area, if there had been an increase in economic activities around there since the earthquake. He said there had not, and even told that he was considering moving to the Dominican Republic because he, a hard working entrepreneur, does not see the light at the end of the tunnel.  That sort of thing has to stop, and more than ever, it is the right time for the government and others to create more economic opportunities across the 10 departments (provinces).

That is one issue. Another is the worry that Haiti is becoming more of an inferno because of systematic deforestation. From 2005 to now, the vegetation coverage dropped from about 4 percent to a little over 1 percent. We have reached the final stage now -- the peasants are now cutting the fruit trees to make charcoal to sell to pay their children's tuitions. That, too, has to stop.

Is Haiti doomed to disappear from the face of the earth? No. But, the belief that this is inevitable needs to change. We all need to come together for a national "konbit" (gathering together) to rebuild the country.       

Lisa Rothenberger, American Baptist Churches World Relief Officer and CWS Board Member:

One thought from a recent visit to Haiti.  Economic opportunities outside of Port-au-Prince have to be developed in order to motivate Haitians to leave city life as they have known it and return to rural areas.  The unsustainable tent cities could become less crowded if job opportunities existed in rural areas.

As I understand it, the downfall of agricultural production in Haiti was preceded by policies that lowered tariffs on agricultural imports to the point that it was cheaper to import rice than to grow it.  This left many in rural areas without a means to make a living so they gravitated toward the city.  Raising tariffs to levels that would stimulate local farming and making investments in agricultural inputs (i.e. good seed, tools, fertilizer) could turn this tide and redistribute Haiti's population in a more sustainable way and also empower Haitians to meet their own food security needs.

Donna Derr, Director of Development and Humanitarian Affairs, CWS
 
There exists among the population of Haiti much resilience and a tremendous desire to contribute to their own future.  That resilience and desire to contribute must be engaged and empowered.  Centers of opportunity beyond Port-au-Prince must be considered where basic services as well as economic and educational opportunities are accessible to all who live in those areas.  Employ, educate, empower, should be core values in the reconstruction of Haiti.
 
The Rev. Serna E. Samuel, Caribbean Regional Missionary, Women’s Division, The United Methodist Church

As I made a solidarity visit and journeyed with my Haitian sisters in the Methodist Church in Haiti, I observed, firstly, the deep and tremendous need to create an opportunity or space for my sisters to share their personal and traumatic experiences of the earthquake.  For some of them it was the first time they were sharing. It is of paramount importance to continue this psychological support to communities, women, children and youth, so they can receive healing and catharsis. Secondly, there is the necessity for leadership development, capacity building, skills training and micro-credit opportunities for women especially in the rural areas for empowerment so they can be self-sufficient, thereby taking care of their family needs.

Rosangela Oliveira, United Methodist Women Regional Missionary, Latin America

Think recovery as a matter of building – structures that shelter and relationships that heal. The power of life and the strength of hope that I felt when I visited church women in Haiti came to me through their singing. They lost their houses but not the ability to praise God and say what it is needed to be said. There is a voice here, and the next step is to hear that voice. It is a singing voice, it is an organizing voice. It has the power to heal, to nurture hope and create a vision of future. They have a local network, they know their neighbors, they cry for the losses, they feel the shake on their bodies and they can walk those streets to bring food, water and a healing song.

How to help

Contributions to support recovery work in Haiti may be made online or by phone (800.297.1516), or may be sent to your denomination or to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. 

ACT Alliance  Church World Service is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676, lcrosson@churchworldservice.org
Jan Dragin, 781-925-1526, jdragin@gis.net


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