January 14, 2010

Ways to help Haitian earthquake victims, now and in the future

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Just a few miles to the north of us, in Vancouver, B.C., a Canadian writer has put a response to the Haitian earthquake disaster in very personal terms.

rita_hibbardwebWhat if, he writes, what if Canadians stepped in and really engaged with Haiti, one nation to another, human beings connected to other human beings? He notes that some 100,000 Haitians have made their way to Canada, most of them in Quebec

Crawford Kilian of The Tyee proposes a 10-year partnership during which time Canada would pour money, people and resources into Haiti in an effort to bring the nation “into the civilized world.” In that context, he is talking about Haiti’s environmental degradation, its extreme poverty, the lack of opportunity, the ingrained racism its citizens face and the disease and reduced life spans they suffer.

Never mind Afghanistan, which isn’t even in our hemisphere. We’d put a couple of regiments into Haiti to maintain order and help build a real infrastructure. French-speaking soldiers would work effectively with the locals, and many Haitian-Canadians (who “speak Creole like a rat,” as the Haitians say) would help them.

We’d also pour Canadian educators into Haiti to rebuild the country’s schools and to recruit its best and brightest students for our own universities, all expenses paid. As those students graduated, we’d ship them home to meaningful jobs, where they’d work as part of a growing network of Canadian-trained experts.

Meanwhile our environmental and agricultural experts would go to work on rebuilding Haiti’s shattered countryside — reforesting the hills, restoring the farmlands, cleaning the rivers, finding new energy sources in wind or water. And our medical experts would get into the trenches to fight infant mortality, AIDS, and all the other ills that Haitian flesh is heir to.

If we adopted such a policy, by 2020 we could anticipate a larger and happier Haiti: More of its children would live past their first birthdays, and more adults would see their seventies. The lost forests would be on their way back. Fewer Haitians would be drowning off the Florida coast, and more would be graduating from Université du Quebec à Montréal.

As people across the globe search for ways to help in a landscape that seems beyond saving, Kilian is looking long term, and his proposal seems real, and human. As I read that text message donations via cell phone alone at this moment are surging past $4 million, I rejoice that Americans are so generous. As I read that an aid worker on the ground with Partners in Health, the long term, well-established group founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, sends an e-mail message to colleagues reading “Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths, SOS. SOS,” I can struggle to wonder how we can help.

Although the Pacific Northwest does not have a large Haitian population, we feel the human suffering that the earthquake has caused, and we want to help. Two organizations based in the Seattle area have supported aid programs in Haiti, including World Vision in Federal Way and World Concern in Seattle. The Seattle Times reports that both organizations are struggling to communicate with their staff on the ground in Haiti, together numbering nearly 500 people, as they work to deploy more aid workers.

For now, send cash, as former President and Special Haitian Envoy Bill Clinton said this week. But think about novel ideas like that presented by Crawford Kilian. For the long haul, ideas like these may be the way of the future.

— Rita Hibbard

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