Most of us, myself included, are woefully ignorant about what Haiti is and why we should care. As Christians, we should care because that’s who we are. At least, that’s who we are supposed to be. On a broader scope, the difference between this being a short-lived Haiti Fad and the beginning of a new understanding and new hope for that beleaguered nation rests completely in our determination to invest ourselves there, and I’ve yet to see much evidence we are prepared to do that.
I've decided to not post pictures of the devastation
in Haiti. No images of suffering, crying children. No views of
mile after mile of flattened homes and ruined landscapes. We
have, so far as I’m concerned, seen enough of that. Too much, in
fact. When the tsunami ensuing from the 9.3 magnitude 2004
Indian Ocean earthquake wiped out an estimated 228,000 people in
Indonesia, Sri Lanka and neighboring countries, I was
overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the disaster. Death on a
biblical scale, wiping entire generations from the face of the
earth, is almost beyond human imagining. So much so that I
found myself pushed past my limits of reason, understanding and
even compassion; in empathic overload for the dead, the dying,
and the millions of “survivors” whose lives would never again be
On TV, on the internet, in the newspapers, it was the same: All Tsunami All The Time. As incredibly selfish as this sounds, I was hungry for relief from the constant drone of talking heads and the relentless kaleidoscope of misery. Okay, okay, I get it: what’s going on there is horrible beyond human imagining. And, there it was, everywhere I turned.
While we all can donate what we are able, few of us have the resources to, say, charter a plane and become directly involved. The vast majority of us can only do what I was already doing: sit and be horrified as the media chugs into overload, exploiting grief for ratings.
Which may not be entirely fair. I mean, the media was only doing what it was designed to do. But the line between responsible reporting and emotional pornography is perilously thin. In 2004, we just got clobbered with it: day in, day out, non-stop imagery, non-stop appeals, non-stop talking heads about how terrible it was over there. And, in 2010, here we go again.
Rather than post images of suffering, crying children long with views of mile after mile of flattened homes and ruined landscapes, I thought it would make better sense to show you what’s good about Haiti; to show who these people are and demonstrate why we should care that they are suffering.
What I discovered were a group of beautiful children at a school set up by a Catholic charity; an image that warms the heart and puts a human face on the tragedy as we wonder how many of those girls are still alive. How many of them still have parents, have brothers and sisters, have homes.
The best way to demonstrate the horror that country continues, to this day, to experience is not to show endless images of shrieking, hysterical people and piles of dead bodies. The media’s gory and often gratuitous exploitation really doesn’t tell the story. Don’t show the death there, show the life there, and why that life has worth and value.
The destruction in Haiti is nearly an extinction-level event.
Haiti, the first black-led republic in the world, won its
independence from France in an 1804 slave rebellion. Sadly, like
most pan African nations, Haiti’s epic poverty has perpetuated
an epic illiteracy and that lack of education has in turn fueled
the poverty and ignorance as well as a seemingly endless cycle
of political strife. Ignorance takes us back to a stone age
mentality where the strong rule and, inevitably, exploit the
weak. It is a schoolyard bully mindset where even bullies with
the best of intentions are, at the end of the day, still
bullies. Black people on planet earth have been universally
oppressed by bullies, most of whom have black skin. Education,
which we in this country don’t talk a lot about, is the silver
bullet. Reason and intellect trump brute force and irrationality
every single time. And, while America and other civilized
nations seem willing to send food over there—wherever “there”
happens to be—what is even more desperately needed are teachers.
For, only by feeding the minds and nurturing the intellect of
the ignorant can peace ever be firmly established.
This is precisely the challenge facing many African nations, where ignorance is on the march. The ongoing genocide in The Sudan and The Congo, the brutal oppression in Zimbabwe, have killed millions. Dusty, ignorant black people who, given all of our money and all of our compassion, will still allow some Idi Amin, some Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe, Isaias Afwerki, to subjugate them.
America’s troubled history with Haiti seems mostly about its proximity. I mean, we seem perfectly content to ignore the unfathomable ongoing rape, torture and massacre in Darfur, numbers which dwarf the horror in Haiti. But, in 2010, we were in Haiti Overload, holding rallies and candlelight vigils and bake sales. Where’s our bake sale for Darfur? For the Congo? And, how long will our compassion last?
Five years after the disaster, Haiti is barely mentioned. Billions in aid have become ensnared in bureaucratic posturing, never reaching those who need it most. Millions still live in flimsy tent cities with poor sanitation, suffering rampant disease, crime, and rape at-will, performed in many cases by the very men hired to protect the homeless.
The disaster in Haiti is far from over.
It is still very much a disaster, exacerbated all the more by
illiteracy which breeds the kind of hateful ignorance that seeds
the kind of rampant corruption that has greedy men and women
lining their pockets, growing fat off of foreign aid, while
allowing precious little of that resource to reach the poor.
America has become indefatigably petulant, demanding quick solutions to challenges which require both our resolve and our determination. Nation building, as we have practiced it to the extent of an incomprehensible national deficit, takes not only years but generations to achieve real change. America has little motivation to invest in Haiti, the western region of the Island of Hispaniola, which presents no strategic or economic value for us.
We are instant gratification junkies: how long will we—can we—tune in for the Misery In Haiti report? How long before we turn on the Haitians, blaming them for their own earthquake and for not having instantly built brand-new homes for their displaced millions? We are conditioned to expect this plotline to be wrapped up by the last commercial break; our patience is virtually nonexistent.
Brothers dry your eyes
Hold your head up high
God is on your side—
Sisters lift your voice
Love is your resource
L'Union Fait La Force...
The difference between a short-lived Haiti Fad (2010) and the beginning of a new understanding and new hope for that beleaguered nation rests completely in our determination to invest ourselves. Five years later, I’ve yet to see much evidence we are prepared to do that.
I certainly encourage us all to pray; pray for these wonderful, warm, friendly, loving, lyrical, mysterious, almost magical people I have grown to know and love and be loved by. Beyond that, I’d encourage us all to give of ourselves, give of our spirit: take interest, ask questions, raise our voices. Preach but, even better, teach, for enlightenment is the only true remedy for ignorance; and ignorance is both self-replicating and self-financing.
Jenkins-Penn Haitian Relief Organization
Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund
International Red Cross Haiti Assistance Program
Christopher J. Priest
20 June 2010 original
5 February 2015 updated
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