Haitian ambassador seeks aid from Yale

Yale’s efforts over the past month to provide disaster relief to quake-stricken Haiti may give way to a more focused effort for long-term aid.

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, came to New Haven on Thursday to discuss how the University, particularly the professional schools, can contribute to the rebuilding of his devastated nation. In an interview, Joseph said he hopes Yale will commit to helping Haiti recover “for the long run” and that international aid will focus on helping Haiti learn to help itself.

Joseph has already been to universities in Florida to request support, and he plans to visit some of Yale’s peer schools in the upcoming months, University President Richard Levin said, adding that Yale responded affirmatively as soon as Joseph proposed a visit a few weeks ago.

“Yale will teach us to fish, but will not give us the fish,” Joseph said. Levin, in turn, said that beyond providing monetary relief, Yale could focus on training Haitians to rebuild for themselves.

In morning meetings, organized by the Office of the Secretary, Joseph and University administrators talked about ways Yale’s professional schools could contribute to Haiti’s recovery. They discussed how the schools of Medicine, Nursing and Public Health might help to tackle sanitation problems and establish permanent clinics in Haiti; how the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies could aid the process of reforestation; and how the Law School might help with immigration issues and questions of property rights related to the reforestation efforts.

Of three professional school officials interviewed, all said Yale has yet to make an explicit commitment for future relief efforts. Still, Levin said Thursday’s luncheon laid the groundwork for a possible partnership in the future. The Yale community has already provided short-term relief in the immediate wake of the earthquake with a benefit concert and a this week’s Haiti Week, which is dedicated to increasing awareness of the ongoing problems in Haiti.

Levin said Joseph is planning to bring the results of Thursday’s meeting back to the Haitian government, and that the country’s ministers for health and the environment will contact Yale directly if they are interested in future collaboration. Levin added that Yale would be willing to work with other universities if the Haitian government puts together a team effort.

School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary said it would be “premature” at this stage for Yale to make a formal engagement with the Haitian government without first establishing exactly where Haitian officials see opportunity for aid.

“The word ‘commitment’ is a little strong; it was all brainstorming,” added Gordon Geballe, associate dean for student and alumni affairs at the Environment School. “There’s been no formal request for aid yet, but I think there will be.”

The Jan. 12 earthquake that hit Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, reduced the city to rubble and killed more than 200,000 people. The country faces a frail political and legal infrastructure and health care and education systems, as well as environmental problems from the massive deforestation that began in the 1950s.

Joseph lunched Thursday with about 40 Yale administrators and students already involved in Haiti relief efforts. In an interview with the News, he said he thinks the greatest challenge facing Haiti is its lack of unity. He added that he wants to remind his countrymen of the motto that helped their ancestors win sovereignty from the French in 1804: “l’union fait la force,” or “unity creates strength.”

Joseph said the destruction wreaked by the earthquake moved him to tears when we returned home earlier this month. Still, he spoke optimistically about Haiti’s future, highlighting agriculture and tourism as areas where he hopes the country excels.

Modern technologies could also have a huge impact in Haiti, Joseph said. Though the country has had problems with electricity and utilities, before the earthquake Haiti had some success with solar and wind power, he added.

“Solar power has proved itself in Haiti,” Joseph said. “After the earthquakes, the only structures left were solar panels.”

Joseph said he hopes the earthquake will result in a geographic redistribution of Haiti’s population, and that an influx of people to smaller cities will revitalize their economies. Port-au-Prince, originally intended to be a city of only several hundred thousand, had swelled to a metropolis of more than 2.5 million residents at the time the earthquake hit — but the city’s infrastructure did not grow with its population, Joseph said.

“Mother Nature in one minute did what the government could not do,” he said. “The earthquake wiped out the monstrosity that Port-au-Prince had become.”

Comments