Robert Lamothe ’77 teaches Creole to independent language study students at Yale University. Heavily involved in Yale for Haiti, he spoke at Monday night’s “Help Can’t Wait” concert in Woosley Hall.
Q. Did you grow up in Haiti?
A. I grew up in Haiti. I came to the U.S. as a teenager and lived in the New Haven area. I went to Yale and then to Columbia. I have been teaching at Yale for five years.
Q. What was it like growing up in Haiti?
A. I grew up in a different Haiti, grew up under the Duvalier regime. I know we grew up in oppressive society where there was always fear. It was my parents endeavors to get us out of the country and they succeeded. I grew up in a middle class family with educated parents. I had a different life than the misery we notice today.
Q. What was your reaction to the earthquake?
A. I sat in front of the TV on Tuesday night till 5, 6 in the morning. I couldn’t get away from the television. It was heart-breaking. The tears came as the devastation was shown. I saw all the icons of Haitian culture, the architectural icons destroyed. The cathedral, the religious icon of Haiti, was in the rumble. The presidential palace, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world crumbled. The symbol of our nationhood was destroyed. It actually made me feel totally helpless like a few years ago when I stood in class on 9/11.
Q. What do you think of Yale’s response?
A. We are really trying to umbrella all the groups trying to help. We are combing our resources for the greater good. Yale’s response was immediate. Monday night’s concert was tremendous. It was reported that Yale was able to collect $25,000 for Haiti. It was a tremendous outpouring of concern. I was very fortunate to address the audience as a Haitian, an alumnus and someone teaching at Yale.
Q. What needs to be done in Haiti?
A. The immediate concern is saving lives. One major airport is not helping relief. I think that the window for rescuing people buried under the rumble, is over. But medical help is key. There will be a wave of amputees. What really is needed is to have the homeless move outside of Port au Prince, so they can be provided with medical care, food and water. When we start having torrential rain, it would create additional problems. We need to protect [the people] from the elements. It would be good to create some tent cities outside of Port-au-Paris. There are a lot of people not hurt by the earthquake. Able-bodied Haitians can clean up the city — it could funnel these hard-workers to work.
I’m afraid this recovery is going to be isolated. Haiti needs a total overhaul of the infrauscture. I wish they could take the country and seperate it into quaters and have other countries take ownership directly with the different parts. I think the major thing that needs to be done is forgiveness of the [Haitian] national debt.
The rebuilding process will take years. It’s just like a farmer tilling the ground. If there is long term dedication, then the seed will grow. We really need a Marshall Plan — think of us as Europe after WWII.
Q. How to help?
A. Please get involved with the Yale for Haiti collaborative and channel your talents and ideas to help the different groups that are forming. We’re going to need help for months and years. Come to the meeting on Friday and you will be funneled to an aspect of Yale for Haiti.
Next week, I’m meeting with a group of doctors and students going there to help. I’m teaching them some background on Haiti and basic survival Creole.