For all of January, I couldn’t watch the news. Day in and day out, I would avoid television, print and radio after hearing of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and exposed the corruption and poverty of my family’s home country. I thought it would be simpler to just ignore the problem. But now I realize that there are ways that I could have better helped the Haitian people.
It wasn’t until late last spring that I reacquainted myself with missed headlines and interviews, and reconnected with the political and social situation in Haiti. At this time, news outlets had shifted from coverage of the earthquake itself to an examination of potential leaders who could emerge from the upcoming November 28 presidential election.
Just as American patriotism and hope ascended from the attacks of September 11, the current presidential bid in Haiti can serve as a jumping off point for change and progress in a country still recovering from a tragic natural disaster.
Haitian-American Camille Lawhead ’13 said, “The future government definitely has its work cut out for itself. One person can’t solve all these problems. Trust has to be regained in the international arena, while also building the infrastructure of a flawed country.”
The United Nations has reported that humanitarian aid for Haiti will reach over $5 billion by 2012 — and many see this source of revenue as the perfect opportunity to revitalize this poverty-stricken country. But at the same time, the sudden influx of such a great sum of money could reinvent the corruption that has plagued Haiti’s past. Rebuilding efforts have been scant in impact and violence still plagues the streets of Port-au-Prince, as the U.N. police reports that kidnappings are on the rise following January’s earthquake.
Czestochowa Francois ’11 echoes these thoughts. A senior in Trumbull College, Francois loves Haitian culture and sees it as a very intimate part of her life. Her first languages were French and Creole and she plans to return back to her country following graduation to do volunteer work.
“The media construes an image of Haiti as a desolate place — a country that’s in dire need of help. And even though, to an extent, that’s true, there are places in Haiti that are causes for inspiration,” she remarked. “This is the time when Haitians are needed; not only because they can speak creole, but because they embed a sense of culture and solidarity. My sister is an attorney and she’s working with the embassy to set up schools. She’s Haitian-American, has never been to Haiti and doesn’t plan on going in the future. But she’s still going out of her way to help.”
This idea of putting aside cultural differences to help one another, in an effort to improve the quality of life in Haiti, has become a prevalent theme in the upcoming election. Many of the candidates — including Raymond Joseph, Leslie Voltaire and Michel Martelly — hope to use the election as a catalyst for change.
Michel Martelly understands that he lacks political experience, but his popularity as a Haitian musician enables him to say that, “I can be [a] source of inspiration for my people. Alone, I will not succeed. But with a team, with a plan, with the unity that I can inspire, we’ll be successful.”
Francois agreed, observing that experience doesn’t necessarily result in competency and vice-versa. “I don’t think being a celebrity candidate necessarily equates to lacking political experience. Haiti needs someone who can empathize with the people through their struggles and sorrows, rather than someone who has had political experience. Haiti just needs a change. I wouldn’t necessarily be upset to see an Obama-like figure come to the scene.”
In any event, this election has brought transparency to a historically secretive government. And even more so, it has brought an ignored country to the spotlight. Hopefully this November, the global community will come to know Haiti as a country known for its resilience rather than its troubles.
“I hope that people will understand more about Haiti through this election – that people will pick up a newspaper and follow my country.” Francois explained. “I want to see growth, a change for the better. And hopefully the next president of Haiti will be the catalyst for such a transformation”