Working in Solidarity with Haiti

A few Friday nights past people streamed the Toronto streets in costumes, decorating their bodies to disguise their identities for one night. The air was crisp, the energy electric. On a night where many wish to forget the realities of the world, to escape into the abyss of the night, 40 some people sought shelter from the cold. Sitting amongst one another, we awaited the speakers who travelled from abroad in order to provide us with a greater insight. We were not escaping the realities of the world, at least not a that moment, instead we were being led back to the reality that Haiti remains in a state of unrest, 9 months after the earthquake.

At the Ryerson Student Centre, a gathering of people came together to hear Mario Joseph, lawyer and human rights activist from the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Berthony Dupont, editor of Haiti Liberte speak about the aftermath of the January 12th 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The event titled, Nine Months After the Disaster: The Struggle Continues: Aid, Human Rights and Elections-A Haitian Perspective, was a joint effort between Students in Solidarity with Haiti and the Toronto Haiti Action Committee.

The room filled up with people wishing to garner a greater insight into the aftermath of the earthquake on the nation and the role in which Canada continues to and has played over the years in Haiti.

What was most memorable from the talk was that what Haiti wants is solidarity, not charity. In order to really create sustainable change both Mr. Joseph and Mr. Dupont stated Haiti must be viewed as an international actor, and one which should be respected as such. Rather than international actors and agencies continuing to give charity in exchange for the ability to dictate political, social and economical landscape of the country, Haiti deserves, as every nation does, the right to be self govern.

Both speakers encouraged us, the audience and the greater population, to take greater insight into the history of Haiti and the integral role that Canadian politics has played. Both Joseph and Berthony Dupont spoke of the centuries of resilience that the Haitian community has shown the world. The resilience has been demonstrated over and over again, from over throwing slavery between 1791-1793 to a constant political engagement despite the ‘Papa Doc’ dictatorship and the 1991 military Coup d’état.

Human rights abuses have been rampant following the earthquake. The Haitian government has associated itself with landowners, protecting the rights of the landowners over those of the 1.5 million still lacking adequate housing. In the temporary tent cities erected across the country landowners are pushing to have people evicted. The evictions are not following legal recourse but rather rely on threats.

The tone was not as somber as one might believe following the end of the talk. Yes, Haiti continues to struggle following the earthquake, especially with the recent outbreak of cholera, hurricanes, flooding and the upcoming elections. But as always there remains hope. The world is paying closer attention to Haiti. With a greater sense of knowledge and engagement we can work in solidarity with Haiti and do what is needed on the ground, as stated by those living in Haiti each and every day.

Sway and I are preparing to embark on our trip to Haiti (November 16-23) to meet with INDEPCO, local garment-makers to see the Pepe market and to engage with the local communities Design Junction will be working with. One of our guiding principles with Design Junction is to create a line which relies on the demand of both people in Haiti and Canada. We do not ever wish to attempt to create a demand for our clothing, but rather provide the avenue for an existing demand to be supplied. Working in collaboration with garment sewers in Port-au-Prince and designers in Toronto we believe we are creating a form of solidarity between the two.

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