Wednesday January 12th, 2011 marked the one year anniversary of the 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti, causing unmeasurable damage. Over the past week we have heard countless media reports on the year after regarding the consequences and the grief. We know the statistics, and they continue to overwhelm. In a mere 35 seconnds over 300,000 people died, 4,000 individuals became amputees and at least 1,150 refugee camps persist in Port-au-Prince alone, squeezed into any public space, including medians that divide the highway leading out of the city. Only 5 percent of the rubble has been removed, and with the squalid conditions in the tent camps the spread of cholera has become ample.
Beyond the misery caused by the earthquake the first round of presidential elections which took place November 28, 2010 were wrought with allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing. Outgoing President Rene Preval is rallying behind his handpicked candidate Jude Celestine and plans to continue to stay in office beyond his term. The election, widely criticized by the international community and protested by many Haitians, is only adding insult to injury to the environmentally ravaged country. The elections are so vital to the country’s rebuilding process as the winner will in essence ‘inherit’ the foreign aid money, deciding the course the country will take.
To further complicate the already fragile political terrain, Jean-Claude Duvalier aka ‘Baby Doc’ returned to Haiti on Sunday after fleeing the country in 1986 following a popular revolt. Duvalier’s 15 year rule, where he declared himself
President for life, as predecessor to his father ‘Papa Doc’ was marked by human rights abuses, corruption, political repression and intimidation. While some in Haiti celebrated his return, human rights advocates are demanding he be held accountable by law.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said Mr. Duvalier, 59, should be brought to trial for the killings and torture of thousands of opponents at the hands of the thuggish Tonton Macoutes militia during his 15 years in power. (National Post: ‘Baby Doc’ Return Sets off Political Tremors Tuesday January 18, 2011).
With all the negativity, it is easy to look only to the strife and misery, yet there has been change, and slow moving as it may be, hope remains. From an outsiders perspective to look only to the stats of the earthquake reduces the human element. By doing so we diminish the importance of each indvidual life that has been affected by the devastating earthquake. In addition, by simply looking at Haiti in term to before and after the earthquake is to gloss over an incredible and often tumultuous but also equally triumphant history that is the story of Haiti.
Within the country there continue to be groups and people rallying together to create change. In many of the tent cities committees have been formed advocating for the rights of the internally displaced refugees. The committees are seeking ways to find new housing grounds, demand access to water and sanitation and protect women from rampant sexual attacks which have spread through the camps. Mario Joseph of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has been advocating for the rights of the poor since 1996. Since the earthquake Mr Joseph has been integral to the creation of these committees within the tent cities. Over the past year Mr Joseph has called out for solidarity, wishing for international respect for the country.
Many international agencies, countries and NGOs are working in Haiti as we speak, and many are truly doing a good job. But there are many internal organizations which are also working to create the change needed and deserve to be recognized.
An excellent example of this is the FAD: Fonds D’Actions Pour le Développement. A registered non-profit based in Haiti since 2005 have come together each week to run a program focused on social education, life skills and creative activities for Cite Soleil and Bas Delmas, some of the poorest neighborhoods in our country. They are a grassroots organization run by youth for youth and recently finished a fundraising campaign to build a community center.
These are just two examples of work being done within Haiti, many more exist and deserve the same kind of recognition, respect and solidarity as the international NGOs working in Haiti.