We owe Haiti

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Pa­tria-Kaye Aarons is a tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter and con­fec­tioner. Email feedback to col­umns@glean­erjm.com andfind­pa­tria@ya­hoo.com, or tweet @find­pa­tria.

SE­RI­OUSLY, HOW many times does Haiti have to get knocked down and rise again?

In the past 12 years, Haiti has got di­rect hits from Ivan, Jeanne, Den­nis, Wilma, Al­pha, To­mas and Matthew. Ad­di­tion­ally, the hits of 2008 seem by far the most cruel. Fay, Gus­tav, Hanna and Cat­e­gory Four Ike all hit the coun­try in the space of three weeks.

Never to be for­got­ten are the two earth­quakes of 2010, mea­sur­ing 7 and 6.1 mag­ni­tudes.

The trail of poverty and crime and mis­for­tune and death just seems all too much for one coun­try to bear.

The me­dia haven’t made it bet­ter. Haiti’s strife has be­come the sum to­tal of its story. We have all al­lowed Haiti’s suf­fer­ing to over­shadow its strength, and what could and should be­come a story of re­silience and an op­por­tu­nity for the world to change Haiti’s for­tunes has be­come a re­peat­ing rhetoric of pity. And when the news­wor­thi­ness of the story dies, Haiti trods alone — un­til the next dis­as­ter.

Haiti is well past its nine lives. And yet year after year, the Uni­verse re­quires that it con­tin­u­ally draws on dwin­dling strength to over­come ad­ver­sity.

What has CARICOM done about it? What have we done about it? The en­tire world, but es­pe­cially the Caribbean, has been guilty of treat­ing the Haitian as less than.

We make up ridicu­lous sto­ries about voodoo to ex­plain away (and, for some, jus­tify) their mis­for­tunes. We don’t want them in our coun­tries, and we blame them for the gunsfor-drugs trade. The Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, a coun­try they share an is­land with, is at times un­nat­u­rally cruel to Haitians. And we al­low it.

How have we helped? Other than send canned goods and a cou­ple of sol­diers ev­ery time they lose a few hun­dred lives?

I am not at all knock­ing the re­lief ef­forts. They are nec­es­sary. And in the face of im­me­di­ate needs for food, the kind­ness of do­nated canned goods is a wel­come al­ter­na­tive to the sta­ple diet of mud pies for some.

My ques­tion is about in­be­tween the in­stances of dev­as­ta­tion. How have we helped Haiti?

History has shown the coun­try to be a vir­tual hur­ri­cane mag­net. Know­ing full well that tem­po­rary hous­ing can­not stand up to ever-present hur­ri­canes, how have we knocked heads to find a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion? Ja­maica is tak­ing 50 years to pay for a road. The world can’t find a way to build Haitians hur­ri­cane-sturdy hous­ing so­lu­tions and give them 50year mort­gages?

Know­ing full well that the ab­sence of ed­u­ca­tion breeds crime, who has gone there to teach? We trod half­way around the world to go to Ja­pan and teach English and we can’t go next door? The turn­around we could cre­ate if five CARICOM coun­tries paid 20 teach­ers each to live and teach in Haiti for a year. We can af­ford it.

Where is the ro­bust push in Haiti for lean start-up en­trepreneur­ship? Time to teach Haiti to fish. Fi­nanc­ing busi­ness in Haiti will take as much in­ge­nu­ity as de­cid­ing on the busi­ness it­self. But it is nec­es­sary — and doable.

Haiti needs a break. A break the Uni­verse doesn’t seem will­ing to give it. In the ab­sence of that break, Haiti needs the help of good neigh­bours. CARICOM needs to take ac­tion.

Let us not for­get Haiti’s past. Th­ese are the same peo­ple who took their free­dom. The same peo­ple who risked their lives to end racial in­equity. The same peo­ple who staged the largest, most suc­cess­ful slave re­bel­lion, and who in­spired the rest of us to fight for our own lib­er­ties.

We owe Haiti.

Pa­tri­aKaye Aarons

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