I’ve posted a couple pictures of people who have been affected by the earthquake, but most of them I leave out there faces. This is for two reasons. First, many people feel uncomfortable having their picture taken. But because many of my pictures are taken while there is a video camera rolling, I tend to be in the periphery, allowing me the opportunity to take photos undetected. Second, many of these photos are not meant to portray just one person.
While the little boy above (whose name is Sebastian and is the cutest thing ever) is learning to walk on his new prosthetic after losing his leg in the earthquake, there are thousands of others who are going through the same thing that he is. So the pictures are not meant to portray just one character, they are meant to portray a situation and feeling that is everywhere.
The first time I came to Haiti to visit before moving here I had a hard time describing how it was. Everyone would ask, “How was Haiti?!” and my response would usually be that I wasn’t sure how it was. “It’s hard to describe,” I would say. There was poverty everywhere, there was trash everywhere, and there seemed to be no hope, even before the earthquake. After visiting again there seemed to be one answer that helped me describe “how” Haiti was: the poverty is comprehensive.
But in that comprehensiveness is a sense of cohesiveness. While the lack of the basic necessities for survival can bring upon desperation, in Haiti it brings a sense of community. They don’t suffer independently, they suffer together, because you really have no other choice. When everyone is poor, you never really have much of an advantage over your neighbor, and if you don’t help them they won’t help you, which leaves everyone with nothing.
I’m not sure where I’m really going with this, but what I think I’m trying to say is that it’s really not about one person, or even one group of people. Here it’s about everybody. And Sebastian’s situation, and those just like his, are a perfect metaphor for what has been happening with this country for the past couple decades. Haiti is like a child who lost a leg but instead of providing a prosthetic, the international community (we are all to blame) has given this child a crutch. The crutches will get him from point A to point B, but it will never teach him to walk on his own.
Every bag of rice, every mobile clinic, every temporary shelter has helped, don’t get me wrong, but they are just crutches on the path to dependence. There is no doubt there is an immediate need after the tragedy of the earthquake that can only be met with the help of the international aid organizations, but once all these NGOs leave and they no longer need drivers and translators or workers to clear the rubble, there will be nothing left for these people.
There are over 9,500 NGOs in Haiti. Haiti is the size of Maryland. That’s crazy. Theoretically an NGO’s job is to put itself out of business, teaching the people they are helping to get off their crutches and teaching them to walk on their own. An NGO should go to a group of people in need and tell them, “We are going to help you in a way that, after we’re finished, you will never need us again.” But there are organizations that boast “25 years of service in Haiti” when nothing has really changed in that period of time. In fact, it’s gotten worse, so good for you.
I don’t intend to make a blanket statement about everyone doing work here, some are doing an incredible job teaching and helping Haitians to do what they do best: be innovative, independent, and hard working. But because those organizations are few and far between, we have 9 million beggars (almost the entire population) in Haiti, all of them trained to ask you for something.
It might sound like I’m a little upset about this, and you would be right. I am upset that every time I go to the grocery store I have a dozen kids run up with their hands out asking for a dollar because I’m white. I am upset that every time I go to a tent city there is a full grown man with his hand out asking for food. Because of these organizations with “25 years of service” handing out crutches, walking on their own seems ridiculous now when there are thousands of blancs (white people) running around with free (imported) schwag.
And after all this time, where is the industry? Where are the opportunities? Where is the future? I can tell you one thing, the work of many of these organizations has only made this country more susceptible to continue their own work here. “We’re in it for the long haul,” they say. But that’s not the point.
Ideally, in the future Sebastian will learn to walk without his crutches on a prosthetic fitted by a Haitian physical therapist. Ideally he will get a job working for a Haitian business that will provide him with benefits and a pension. Maybe he could even live in a city outside Port-au-Prince because Haiti has, after the hard work of the Haitian people, been decentralized in an effort to make it sustainable. Imagine that! Haiti can learn to walk, we just need to learn to give it the ability to do it on it’s own, without our crutches.
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