Students at Foyers Des Agnes school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti school pose for a photo. In April, New York City resident and Haiti native Yves Louis-Jacques toured the devastation in the region following the January earthquake.
A heap of trash along the streets of Port-au-Prince is a reminder of the long road to rebuilding Haiti.
Six months ago, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic natural disasters of our generation crush the heart and soul of Haiti. Women, children, and men from all walks of life commiserated and offered unprecedented support. The amount of international aid contributed to my country exceeded that donated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean’s Tsunami.
The benevolence of the rest of the world had me gleaming with hope. I imagined that the catastrophe and the extraordinary support it inspired had created a springboard to build a better and more stable Haiti. Scores of experts, organizations, and governments — including Haiti’s own — talked up elaborate plans to reform healthcare, infrastructure, shelter, education, and create jobs. The rhetoric sounded promising, and some of the proposals seemed brilliant.
But from what I’ve seen, it may have been just an intellectual exercise.
Nelson Mandela once said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
This past April, I visited my country. It was my first time since the earthquake and I was on the ground until the month of May.
The experience was heartrending.
Four months after the quake, I had expected to see ongoing progress, a deeper sense of solidarity, and a stronger and more efficient government, considering the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for Haiti. On the contrary, I caught a long glimpse of the inhuman conditions my Haitian sisters and brothers were living under. I toured Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Delmas, Léogâne, and Pétionville and spoke at length to people about their January 12th experience. They told me stories about conditions that could break anyone down emotionally and may have long-lasting psychological effects.
How can Haitians try to move on in a capital and surrounding cities that are full of rubble?
The shelters for the displaced, made of wooden frames and sheets or tarps, are unsafe and will not shield families and children from what may come during the hurricane season. Access to electricity and clean water — which was in short supply prior to the earthquake — remains scarce. The decrease in security is becoming a major problem; the number of rape cases in tent cities is rising exponentially. The health care system is precarious. Many young children who have lost their parents are left wandering in the streets instead of studying in classrooms or living in stable foster homes.
This crisis also draws attention to the inept and indecisive government. During my stay in Haiti, I never once heard or saw the president or any member of the current government address the people and provide a current state of affairs. While I commend the officials for securing over $5 billion from the international community for reconstruction efforts, I reprimand them for not laying out, communicating and executing a solid short-term relocation and reconstruction plan. The private sector and the many NGOs-save a few (e.g., Doctors Without Borders)-do not get a great report card either.
It is unconscionable that after this terrible tragedy, class issues, corruption, and nepotism still impede progress in Haiti. Even some of my friends, whom I considered future leaders of the country, seemed indifferent about those issues.
But despite the slow progress, my Haitian sisters and brothers have shown discipline, patience, and resilience. Their willingness to go on has inspired me to play a bigger role. While I was in Port-au-Prince, I worked closely with a school and an orphanage, and donated school supplies and clothing items. Before I left, I made a pledge to them and to my country’s education system that I will use my resources to be their voice and to bring change gradually.
As tennis great Arthur Ashe once put it, “To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."
Yves Louis-Jacques is a business and marketing strategist and social cause advocate based in New York City.