“Haiti?” came the shocked response from a friend this fall when I told him my plan. “Why the hell would you want to go there?”
I’ve heard similar responses from others, in varying degrees of surprise and confusion, and more than once I’ve overheard people suggest, in tones of masked intolerance, that Haiti is beyond hope – a lost cause that draws resources away from other places that could make better use of them.
When I hear that, I cringe.
If there is no hope for Haiti, then is there any hope for any of us?
On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2010, the ground shook with the thunderous devastation of a 35-second earthquake in Southern Haiti that decimated the already struggling nation, and people around the world responded.
Governments matched the donated dollars of their citizens as aid agencies struggled to support an estimated 1.5 million homeless people, while the country waded through unfathomable grief in the face of a death toll that ranged between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
Aftershocks continued as photos of the destruction and sorrow spread throughout the world.
I have a friend in the Canadian Navy and one in the Air Force who were both dispatched in response to the crisis. They worked alongside countless other foreign soldiers, aid workers and locals to try and bring some semblance of order to the chaos left in the aftermath of the quake.
There was a global telethon, organized by George Clooney. Coldplay was there. So were Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift, and CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on the ground in Haiti urging audiences around the world to donate and explaining why they should. More than $60 million was raised, which was unprecedented in terms of public response to a telethon.
But news cycles adhere to the realities of a distracted populace, and stories from Haiti eventually moved off the front pages to the back of the papers and magazines and now, nearly four years after the quake, we hear so very little about what has become of Haiti, but I know the people struggle onward.
There are many people and organizations, such as the microfinance group Fonkoze that are helping to strengthen Haitian families and give power through knowledge and solidarity.
I’ll be travelling to Haiti in February with Tourmagination and a crew of people connected to Schlegel Villages, an elder-care provider in Southwestern Ontario that chooses to spread compassion beyond its villages’ walls. Schlegel Villages has been supporting Haiti for the past three years by raising somewhere around $100,000 in support of Fonkoze.
In February we’ll be working alongside Haitians with an organization called Haiti Communitere, which links Haitian groups with international ones to foster a sense of community as they work together to rebuild infrastructure, assist in clinics and orphanages and re-imagine ways to strengthen the country. Haiti Communitere and its partners continually work towards renewal in Haiti, long after the world responded with immediate relief following the devastation of 2010. I aim to be a small part of that rejuvenation, and in the process I want to discover new stories to share that might counter the misguided perceptions I’ve come across here at home.
I’ll be travelling with nurses and personal support workers who spend their lives caring for the elders of their communities; people who give of themselves constantly, yet always want to do more. Two women in our group came to Canada as refugees, and see this journey as their opportunity to repay kindnesses they received as young people in the face of struggle in their homelands.
My reasons for the trip pale in comparison, but I must lay them out. I choose to live in a world where we come alongside our neighbours, be they in our local communities or our global ones. I refuse the sentiment that hope is ever lost on anyone anywhere, for there is always hope, and I seek to discover where it rests in a country so many people seem to forget.
I choose to believe that small, ongoing acts of kindness and solidarity are the basis of hope that we all need in a troubled world, and I choose to reaffirm that belief in Haiti.