Putting Haiti Back on the Radar Through Volunteerism and International Awareness
Haiti is one of those countries that tends to fall off the international radar – unless something bad happens, such as a hurricane, civil unrest or political corruption. Otherwise, as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the country seems to symbolize what happens when a nation undergoes donor fatigue. Over the years, the world has continuously poured money into the country only to see little progress being made…and so we forget that Haiti even exists.
As one who has spent time in Haiti in the past, I have noticed that while foreign aid organizations or government assistance quietly come and go, it is volunteerism at the grassroots level that keeps the country afloat. I’m talking about volunteer work groups, mostly coming from the U.S., who pair up with local organizations or individuals to pitch in where they can.
I haven’t been to Haiti since 2000, but from my recollection, these volunteers consist of church groups, college work teams (I remember crossing paths with some students from Chatham College) and visiting physicians who bring with them their own team of experts. (The Peace Corps also operates in Haiti.)
Some volunteers, unfortunately, exchange services for conversion as envangelism has crept into a country known to be 80% Christian and 100% Voodoo. But I truly do believe that everyone who comes to volunteer in Haiti does so with the most compassionate intentions.
The importance of volunteerism in Haiti at the grassroots level has helped make a difference as the nation has managed to crawl out of chaos and into a sense of stability. I have to say that while international aid has played a role, grassroots volunteerism certainly has done its part as well. But it’s true, the Haitian government in particular needs to take initiative and the international community needs to pay attention, too.
This is why I’m glad to see UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and former President Bill Clinton publicize the status of Haiti. (During my first trip to Haiti in the ’90s, I remember arriving just after the UN pulled out of the country. Signs of their former presence in the area could still be seen everywhere. I also remember UN workers stopping by the house next to ours to meet with one of the doctors working at the hospital where I was volunteering at.)
Ban Ki-moon and Bill Clinton have visited Haiti to work on what they called an “action plan” to prevent the impoverished Caribbean nation from sliding back into chaos.
The UN secretary-general and former US president visited Port-Au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, on Monday and called for more foreign aid for Haiti.
But they also urged the nation’s weak central government to take charge of its own development.
“We are here to mobilise international support … but at the same time, we expect the Haitian government to do their own role,” Ban said.
Besides the international attention they’re promoting, I think the most valuable thing both figures are doing is inspiring Haitians to take charge themselves.
But Clinton reminded a group of university students that Haiti was once “the richest island in all of the Caribbean … because of the natural resources, because of what God had put into the land”.
“It can be again, because of the resources in your mind and in your heart,” he said.