It’s been exactly one week since Hurricane Matthew stomped through Haiti’s southern peninsula with incomparable force. The footprints he left behind on this beautiful island are staggering. We’ve all read the reports: an estimated 1,000 people have died, homes and livestock were ruined, and businesses were destroyed.
This weekend, I traveled with a friend to assess the hurricane damage at her family’s home near Petit Goave. “This is so much like the earthquake,” she said as we sat on the debris-covered beach in front of the house.
“This time, I hope we don’t become the world’s garbage can.”
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that sobering sentiment: “The world’s garbage can.” Quite literally, after the 2010 earthquake, Haiti became a landing strip for used clothing, expired pharmaceuticals, and an endless list of supplies that could have been purchased locally. But equally as damaging, Haiti became a dumping ground for people’s sympathy, in the worst possible way. Less-than favorable images, and quotes taken out of context were used to de-humanize Haitian people, marking them as pitiful, helpless, and unable to do anything productive without the help of foreign aid.
And again, Haiti’s image has started to be compromised as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Just this morning, I was listening to a report on Al Jazeera that claimed: “Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, completely dependent on the more than 10,000 NGOs that operate there.” To suggest that an entire country is reliant on NGOs is not only offensive, it is false. Haitian people are strong, resilient, and self-sufficient. For all of the natural and humanitarian disasters that have struck this land, Haitians are still here, still fighting, and still beautiful.
A particular verse of James Taylors’ Shed a Little Light has been echoing in my mind over the last few days:
“There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist. There is a hunger in the center of the chest. There is a passage through the darkness and the midst, and though the body sleeps, the heart will never rest.”
My heart has felt like a clenched fist this past week. I am acutely aware of the level of devastation and human suffering that Matthew left behind, but I also know how much Haiti needs the rest of the world to be strategic, intentional, and compassionate in the coming months. There is a passage through this darkness, and that passage is tenacity of Haitian people, coupled with long-term solutions.
When you think about how you can help Haiti, imagine a nation desperate for consistency and structure. The lessons the earthquake taught us should still be fresh in our minds. True hurricane preparedness looks like people who are a part of a network that keeps them informed, and insures a steady income stream. These networks don’t come from NGOs. They come from jobs and business infrastructure. The strength needed to overcome, and the awareness needed to prepare for disaster comes from access to information, and a supportive community. Organized employment provides this for people every day.
It’s not time to feel sorry. It’s time to get back to work.