Make 2014 a Year of Recommitment to Haiti

Chris Herlinger | January 12, 2014

Sylvanie Dowal, whose house collapsed in the 2010 earthquake, is providing for her family with CWS's help. Photo: Aaron Tate/CWS

Sylvanie Dowal, whose house collapsed in the 2010 earthquake, is providing for her family with CWS’s help. Photo: Aaron Tate/CWS

As originally published by Huffington Post, 01/10/2014, 3:02 p.m.

A few years back, I was in Haiti on assignment and had the honor of spending Easter morning with a Haitian colleague, the Reverend Herode Guillomettre, high up in the hills overlooking the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Guillomettre heads the Christian Center for Integrated Development, known in Creole as SKDE, one of Church World Service’s partners in Haiti.

I had been out of touch with the Reverend Guillomettre lately – which was my loss. Guillomettre is a committed humanitarian and, on Easter, a passionate minister who preaches a “hot sermon.” But after the holidays, I was happy to receive a letter he sent to his friends in the U.S. and elsewhere about how Haiti is faring in the midst of the fourth anniversary of the devastating January 12, 2010, earthquake.

It is a mixed milestone, to say the least. Guillomettre recalls how, four years ago, many humanitarians “stood up” to support Haiti and remembers the many ways “churches and organizations working in development throughout the world arrived in Haiti to show solidarity with the Haitian people.”

Guillomettre’s organization, which has done great work in the area of support for food cooperatives in northwestern Haiti, offered a word of thanks to those who provided support, assistance and solidarity to the people of Haiti.

Yet, the work in Haiti remains unfinished in the main – and that is because Haiti, pre-quake, could not withstand the pressure from such a catastrophic event, making rebuilding and recovery all the more harder.

If you doubt that, ponder how it is taking time for the U.S. East Coast (in the case of Sandy) or Colorado (in the case of last year’s summer floods) to recover from severe events. Both locales started off with much, much better infrastructure than Haiti. It takes stricken communities, states and nations much longer than people realize to recover from a disaster.

Unfortunately in the case of Haiti, many humanitarian groups left. Life remains hard in Haiti, with a majority of the tent encampments still full of people, Guillomettre notes. Some of those camps have actually gotten bigger. The really hard work of repairing and reconstructing roads, schools and hospitals has barely begun.

There is still not yet a decent “strategic plan for them to get good health care; no money is circulating; no jobs are being created so that poor people can find work,” he said.

A particular worry centers on food security – the access to safe and nutritious food. “We can’t even produce a loaf of bread for each Haitian, let alone provide food to the population,” Guillomettre said. “There is no structure for agricultural development; farmers don’t have access to fertilizers, water for irrigation, pumps to water gardens, seeds, insecticides, land; there is no credit for merchants or agricultural credit for farmers to work on their land.”

Certainly there are small-scale programs, like SKDE’s, that have lifted up and sustained communities in bad times. What Guillomettre is pointing to is the lack of power the Haitian government continues to exhibit in the face of so many problems – the taxes that the central tax authority collects is not enough to pay for basic social services that could ease the pain of life in Haiti.

“The aftermath of the earthquake still exists, visible everywhere in the country,” he said, affecting “in hearts, in minds, heads, spirits of many people, provoking big psychological disasters in the lives of the Haitian people.” To be a young person in Haiti today, particularly if you are a girl, is to face a very uncertain future.

Guillomettre’s concluding message? Resolve that 2014 be a year in which Haiti’s allies in the religious and humanitarian worlds renew their commitment to the Haitian people – to “continue to help in the reconstruction of the country – to change minds and lives for real.”

He adds: “It is not time for humanitarian organizations to withdraw, it is not time to take a step back, but it is time to (stand) up with even more solidarity.”

Reflecting on the last four years, Guillomettre noted: “2010 was a disastrous year. 2014 should be a year of advocacy, solidarity and reconstruction. It is not the time to go backwards, but it is time to get ourselves together, to repair mistakes that have been made, to redefine the strategy of development, to work for true change and development, so that the Haitian people can see change and repair.”

Chris Herlinger is senior writer for CWS.