Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami (FANM), recalls the day two years ago when the devastating earthquake in Haiti changed her community forever.
It seemed like yesterday. I was contemplating another long day at work, when suddenly all the lines at our FANM office in Miami’s Little Haiti started ringing all at once.
My heart skipped a bit. Another boat must have landed. Bondye, God, let everybody be alright. As the calls started coming through, we heard the inconceivable news.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Haiti. The devastation was beyond macabre. Over 300,000 dead. Thousands more injured. Most of the death resulted from people crushed under piles of rubble (which reduced in scope, are still an eyesore throughout the capitol). Since housing codes are non-existent in Haiti, people built haphazardly, not thinking that the concrete could one day be their tombs.
Adele attends English classes at FANM. She vividly remembers where she was. “I was in a tap tap going home,” she says with heavy tears falling down her face. She makes no attempt to wipe them. The fear is still there in the depths of her expressive brown eyes.
Suddenly, the tap tap started jumping on the road like a ball. Anmwe! Osekou! Help! She did not understand. Maybe it was the end? The Armageddon that some predicted? Then the wall on the right side of the road in Delmas just crumbled. Buildings imploded like piles of uneven cards.
It lasted only a few seconds, but it could have easily been a year. Adele dug for her dead sister with her bare hands. She can still recall the smell… the smell of death and utter despair.
She has been living in the U.S for almost two years now. She is learning English and computer stills, but no job has landed yet. Like many who arrived after the earthquake, Adele was an entrepreneur in Haiti. She has temporary protected status, but she has not qualified for benefits.
Anise was also an entrepreneur. She jokes that she is now part of the “chomako company” meaning the “company of the jobless.” She wants to return to Haiti but she hears that things are worse there.
Half a million people are still living under makeshift tents. Death and disease are rampant. As if this wasn’t enough, a cholera outbreak has reportedly killed over 5,000. Thousands more are infected.
By most accounts, despite the outpouring of support after the earthquake, there is little to show for it. An August 2010 U.S. Congressional report shows that of the $1.6 billion allocated to the relief effort, $655 million went as reimbursement to the Department of Defense, $220 million to the Department of Health and Human Services, $350 million to USAID, $150 million to the Department of Agriculture, $15 million to the Department of Homeland Security and more. Only one percent of every dollar reportedly went to the Haitian government.
The U.S. Government is clearly the big winner here. Not only has it received the bulk of relief dollars, but its excess rice, turkey wings and frozen fish invaded Haiti’s market, thereby destroying any remnant of hope for Haiti’s farmers.
A year ago, President Barack Obama resumed deportations to Haiti despite strong opposition by FANM and other human rights groups. Additionally, he’s refused to approve the “Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program” despite approving a similar measure for Cubans two years in a row, and bi-partisan support for it.
Meanwhile, Haiti’s president, Michel Martelli, is in a constant “chirepit”, or struggle, with the legislature. Instead of uniting their forces to develop a strategy to put people to work, and build schools, dispensaries, roads and electrical plants, they squabble.
And yet, it is not too late.
Haiti’s best asset is its people. They showed resilience, courage, determination and unbreakable faith after the earthquake. As co-chair of the Haiti Relief Task Force, I was on the ground a few days after the debacle. My team brought food, medication, and medical equipment. Watching how the people banded together to pull, lift and dig survivors from underneath the rubble with their fingers renewed my faith in humanity.
It is probably not all lost. Depi gen lavi, gen espwa: as long as there is life, there is hope!
Marleine Bastien is the founder, former president, and current Executive Director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Inc. (Haitian Women of Miami), chair of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and vice-chair of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.