Three years ago today I was serving in the Florida Senate when a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island nation of Haiti. While one can certainly appreciate the strength that a natural disaster of this size could inflict, nobody could anticipate the enormity of the situation that we were about to inherit.
I use the term “we” because the Haitian people are my family. Miami-Dade County, parts of which I am fortunate to represent in Congress is home to the largest Haitian-American population in the United States, and I am proud to call these individual my friends, my constituents, and yes my family.
Like any other individual your soul aches when a family member is harmed. So one could imagine the pain I felt as the news networks relayed images of the destruction caused by the earthquake. These images still haunt me to this day. It was obvious that the international community would need to respond, but it was important that the United States lead the way, which we did. The response from the federal government was critical to the recovery and while there has been progress, we still have a lot to do.
More than 350,000 Haitians still reside in tent cities. Seven thousand people died from Cholera, due to a lack of clean water, and the Red Cross is sitting on literally hundreds of millions of dollars that was donated to the relief effort. While we have to ensure that the money is distributed wisely, and used for its intended purpose, the people of Haiti need organizations like the Red Cross to perform their duties expeditiously. The lives of too many innocent children are depending on it. Likewise the United States has to remain steadfast in its commitment to our Haitian family.
Through the leadership of President Barack Obama, and the good work of the State Department, USAID, and various NGO’s we have seen some progress. First and foremost a majority of the rubble has been removed. While the clean-up might seem like the first and most obvious step in a recovery, one has to remember that the nation of Haiti did not have the internal resources or infrastructure to deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude, like many other countries around the world. With that obstacle removed more than 1.1 million Haitians have moved out of tent camps. More than 470,000 temporary jobs have been created. More than 200 schools, with water and sanitation facilities, have been built, and over 850,000 primary school students have received tuition support. As an educator, and former school principal this brings joy to my heart. The Caracol Industrial Park, which will support about 65,000 jobs, currently provides employment for about 1,000 Haitian families.
So little by little, and step by step, progress is being made, and I am grateful for that but we are far from done. I held a press conference yesterday with other elected officials to discuss the recovery of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. I even had a victim of the earthquake there who has since relocated to my Congressional district. There is no need to relive those horrific moments in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake but when you hear the stories of people who lost their loved ones, homes, and life as they knew it, you know that we have to remain committed to rebuilding Haiti.
As the most powerful democracy in the world, the U.S. has a duty and moral obligation to provide leadership and continued support to the people of Haiti. As the Member of Congress from South Florida representing the largest Haitian-American population in the country, I will do everything in my power to ensure that this commitment remains. For example the United States has extended temporary protective status for undocumented Haitians on two different occasions. I myself have visited the island, met with President Michel Martelly of Haiti, and taken a helicopter tour of Haiti. I have been inside the tent cities and seen firsthand the deplorable conditions that the Haitian people find themselves in. However what I can appreciate is the resiliency that the Haitian people displayed, and the faith that they have in the United States to lend a helping hand.
There is no doubt in my mind that the people of Haiti are determined to bounce back and build a Haiti that is stronger and better than before. So for that reason alone I reiterate my call to remain committed to Haiti and I also urge the international community to continue its support, because that is what families do for each other in times like these.
Frederica S. Wilson is the Congresswoman representing Florida’s 17th District. Follow her on Twitter at @RepWilson.