The remarkable generosity around the world in response to the Haitian earthquake is a beautiful reflection of the human spirit. Anyone who thinks that the world hates black people only needs to see the millions of whites who shed tears along with the rest of us while watching the suffering of the Haitian people. Racism is alive and well, but it’s more complicated than one-dimensional hate. Where racism does reveal itself is in the way the world has traditionally ignored the suffering of the Haitian people over the years before the quake.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Over 80 percent of the Haitian population lives in poverty. Nearly half of Haiti is illiterate and the nation’s life expectancy is only 53 years. Over two-thirds of its residents are unemployed, and the government’s annual budget is about $1 billion dollars, less than one-third of what Bill Gates earns in a year.
There is a long list of evidence that suggests the Haitian people are not respected in the global community. One has to wonder why it took a disaster of this magnitude for the world to realize that Haiti has had serious economic trouble for decades, and that its people will keep suffering after this disaster is over, assuming that we continue on the current path when it comes to our economic policy.
The children of Haiti need a bright future to help heal the wounds from the tragic loss of their parents, siblings, and role models. We can bring them that future if we simply apply our collective minds toward providing a productive solution. The massive amount of giving that has occurred in response to the Haitian crisis might be an opportunity to start down that path.
I spoke recently with my respected colleague, Koby Koomson, the former ambassador to Ghana. Koomson and I were both in agreement that while our nation’s sympathy is to be applauded, the Haitian people likely do not want our sympathy. Instead, they would rather have our investment, so that they can build the critical infrastructure necessary to become a truly independent nation. Productive partnerships are the way to help Haiti, not just charitable giving.
If it is done fairly (not in the lopsided way it has been done in some parts of Africa), external investment in Haiti can be quite beneficial for the nation and those providing necessary capital. The investments must be made in infrastructure: roads, electricity, education, and all the other things that Haitians need in order to maximize their productivity. When a dollar is given charitably, that dollar must be replenished at a later date. But if a dollar is given towards infrastructure, it creates sustainable long-term wealth. Haitian charities may also want to raise funds for programs that allow Americans to train the Haitian people on critical skills they can use to build industry. We can support programs that teach Haitian children to read. If our nation can rebuild Iraq after tearing it down, we can rebuild Port-au-Prince after Mother Nature has torn it to pieces. Additionally, the funds that come forth to rebuild Haiti’s buildings, technology and other infrastructure should be targeted toward making Haiti more productive than ever before.
News cycles are incredibly short in the age of the Internet. In roughly one week, the world is going to forget about the Haitian crisis and the country’s people are going to be left to struggle once again. Important dignitaries will not be fighting to board flights to visit the nation, and Anderson Cooper isn’t going to stare down the screen with serious facial expressions while telling you about the latest in Port-au-Prince. Now is the time to move, and now is the time to start building Haiti’s livelihood. In the midst of this terrible crisis, it is my greatest hope that the Haitian people are not just going to get food, clothing and shelter. Instead, they can be given a future that is worth looking forward to, and one that is devoid of the same old heartache.