11.08.2010

Ayiti has long been forgotten: Is this what you gave your money to support?

Mawiyah addresses the media in Houston on Jan. 19, 2010 after surviving the Haiti earthquake. (Photo: Jesse Muhammad)
Mesi Anpil – Thank You Very Much

Much thanks and appreciation to everyone who included me in their prayers and continue to hold me in positive light. The protective concern and security of your love, blessings and peace is a lifeline. Yes, I survived the earthquake in Ayiti, but I’m more than a survivor, there’s a reason why…

The day of the earthquake I was working on the internet at a neighborhood cybercafé. Felt the first tremble…didn’t think much about it. Then I saw cinderblock walks move back and forth like waves on the ocean. Lost communication immediately which meant my folk in the US didn’t know if I was dead or alive. Two days later at 2:00 AM, temporary phone service was restored. I sent the text message below written seconds after the earthquake…

Just got communication.
Not hurt physically, stunned emotionally and traumatized.
Don't know where I'm going to sleep or live. My home is heavily damaged.
It seems I lost everything,

After days of sleeping outside on the ground, I became part of a military emergency evacuee operation and was airlifted out that Saturday. Please allow me to give you a brief glimpse into my personal story…

It’s been some ten months since the January 12 earthquake. Ayiti has long been forgotten in popular media. I returned to Ayiti in April to make an assessment of how my work might change after such a disaster. While there, the bones of two of my godchildren were raised from their dark, dusty cinder block tomb. The only physical evidence that a five story apartment building had ever been there was the mountain of rubble resulting from the building collapsing onto itself.

My godchild and her cousin were planning her cousin’s February wedding and I was the maren (godmother) of the wedding. The tradition was so respectful! In early January the bride’s godfather and I prepared dinner. She came over with her fiancé. We ate, posed some pretty direct questions and had lively discussion about the wedding. We laughed, joked and talked about their 2 year old son… Well, as the elder’s say…tomorrow’s not promised.

The remains of 34 bodies were found in the ruins of that tumbled down apartment building that blustery June day. They were Identifiable only by clothing and personal effects. Among the 34, my two babies (each has a 2 year old) along with 2 other relatives, one their little cousin. He was 8. They and other members of the wedding party had been meeting on the first floor. We know at least 5 family members perished in the earthquake. An adopted son, father of 5, who was a professor at a local university. The school building “pancaked” on him and his class. Since that fateful day we haven’t heard from the only sister of Ujamaa Works co-founder Robert François. In the habit of speaking with her at least twice daily, we are forced to sorrowfully admit she may be one of those beloved nameless souls in the mass grave mounds north of Port-au-Prince.

Know that there are hundreds of thousands of other stories like this…some worse…some not. How do you measure misery? Ayiti and her people are in the throes of transformation. Foreigners laden with promises of assistance have flooded their country…strong promises full of firm words and fickle action. Though more than one million people live in the street, in tent cities, they refuse to be victims. With stubborn resilience they struggle daily to rebuild their lives and the lives of their families. What can be done?

Support independent media. Independent media is a must in this era. Depending only on media sources outside of our community is a sure way to court disaster. Case in point: A killer cholera outbreak has taken the lives of more than 500 Ayitians the past two weeks. United Nations peacekeepers from the country of Nepal in southern Asia have been blamed for bringing this deadly disease to Ayiti, but media has given very little attention to Nepal’s role in this epidemic. Nepal was caught dumping human waste in a tributary that feeds the Artibonite River, the primary source of water for consumption and food production in the Central Plateau of Ayiti.


Support grassroots organizations that have a history of working in Ayiti. Many organizations that were founded after the earthquake have absolutely little or no experience dealing in Ayiti. There are new facilities in Ayiti, fully-funded with paid staff that are supposed to “evaluate” the psychological condition of Ayitians. Most staff members are ignorant of the culture, don’t speak Kreyol and after “evaluation” have no functioning programs or relative activities for referrals. There are some large non-profits that spend more money on employee salaries than on the programs for which donations were given. Is this what you gave your money to support?

Finally, look at everything with a critical eye. People from the Central Plateau in Ayiti are accustomed to drinking, bathing and washing their clothes in the river. There hadn’t been a case of cholera reported in Ayiti for decades…what changed? Where did it come from?

Again, thank you. Your prayers, thoughts and actions helped save me. Now I’m asking that we work to help those who have no voice, the poor of Ayiti. Let us work together to educate and strike that much needed balance. You count!!! Until next month, “kembe fò”…stay strong.

Hotep, Lapè, Peace


Mawiyah


(Mawiyah is co-founder of Haitian American Ministries (. For the past 20+ years HAM has been making a difference in the lives of the people of Haiti. To support their efforts visit www.haitianamermin.org)