(Update: Haiti made its request to join the African Union official on February 29th.)
As Black History month comes to an end in America, the role of the African Diaspora in supporting its members respective of geo-political ties came to my mind. Last week I had the opportunity to do a service project with 21 other members of the African Diaspora just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the epicenter of the January 12, 2010 earthquake. I always wanted to support Haiti post-earthquake, and strongly believe that long-term support of the country is important. But just two years after the earthquake, I must admit that I was surprised to see such a breadth of tent cities and poverty. Still in bad disrepair from the earthquake, where approximately 230,000 people died, the state of the cracked Presidential Palace exemplifies the state of the country. With a weakened government and a history of un-sustained infrastructure and economic development, it is no surprise that Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille resigned on Friday, February 24th, just after four months in office.
If the national government is non-functioning, where does this leave Haiti, called by some to be the “failed experiment” or “the Republic of the NGOs”? As one of the first independent African-slave countries in the Western Hemisphere in 1804, Haiti has faced little support from foreign countries and even had to pay for its independence to France in 1825. While the 2010 earthquake ushered in a paradigm shift in international aid to Haiti, too much attention is paid to international donor agencies, NGOs, and the support by developed countries of Haiti—all of which are operating to meet Haitian’s basic needs with much duplication and little coordination of efforts. Little is known of the role of the African Diaspora’s support of Haiti.
While many are watching Senegal’s elections closely this week, Senegalese President Wade in October 2010 took the bold step of inviting 163 Haitian university students through a competitive lottery process to the University of Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), including scholarships for board and tuition. While this move was met with controversy, given that some Senegalese students were having difficulty collecting government scholarships themselves, I commend President Wade for his support of growing educated class of Haiti, which has a literacy rate of approximately 53 percent (according to the US CIA World Factbook).
Senegal was not the only African country that pledged and delivered in its support of Haiti post-earth quake. According to the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, the following nine African countries have pledged and deployed support of Haiti: Morocco, Sudan, Mali, Algeria, South Africa, Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritius, and Nigeria, which has pledged $11 million (US) dollars and has already disbursed $7.5 million of this pledge. Long-term international support of Haiti is important, and I contend that even more important is the African Diaspora’s support of Haiti. Let the African Diaspora continue to unite!
Having traveled to several African countries doing community and social economic development initiatives, this trip to Haiti was extra special to me. I have had the opportunity to do entrepreneurial development in India, Ghana, and Kenya, and even build houses with Habitat for Humanity International in Malawi. I am no stranger to poverty, cold bucket showers, and even pit latrines. But what made this trip to Haiti special? This was the first international service trip I took, enjoying the fact that I was not the only brown-face in the group. I went with a mission group of 22 from Emmanuel Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York, working with the Grace Fuller Center for Housing. I did not go to Haiti to help out or hand out, but to uplift my African Diaspora brothers and sisters in reminding them that they are not in this struggle alone.
A sentiment that was reiterated by Mr. Jonny Jeune, Program Director of the Grace Fuller House Center, was as follows: “Unfortunately we don’t see as many brown faces, as we would like to see. I think anyone would prefer to see a brother or sister helping him, than a foreigner helping him. Hopefully we can get a lot more, and I think it is increasing now”.
We hammered ceiling beams, shoveled and sifted sand, hauled rocks in wheelbarrows, twisted rebar wires, and formed assembly lines to fill the foundation of four homes with cement. I enjoyed the privilege of carrying two buckets of water from the nearby watering hole to the site of housing construction. While I have yet to master carrying water on my head, something that even children as young as five years old in developing countries can do, this back breaking service made me realize how much we take for granted infrastructure development such as running clean pipe water in the United States.
I spoke to Mr. Jeune about the roles of the African Diaspora and the international aid community in assisting Haiti. I got the term Republic of NGOs from Mr. Jeune, who astutely noted, “Haiti is called the Republic of NGOs, meaning we have NGOS galore, and there is no coordination by the government to take all of these NGOs and make them work in sync. There is a lot of overlapping and even butting heads of what the real solution needs to be to help people…The real solution is giving more of a hand-up to Haitians as opposed to a hand out – giving us the hope and the vision of what we can actually achieve.”
As Black History month comes to a close, please remember Haiti and other opportunities for the African Diaspora to unite.