On January 12th, 2010 Goudou Goudou came to Haiti. The new Haitian word for earthquake was onomatopoeia of the sound buildings made shaking on that fateful day. It was defining event for us all.
Ten years ago so much changed…and not just in Haiti or for Haitians.
So many lives ended in just a few moments—mothers, fathers, children, entire families…doctors, teachers, cultural leaders, political visionaries, activists…missionaries, tourists.
So much was lost—limbs, homes, businesses, historic buildings and symbols, records and documentation, and not least of all, a sense of security.
So much was revealed. The world was touched. People everywhere responded with an unprecedented and inspiring amount of kindness. We surprised ourselves. But also, we learned over time that rebuilding and development are tricky nuts to crack, that people from one place cannot swoop in and “save” those in another. Sure, we’ve gotten pretty good at delivering food and water, at transporting in medical care professionals and supplies from every inch of the globe to deal with the traumatic injuries. Lives were saved. But long term rebuilding and development? That’s a different story.
I’m not convinced that the world has learned those final hard lessons about development yet, but my take away has been: All we can do is walk along together in solidarity, accompanying one another on this journey of life. We can try to give one another a little support while we work to create the world we dream of, while we try to reveal heaven on Earth.
Haitians have known this all along. After the earthquake leaders in Borgne collected funds to send buses to Port au Prince to bring back stranded students, the less severely injured, and distant family members so that they might have shelter and care in Borgne. The hospital corridors and yards were filled with beds and volunteers erected temporary roofs. People opened up their houses to near strangers. The Scouts went to Port au Prince to help find victims and clear rubble. Schools made space for displaced students. Civil protection teams were trained and deployed. When cholera ravaged the commune, hospital director Dr. Thony Voltaire (who was trained in Cuba with a focus on public health) and his team quickly responded with emergency facilities and developed and implemented an extensive outreach program that has nearly irradiated the disease in Borgne. The Haitian response was even more inspiring than the international outpouring, just less flashy.
For us at Friends of Borgne accompaniment has come to mean supporting Haitian leaders and educators in the beautiful town of Borgne on the north coast of Haiti in realizing their dreams of educating the next generation. Only about half of Haitians complete 6th grade and many, especially in the rural areas and urban slums, do not get to go to school at all. Lack of buildings and trained teachers, cost, health, and even rivers get in the way. Families pay large portions of their income on school fees, uniforms, books, and materials and sometimes have to choose which of their children to educate. In Borgne, the costs are around $150 a year for a primary student and more than twice that for high school…in an economy where most people live on less than $2/day. I’ll leave the math to you. In some places children walk two hours or more to school, traversing potentially dangerous rivers.
Why do we care about education?
- Education is good for democracy. It helps people obtain and analyze information about their country, reflect on their individual experiences, and importantly, hold their leaders accountable. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”
- Education is good for economic growth. According to an overview of the research by UNICEF (the UNICEF Investment Case for Education and Equity 2015) the return on investment in education is between 9-30%, which is at least as good as investing in real-estate or the stock market (~10% on average) and perhaps even 3 times as good!
- Education is good for well-being. Higher levels of education are associated with better health, higher levels of social trust, and self-reported happiness in addition to increased economic activity and wealth. When young people have something productive to do, they are less likely to fall into delinquency or premature parenthood.
So now we say goodbye—and good riddance!—to 2019 with a hope that 2020 will mean a better vision for the future of Haiti. Last year was a particularly difficult year in Haiti, plagued by political strife of both national and global making. Roads were blocked and business shuttered. Protesters were killed by police in the streets with little discussion. Political factions payed the destitute to burn down the neighborhoods of their adversaries. Our friends living in the cities reported not being able to go outside due to shooting and fires, sheltering behind their concrete block walls. Investments and visitors stopped coming in and schools around the country were closed all fall after opening briefly in September for the first week of school.
Friends of Borgne celebrated our 10th anniversary in June at the end of our tenth successful school year. We sent five visitors who braved the level 4 US State Department travel warnings. We were able to celebrate full-out Haitian style with parades, elaborate church services, dancing, beach partying, art-making, and, of course, soccer, but more international collaborators would have joined the fun if the situation had been more stable. Since September, many of our programs have been on hold, parents too afraid to let their children out of their house or their sight during the political chaos.
But 2020 has brought in cooler breezes, the different sides returning to the negotiating table, leaving a space for regular people to return to the business of their daily lives. Schools reopened on January 6th and Friends of Borgne ramped up our food programs and school support. There is a sense of having a reprieve, but most people acknowledge that it is temporary. The core problems of representation and corruption have not been addressed.
Still, the educators in Borgne can get back to their core mission again—to develop the future leaders that will grow Haiti in democracy, prosperity, and well-being, and revealing the world they dream. With their help we can perhaps avoid some of the political pitfalls. Despite lingering trauma, Goudou Goudou showed us what works and doesn’t and what is possible—we all just need to study our lessons closely.