HOLLYWOOD FL — “Yo se pa anpil nan yon klas presegondè” translates as “There isn’t much of a middle class.”
Language and wealth have long been used to stratify power among the rigid castes of Haiti’s mixed race citizenry–descendants of French plantation owners and once-captive Africans. In 2015, class differences are still an issue.
Wealth, language, housing and public health were among the topics discussed during the May 9th event, “Haiti Rising: A Fact Forum,” in Hollywood. Participants listened to presentations on the advancements being made, in the impoverished country, to improve the living conditions and the country’s fractured infrastructure. The discussion also addressed efforts to provide cleaner water cisterns and enhanced economic development as Haiti seeks to reclaim its status as the “Pearl of the Antilles.”
That one hundred percent of the Caribbean nation speaks Kreyol while only 10 percent can speak, read and write in French is said to be a critical factor in the continued consolidation of power between the haves and have-nots. It wasn’t until the 1980s that its constitution was translated into Kreyol although the country is recognized as the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere since Dessalines and his ceded army wrested control from French rule in 1804.
Although Haiti secured its own liberation, it appears to have come at a steep price. Its anemic economy was further fractured in 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook its foundation. The quake killed more than 200,000 people, injured approximately 300,000 while displacing an estimated 1.5 million. Damages were in excess of $7.8 billion, according to reports.
Despite the devastating setback, Marlon Migala of Grace International and the Fuller Center for Housing, a nonprofit 501(C3) organization are optimistic about
the country. “Haiti is rising out of the sea of sorrow it has lived in for too long,” he said.
Florine Lazard-Pierre, fundraising director of SOS Jobs Foundation said the lack of wealth-building opportunities in her homeland attributed to her mother tightly packing her, at 10 years-old, with her sisters “on a tiny boat with six other people … to try to
come here to America.” Although “a lot of people didn’t make it here,” she admires her mother’s “boldness” to reach American soil. She feels obligated to give back to those “back home” and said it is selfish not to do so.
“My mother was a business woman in Haiti but it wasn’t enough. When you have a small business in Haiti you can’t go to a bank and say I need money to increase my business; it’s not that way—only the rich can do that!”
Jacques Pierre-Paul also of SOSJF understands that, historically, the United States, the United Nations and France have had their hands in Haiti’s “pockets,” influencing the nation’s governance and economic policies. He said the vision of the nonprofit organization is to “get rid of poverty in Haiti” by educating fledgling businesses and supporting them with “zero percent interest loans.” Pierre-Paul makes it no secret that the purpose of his organization is about “Haitians helping Haitians create self-reliance.”
Such reliance is being developed through the implementation of community wells in Haiti. According to Linda Hughes of Haiti Outreach, their mission is to curtail the infestation of water resources by creating community wells of which 80 percent of the Haitian people will be responsible for its construction and maintenance.
“We have a training program and we make sure that at least 80 percent of the community who are behind the well will help to make sure it is sustainable so that we create a local water community that is elected by the community and help maintain that water supply.” The upkeep of these wells comes with a miniscule monthly water surcharge to families to pay for repairs when necessary.
Earl Carter, managing director for Notre Dame’s Haiti program, believes that a cleaner water supply will help to stave off an infestation of mosquitoes which is largely to blame for the non-contagious albeit non-curable disease of Elephantitis—a gastrointestinal infection. Notre Dame provides fortified iodized salt to those afflicted with the disease that are unable to get it in pill form.
Jonny Jeune, a general contractor at the helm of Grace International said he is dedicated to “creating not just homes but communities.” He added, “Building homes is my passion and developing communities starts with the first one.”
“Piti, piti, wazo nich li” translates as Little by little the bird builds its nest.”