marlienebastien_fc.jpgI almost did not make it.

When I heard about the trip, I instantly made the decision to go.  I would not only have a chance to meet with Haitian President Rene Preval, which did not happen during my last trip a year ago (our delegation met with former Prime Minister Alexis), but I would also have a chance to assess first hand the situation there.

Then, I changed my mind because important details were not forthcoming.  However, what I thought was a lack of respect for Haitian leaders turned out to be a combination of a simple lack of organization and a coup d’etat of sorts.

When Congressman Kendrick Meek met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Haitian leaders to discuss the food crisis in Haiti, he introduced Haitian-American Grassroots Coal-ition Chair Jean Robert Lafortune as the contact person to intercede between the Rainbow Push Coalition and the Haitian-American community. 

It turned out that a self-designated leader got involved in the process and was getting important information that did not trickle down to concerned delegation members. This happens even in the best families. A family reunion is being planned, but a member who was not part of the planning committee – yet feels wiser and more prescient than the rest – was making important decisions.

When family members thought the planning neared completion, confusion and chaos surfaced. One person’s indiscretion creates havoc for an entire family. When I finally realized what happened, it was almost time to head for the airport. My entire household sprang to action. 

One person was putting Temporary Protected Status information that I had ready in presentable folders, another was working on debt-relief folders, and I was faced with the wrenching choice of the amount of clothes to bring.

I confess. I have a serious problem with the amount of luggage to bring on a trip. I can’t seem to travel light.  Even for a one-day lobbying trip to Washington, I’ll bring stuff for three to four days.  I often come back from short trips with most of the clothes intact.

Though I spent most of my adult life diagnosing other people as a Clinical Social Worker,  I have not been able to explain this compulsion. Luckily, I made it on time to the airport and easily located my party because of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Whether at the Miami airport or in the slums of Cite Soleil, everybody wanted to shake his hand. He gladly obliged.  I’m glad I changed my mind about the trip to Haiti.  Upon our descent into Haiti, an indescribable feeling swept over me.  I may be ignorant, but I could not help wondering if African Americans feel like that coming home to America? Or landing in our motherland, Africa?

Haiti’s situation is much worse than anything that has been written so far.  The streets of Port-au-Prince are overcrowded with merchants selling anything and everything.  Without police escort, with sirens blowing, we probably would never have made it to our appointments on time.  The conditions seemed to have deteriorated tenfold since my last trip a year ago. More people are unemployed, health clinics are closed due to lack of funds, children are pervasively malnourished. 

One in every five children dies before reaching the age of 5 …pregnant women look like “zombie anbilan” (walking zombies).

President Preval told us point blank that in the short term, he needed 7,000 tons of rice, wheat, oil, flour and beans (especially black beans due to the rampant malnutrition of children).

In the long term, he needed $215 million to $220 million to repair the agricultural infrastructure so that in a year or two, Haiti can produce enough to feed its citizens.

I gave President Preval a report on our efforts for Temporary Protected Status and debt relief.  I also told him that no amount of help will save Haiti without a National Conference to develop a master plan (Plan de Societe) for Haitian society. 

A La Maniere of South Africa, all voices must be represented and heard.  No country in the world can develop and thrive without a plan, a structure.  Future presidents will have the mandate to only implement the plan, they’ll have no power to change it.

President Bush cannot decide one day to do away with the two major party system….can he? At the same time, President Preval needs to institute a permanent dialogue in the country so that all sectors can meet, communicate, and face their differences.  There can never be peace and harmony without this process – without reconciliation.  Too many have died, too many are waiting for justice, too many are hoping for revenge.

A long-term plan is needed to restructure Haiti’s economy, but there is also a need for immediate response. 

To help Haiti in this time of crisis, bring your donation of food to SOS Haiti at the Notre Dame of Haiti Church: 110 N.E. 62 Street, Miami, Florida  33138. 305-751-6289

Monies for Haiti relief may be sent to “Haiti Relief Effort Funds,” attention Eustache Fleurant, Vice President, Bank of America, Shores Village Banking Center, 9499 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami Shores, FL 33138.

Checks should be made payable to “Haiti Relief Effort Funds,” and include the Account# 229011888173 on the check.

To wire funds for “Haiti Relief Effort Funds,” put the Account# 229011888173; the wire routing # is 026009593.

You may call Mr. Fleurant at Bank of America with any questions in this regard.  His phone number is 305-795-2987.

You can also reach Marleine Bastien or Careline Romain (FANM)  at 305-756-8050.

Haitians are suffering.  Please give generously now! Thank you!

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.

Marleine Bastien •