On Jan. 12, 2010, Port-au-Prince and its surrounding cities were hit by a devastating 7.3 magnitude earthquake. Within hours, people from the United States and caring citizens of other countries came to the rescue, generously donating billions of dollars to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Haiti such as the Red Cross and UNICEF, as well as to the Haitian government. Haiti’s recovery was the heartfelt goal of these donors.
As I was watching the news from my hospital bed at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami with extensive injuries from the earthquake, I was highly hopeful. I thought to myself that, as horrible and horrifying as the earthquake may be, with all the money that was going to be invested in Haiti (thanks to the big-heartedness of millions of individuals, foundations, corporations — in the U.S. and throughout the world), Haiti was going to be economically better off than before the earthquake and the people living there would finally have a better life.
Before long, however, that hope quickly vanished. Even today, no one knows where most of the money that was generously donated went. In fact, the people of Haiti seem to be deplorably and lamentably worse off than before the earthquake.
How could this have happened?
Firstly, there is a lack of accountability. Funds are given to these non-governmental international organizations working in Haiti and the Haitian
government without supervision of what’s being done. No final report is requested or required and there are no consequences if the funds are improperly used.
Secondly, most Haitian leaders who are making crucial decisions for the well-being of their people know what they want to do. They have excellent ideas and projects but they don’t seem to know how to implement them successfully.
For example, President Michel Martelly makes education for all children and youth one of his biggest priorities. I believe that he is correct in doing so. Education is essential for any development of Haiti. However, the number of schools and trained teachers must increase. The students must live in decent houses so the frequent rainy days do not ruin their books. They must have afterschool programs to provide homework assistance because most of the parents of these under-privileged students don’t know how to read. They must also have electricity so they can study in the evening.
Another example is the focus on tourism, which the government correctly believes may be the economic salvation for Haiti. High class hotels, such as the brand new Oasis Hotel, are being built.
(By the way, if you want to stay in the prestigious and luxurious Oasis hotel which is located in Port-au-Prince, you have to make reservation through Santo Domingo, not in Haiti.)
However, safety is a key factor for anyone visiting a foreign country. Visitors want to feel safe, as well as have access to adequate medical assistance or decent hospitals.
Haiti must also produce its own food so that the price of meals in these hotels can be cheaper. Moreover, there must be ongoing cultural activities and destinations such as museums, concert halls, historical monuments and tour guide companies. At this time, Port-au-Prince, the capital, has no movie theaters, parks or other recreational spaces or any type of concert hall.
Haiti’s situation is similar to that stated in the popular children’s song There’s A Hole in the Bucket.
What then is the most efficient way to help the people of Haiti?
By identifying trustworthy international and local institutions working directly with the people there, offering them direct technical, financial/material assistance, requesting from these organizations timely progress reports on their work and a final report if the project is completed.
If their performance is unsatisfactory, another organization must be selected. It is certain that many worthwhile organizations are making a difference in the lives of the people in Haiti.
During the past three years, the people of Haiti have endured tremendous trials and tribulations.
They still have a long way to go towards enjoying some of the fundamental rights to life, such as quality education, housing, medical care, social, cultural and emotional stability.
This is why I strongly believe it is crucial and vital to rebuild my academic and music school, the Victorian School, as well as the first Haiti Performing Arts Center, which will consist of a concert hall and a music conservatory for children and youth. Venues like these are going to be the salvation for the Haitian people.
Please do not give up on Haiti. When there is a will, there is always a way.
Romel Joseph, 53, is a Haitian-born, Julliard-trained violinist who was trapped for 18 hours under earthquake debris before being rescued with life-threatening injuries.