Immersed in the rumbling ocean of “runaway NGOs,” the agony of the distraught victims, and 20 million cubic meters of rubble, some little candles --sparks of hope-- barely noticeable, are flickering. They are optimistic signs indicating that the lives of many Haitians are improving. However, if like most people, you were bombarded with traumatic images of the reprehensible conditions plaguing the refugee camps on June 12th, you too, might have missed the successful efforts that were slowly bubbling their way onto the surface.
Alas, the perceived stagnancy of the relief efforts exposed by the media is a sad reality. Nonetheless, taking a few seconds to filter out the noise and taking a closer look, you too, would have detected a flimsy but steady pulse; indications that this maltreated republic had every reasons to be optimistic.
The situation in Haiti is by no mean unambiguous. Observers would need two sets of lenses to fully comprehend the enormity of the problem. First, retrospective lenses would bring into focus pre-catastrophic conditions: they could be anachronistic, yet imperative to grasp that reality. Second, actuality lenses would unveil post-quake situations, serve as a measuring device, and perhaps help broaden perceptions.
Absent a set of binoculars, former President Bill Clinton’s remarks would be just as encompassing. "To those who say we have not done enough, I think all of us who are working in this area agree this is a harder job (than the tsunami)," Clinton stated referring to the massive 2004 Indonesian Tsunami. "Viewed comparatively,” he continued, “I think the Haitian government and the people who are working here have done well in the last six months."
A glimpse into the grim Haitian reality prior to the earthquake according to Oxfam Solidarite, a humanitarian organization working in Haiti for 32 years.
55% of the population lived with less than $1.25 per day
86% of the urban population lived in slums
47% of the population did not have access to basic health services
83% of the population did not have an adequate access to medical care
With a literacy rate of 45 percent, a stunning 55 percent of school-aged children were out of school prior to the demolition. Six months later however, UNICEF estimated that the earthquake affected 90 percent of 4,992 schools. Further, its six months progress report, Milestones at Six Months, revealed that about 80 percent of schools in Port-au-Prince and all schools in three other major cities that were severely hit have reopened. This was a significant development considering the fact that CIA World Factbook estimates that 37.5 percent of the population is under the age of 15 and about 60 percent under the age of 18. Besides the obvious psychological respite these schools have provided switching the focus of the children from their demises to learning, this initiative planted a seed of intellect in the future of Haiti. “Education is key,” said Ms. Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “We have to have all children at school and we have to have quality of education. It will be really complicated. It’s a long process and we have to be all together – partnering, not competing,” she added. Equally noticeable, these children are not roaming the streets freely where ill-advised practices could attract them.
In addition to education, enormous progress has been made in the medical front as well, yet no one could tell. Coordinated efforts of the 4 major medical organizations (the Red Cross, MSF, Doctors of the World and FRIEND) made medical care available to more than a half-million people. Since the catastrophe, nearly all of the health centers, still standing, have reopened administering care free of charge. These organizations have also undertaken massive vaccination campaigns, a deterrent to possible outbreaks of preventable diseases. The National Center for Cooperation and Development (CNCD) reported that 90 percent of the population had access to health care, whereas before a shocking 60 percent of Haitians could not afford to consult a doctor. Noticeably, there has been no epidemic outbreak; hence the worst did not come. Additionally, several other NGOs have provided safe water, latrines, and other basic health services to the refugees’ camps.
Furthermore, more than 30,000 people participated in the rebuilding framework of the project “Work for Food Program” or WFP in just the first week of its implementation and the number of participants has increased daily since. Also, more than 150,000 people have received food and other incentives through this project. Moreover, the participants are paid $5 dollars every day for helping clean the streets, the construction of the irrigation canals, and other activities to face the cyclonic season. By year-end, it’s projected that more than 140,000 Haitians will have a regular income thanks to the program. WFT will also make it possible to nourish 700,000 people through December. Although temporary, these kinds of program will help Haitians regain some sanity and keep them from desperate criminal behaviors.
In addition to being Haiti’s national sport, soccer has always been a main source of entertainment for Haitians. In the absence of a strong national team, they have indentified with some of the greatest team in the history of the sport. Among the many fanatics, an overwhelming majority support teams such as Brazil, Argentina, France, Germany, Netherlands, and even the U.S. Therefore, it was a special treat to them when Lionel “Leo” Messi, FIFA World Player of the Year, showed up in Haiti eager to have firsthand experience with what he had only learned through media coverage. The world-renowned FC Barcelona and Argentina national football team player said, “It was overwhelming to see the overcrowded displacement camps, the poverty in which people here live,” after visiting Carrefour Aviation, a camp where 50,000 displaced Haitians live in tents. The enthusiastic fans, hundreds of them, wearing Argentina t-shirts, waving Argentinean flags, screamed and shouted as their hero squeezed his way through the area. After meeting with a group of children and answering their questions, Messi added, “I believe that sports are really important for children. I learned my most important lessons in life through sport. It is where I had my opportunity, and I wish the same for them.” That was a much-needed escape for children who admired the footballer and aspired to be like him some day.
Inarguably, people are suffering in Haiti right now, millions of them. Words escape me when trying to properly frame their ordeals; however, these sparks, while they may not be enough to shine the reigning darkness of reprehensibility, are enough to stake their own claim on priorities. Most significantly though, these little flickering flames have fostered hope in the heart of a people yearning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.