First Person

Far from home, a crisis reverberates

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Photo: Anna Kramer / Oxfam America
Photo: Anna Kramer / Oxfam America

When I close my eyes, I can still see the rubble art. Bright fragments–now scattered across a table in the back room of the Miami, Florida, community group Konbit for Haiti–these chunks of concrete were salvaged from the streets of Port-au-Prince after the January earthquake. Now, each painted with a different scene, they hummed with a kind of contained energy: dancing human figures, trees bending in the wind, a seed bursting from its pod.

Beside me, Leonie Hermantin explained that a Miami-based non-profit had brought the pieces here to sell at an upcoming art show. All the proceeds will go back to the artists, she said—back to Haiti.

In fact, even while we contemplated the quake’s aftermath, the country was facing another crisis. A cholera epidemic in the Artibonite and Central Plateau regions has now infected more than 3,000 people.

“The epidemic is not this natural disaster,” said Hermantin, deputy director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti. “It is something that comes from poverty, and a lack of government planning. …  It is rooted in the neglect of rural communities.”

I met Hermantin and other local leaders through Oxfam America’s Haiti community organizer, Sophia Lafontant. We traveled to Miami last week for two days of speaking events featuring Jacqueline Morette, a visiting farmer and leader of a Haitian Oxfam partner organization.

Often, Morette was received as a guest of honor. The power of her message—that women can be leaders in rural communities; that people can earn a decent income from farming; that rural regions matter just as much as Port-au-Prince—seemed to resonate with many who heard her speak.

But the cholera crisis hovered in the background, a shadow that could not be dismissed.

Oxfam is responding to the epidemic, as are some Miami-based groups, including the health organization the Center for Haitian Studies. “We have a warehouse of medical supplies, and we’ve already established contact with the government and the Ministry of Health,” said the Center’s director, Dr. Laurinus Pierre, when I met him at his clinic in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.

Some people I spoke to, like University of Miami professor Dr. Jean-Pierre Fontaine, emphasized the need for the Haitian government to provide stronger leadership.

“In this crisis, there has been a lot of talk about the international community, and not so much about the Haitian authorities,” said Fontaine. “One thing I want to see is for the government, and the authorities in rural sectors, to acquire the capacity and the will to prevent disasters … and address the causes.”

Most of all, I heard one thing from the Haitians I met in Miami: despite the distance, Haiti is still home. And even in the face of enormous challenges, they believe their country will emerge stronger. Whether through their own efforts, or by supporting others, many were determined to do all they could to help—driven by the same exuberant, tenacious pride that turns earthquake rubble into something beautiful. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+