Americans donned “Fashion for Haiti” t-shirts, texted the Red Cross to donate 10 dollars, and called into the Hope for Haiti telethon. All these donations promised shelter, food and water. In fact, 305 million dollars was raised over eight days after the earthquake.
So when I visited Haiti over spring break, I expected to see plains of tents, endless lines of food distribution, and uniformed workers clearing concrete rubble in all areas damaged by the earthquake. Such relief services were present in Port-Au-Prince and Leogane–the Haitian capital and the epicenter of the earthquake.
However once I arrived at the outskirts of Port-au-prince, I knew there was no hope at this part of Haiti. Especially at Cite Soleil.
The horizon was a stretch of poorly constructed tin sheds built upon grey garbage hills as high as six feet. I walked over cracked coca-cola shards, decomposed paper, and moldy driftwood. The air reeked of human waste; I cupped my hands over my nose, but it did no good. I was in a village of trash–Haiti’s Cite Soleil– the worst slum in the Western Hemisphere, for the past 20 years.
Given the destructiveness of the earthquake, I expected to see uniformed soldiers with M-16s suppressing riots and maintaining stability. Even the UN Secretary General once said, “We need to make sure our help is getting to people who need it as fast as possible.”
The only forms of “help” I’ve seen at Cite Soleil was technically 3 lonely white UN trucks lounging around the police station. That miserable sight should not be what Ban Ki Moon meant by “help” in Cite Soleil.
Visiting NGO teams who distribute food and tarps are the only form of relief effort in Cite Soleil. But they are infrequent; people see such teams as ineffective because of gang activity, little marketplace economy, and overpopulation.
The criminal activity in Cite Soleil has increased since the earthquake. The local authorities have recaptured few prisoners but there are still hundreds of hostile men who create chaos for innocent townspeople. And since the earthquake struck, there have been more robberies and shootings despite the presence of UN peacekeeping forces supposedly “guard” the entrance to the slum.
Recovery was slow in the beginning and reports could not be trusted at first. One NGO team from Canada delivered 1000 food parcels three times previous March. But they are also skeptical of the slum’s improvement.
Steve Lee, a 26-year-old college graduate, recalled, “Once the people realize that there is only half a truckload of food left they start rioting and crawl onto the truck to steal the remaining parcels. That’s when we start the engine and drop off bags onto the sides of the road. At last week’s riot, two teenage boys bled to death from stray gunfire.”
Despite the volunteers’ good intentions, their small efforts are cut off by the gang violence.
As the media dwindles on its coverage over Haiti, remember that Cite Soleil is barely getting by. Even though we donated billions of dollars to Haiti, it hasn’t been equally distributed to slums like Cite Soleil. We might feel mushy-gushy, and optimistic when we sing along to We Are the World on our iPods but while we do that we aren’t reaching out to the most destitute of Haiti.
So next time you donate, you should realize that your donation does not really reach the really poor, those who are struggling in Cite Soleil, the epicenter of the Western Hemisphere’s waste.