In the late afternoon of January 12, 2010, Haiti had a heart attack when an earthquake struck Port-au-Prince — the country’s political, cultural and financial capital.
It’s a devastating piece of history for Haiti, a place that had already suffered more than 200 years of governments that not only failed to serve the Haitian people, but also exploited them. Exploited the land. Drove more than eight million people into abject poverty.
Haiti was as close to a failed state as a country could possibly be. It was a disaster even before this disaster. Very few here would argue against that.
But the world has also failed Haiti. Many of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries have also exploited the country and its people. Too often, our leaders have either backed corrupt and dangerous Haitian governments, or else ignored the plight of the country — and its people — altogether.
Today, of course the world is focused on Haiti as never before. But there will soon come a time when the reporters leave, the cameras switch off and the headlines fade. And, when that time comes, we will not only stay to help the Haitian people, but we will work harder than ever.
I am personally committed to helping Haiti. My own ties to this country run deep. My wife is Haitian, and my in-laws are dealing with the chaos, uncertainty and shock of the earthquake’s aftermath. Many of our friends have lost nearly everything and are dealing with profound grief.
I’ve lived in Haiti for six years of my life — including more than four years managing humanitarian assistance and development programs. I care deeply about Haiti and its people. You can’t help but love the people here. And, as Mercy Corps’ country director here, I want to do anything I can to help them.
Mercy Corps, working alongside local partners and colleague agencies, is committed to helping Haitian families and communities not only emerge from the rubble and rebuild their homes, but also rebuild their country. In the long term, we will accomplish this through thoughtful and well-planned economic development programs.
The Haitian economy was already in a shambles before last month’s earthquake: at least 54 percent of the population lived on less than a dollar a day. The unemployment rate was crippling, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent.
Yet Haiti’s economic situation is even more desperate and disastrous than these staggering numbers imply: the vast majority of Haitians are not only unemployed, but also unemployable. Decades of corruption and exploitation have left most Haitians without marketable job skills, unable to fill good-paying, technical jobs even if they were available.
Mercy Corps is launching job skills training as part of our long-term economic recovery and development programs. We will help Haitian communities build a skilled workforce that can perform and lift families out of poverty. By investing in small and medium enterprises across key business sectors, we will create lasting, meaningful, good-paying jobs all over the country.
The key to transforming Haiti’s economy — and therefore the future of its people — depends not only on creating opportunities in Port-au-Prince, but also in other cities and rural areas. At last count, at least 236,000 people fled the capital in the aftermath of the earthquake. They will need jobs, too.
The history of Haiti has largely been a history of neglect. This time, we can’t let that happen. We have to prove that we’re not going away. We have to prove that, alongside the hard-working Haitian people, we’ll make something great happen.
This time, we’ll transform Haiti — together.