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Ayiti-Haiti Letter

african and african diaspora studies

To the members of the Boston College Community,

As many now know, Haiti experienced a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday January 12, 2010; eight days later another earthquake “aftershock” registered at 6.0. The quake’s epicenter was in Carrefour, just outside of the capital Port-au-Prince and devastated that city as well as other areas including Leogane, Cayes and Jacmel. The death toll, now in the thousands, continues to mount. Countless people have been injured and are dying daily due to injuries as well as preventable causes that require immediate medical attention.  A fragile infrastructure has crumbled. Government institutions such as the Palais National and the Ministry of Finance have been sustained much damage.  Countless schools, libraries and universities have collapsed, elite destinations such as the Hotel Montana have fallen. These events have crippled the island nation of nine million inhabitants, many of whom reside in Port-au-Prince.  Since 1-12-10 various media outlets, most noticeably CNN have covered both the loss and the relief efforts.  Relief workers and rescue teams from all over the world have been arriving in Haiti to help with the recovery. Important institutions such as the United Nations, and groups such as Catholic Relief Services, The Red Cross, and Yele Ayiti have all added their hands to the effort.

As Boston College President Father Leahy stated in an aptly timed letter, no members of the Boston College community were physically harmed. Yet, the extent of the damage goes far beyond the physical harm done to individuals. The extreme loss of life and physical devastation of the country has undoubtedly traumatized Haitians present at the time as well as members of the diaspora. Boston College has many Haitian staff employees, administrators, and students. The earthquake is having a profound impact on Haitians in Haiti as well as outside of Haiti including members of our own community. Some from these groups have lost loved ones, or still await news from them. BC has a number of Haitian connections, ranging from people on campus who are Haitian or of Haitian descent to individuals who have gone on service trips to volunteer for groups such as the Saint Boniface Foundation, or simply those who live, worship, and attend classes with others from the community. As a faculty member, I am thankful for the outpouring of support for Haiti in general and for my own family in particular. My parents live in Port-au-Prince and their home is not far from the Hotel Montana that completely collapsed. After not hearing from them for a few harrowing days, I learned that they are physically safe, having lost only 50% of their home. They are remaining in Haiti to use their medical expertise for such a time as this.  I am incredibly inspired and encouraged by both their faithfulness and activism.
 
While I am thankful for their safety, my heart is utterly broken for our Haitian people and the entire nation.  Every day I receive messages about friends whose relatives have died and institutions that have been ruined.  In addition to the immeasurably tragic human toll, as a scholar I am also painfully aware of how national memory preservation and scholarship on Haiti will never be the same.  There are libraries, universities, schools, and archives that have been destroyed; the only film school, located in Jacmel, has been severely damaged.  Three activists, the pillars of the Haitian feminist movement, were among those who loss their lives. Like many of you I am constantly following the media coverage. Despite my appreciation for how it can help, I am often deeply troubled by the coverage given the numerous problematic images spilling out of these media outlets.  These images emphasizing the narratives of stigmatization, poverty, pathology, disease and plague have marred perceptions of Haiti long before 1/12/10. 
 
Several members from the BC community (an initiative coordinated by Dan Ponsetto from Service Learning) have formed a group that marshals the various responses to these events on campus.  Fundraising will be conducted at sporting events, panels and lectures will be organized to educate and promote awareness. There will be a panel next month that I will be moderating and we have invited Haitian scholars, politicians and activists in the area to participate. The Center for Human Rights and International Justice contacted me about working with them to plan this. Small events such as these should help to contribute to a critical dialogue about Haiti.  I am hoping to see further events, including actual trips to assist rebuilding efforts and the like, emerge in the future. The dynamic Haitian community of Boston and surrounding areas has mobilized and Boston College is well positioned to partner with these efforts and lead efforts of its own.

As the first independent Black republic in the world, the only place where slaves effectively led a Revolution in 1804 to become a nation, Haiti occupies an important position in the Black diasporic imaginary. Even after the coverage has stopped and newspaper stories are only drizzling in, the situation will remain dire. With regards to what you can do, for now along with much prayer, financial help is most needed.  There are many organizations doing important work, and I personally strongly recommend the Haitian organizations The Lambi Fund www.lambifund.org, FONKOZE www.fonkoze.org, Yele Ayiti www.yele.org as well as Partners in Health www.pih.org. There are also numerous groups organizing in Boston's dynamic Haitian community. They have organized the Haitian American Earthquake Relief Task Force as well as the Haitian American Earthquake Relief Fund.  I am also in touch with the leaders of non-profits that I highly recommend such as Bibliotheque Soleil, which was already working to provide children in Port-au-Prince access to books, internet, cultural enrichment and education. There is also one my dad started when he first "retired" Fondation pour le Developpement des Universites en Haiti et de la Recherche en Haiti that will be needing future assistance. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like more information. Built on a Jesuit tradition that espouses social justice and faith in action, it is incumbent upon the Boston College community to consider who is our neighbor and how we can assist in relief efforts whether we are donating funds, time, or prayer. We must etch Haiti in our hearts in a way that endures far beyond January 2010 and the earthquake aftershocks. As the Haitian saying goes: Men anpil chay pa lou (with many hands the burden is light) we will rebuild our beautiful country.
 
In solidarity,

Régine Michelle Jean-Charles
Assistant Professor
Department of Romance Languages & Literatures
African & African Diaspora Studies Program
Boston College

The National Presidential Palace of Haiti before the earthquake
The National Presidential Palace of Haiti on 11 January 2010.




Haiti's National Presidential Palace after the earthquake
The National Presidential Palace of Haiti on 12 January 2010.