Starting anew in Haiti

Haiti does not seek charity, it seeks to found itself anew and provide opportunities for all.

Too often, charity is the term that leaps to the lips of people and media when they refer to Haiti. This has become even more prevalent since the earthquake of January 2010 that destroyed entire towns and took more than 200,000 lives.

Clearly the myriad natural adversities that include hurricanes, floods, droughts, and the earthquake endured by the Haitian people have contributed to the reflexive thinking of this Caribbean country solely in these terms. It is worthwhile remembering that the damage caused by these disasters wasn’t only natural, but also manmade.

Shoddy construction, decades of erosion caused by deforestation and inadequate planning all contributed to turn natural events into catastrophes.

The result is that it is difficult for many people to see Haiti as a land of opportunity. Yet today Haitians no longer speak of rebuilding their country; instead they insist that they are “re-founding” Haiti or simply starting anew. To Haitians, re-founding is understood as constructing a new country that will leave old aims and standards behind. It will provide new opportunities for its citizens and those who are willing to take Haiti toward a better future.

Walking through the streets it’s easy to sense the collective feeling that the country is re-founding itself. This new country is reflected in a strong, unshakable sense of commitment.

I know that the hope of the Haitian people is solid and clear-sighted. They are aware that they don’t need charity, but rather opportunities to demonstrate their strength to overcome adversity. This desire to excel has been amply demonstrated by Haitians living outside of their homeland who, for various reasons, have sought opportunities abroad. These ambassadors for Haiti abroad are a bridge to new ideas for the development of the country.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in Haiti. The urgent call has come to leave behind the dependency and international guardianship that has prevailed for decades and find a new rationale for foreign direct investment, for international cooperation and for its renaissance as a country. The basic principles of this new paradigm must include strengthening institutional capacities, governance and human resources, the expansion of knowledge, the empowerment of civil society and the creation of favorable conditions for the development of a national economy.

These should be the basic principles for Haiti’s re-founding based on new solid ground with a plan that marks milestones and achievable goals.

Michaelle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy to Haiti, former Governor-general of Canada