Haiti, cinq ans déjà


I believe the message I could share with the Haitian people is that they must learn to say, `STOP! That’s enough. We won’t accept this anymore.’ And start claiming and defending their rights.”

We cannot continue to live without hope.”

These are some of the concluding messages from a film, Resilient Hearts/ Kè Vanyan/ Cœurs vaillants, a documentary of the January 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, as much in `reconstruction’ as in the event itself. For thirty five seconds, the earth shook, opened, and then a world collapsed. Thousands of people killed, thousands of thousands of people injured, maimed, displaced, traumatized. And in some ways, that wasn’t the worst of it.

The earthquake didn’t take peoples’ rights. Goudou Goudou, as the event is known, didn’t remove hope. That grand theft was committed by something called the international community.

Three years ago, many watched as women organized, in the camps, in the streets, in the countryside. Women like Jocie Philistin and Earamithe Delva, the women of KOFAVIV, Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, took their experiences from the past and applied them to the present and future. They organized. Two years ago, many watched as women continued to organize. For example, in the Morne Lazarre section of Pétion-Ville, Réa Dol continued to organize the SOPUDEP school.

KOFAVIV and SOPUDEP continue, the women continue to organize. They continue building community and building strength, and they continue to blow the whistle on sexual violence, to insist on the importance of their own autonomy and well being, as the gears of so-called reconstruction try to grind their self-respect into so much dust.

And today, after so many billions of dollar of so-called `foreign aid’, Haitians ask, “For whom are we rebuilding the country?” Massive resort development construction in previously protected agricultural zones? Palaces for a few and seemingly permanent refugee camps for many? Begging on the streets? What does rebuilding a nation mean?

And they answer, in varying ways, “STOP! We can’t accept this anymore!” Women’s groups, community organizations, trade unions, farmers and farm workers and peasant organizations, LGBT groups, and others are connecting and organizing and not so much rebuilding as building anew. They are demanding and organizing for inclusion, democracy, and sustainability, and they are demanding more than token seats at the tables where decisions are made.

They are demanding dignity. When they demand permanent housing and clean water and safe spaces and decent work and more, it’s not because infrastructure is the end all and be all, but because to build anything, especially after having come through the fires, would be a betrayal of dignity and hope. Many in Haiti say that they must build life, not death. They must build cities and farmlands of life, not temples of death for many so that a few might live richly. The story of Haiti’s reconstruction continues, day by day, and it’s a contested narrative. There is no grand triumph, neither of the will nor of capital. But the good news from Haiti is that the struggle continues. La lutte continue. Lit la ap kontinye. It’s five years already.


(Photo Credit: Vimeo / Resilient Hearts)

Haiti, deux ans déjà

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower”

It’s two years already since the earth in Haiti burst open, and a world collapsed. That moment of rift is unspeakable and absolute. It does not allow for discovery or discussion. This is not about the event of January 12, 2010. This is about what follows.

What follows, what has followed, is called re-construction, but it’s an inapt term. There is no re-construction. There is construction anew.

For two years, now, people of Haiti, in the thousands, have been living in `camps’, in `informal settlements’ and `precarious circumstances’. In unacceptable, degrading conditions. For women, like Therese Charlemagne, it’s `simple’: “This place is ours, it’s our land. I didn’t buy this land. I built on it; I have a job. What else could I want? A house. A home.”

It’s simple … isn’t it?

Build houses. Clear the rubble. Clear the camps. Too often, clearing the camps has meant treating the residents as if they were the rubble. The Haitian government and the international funders and agencies that support it have consistently refused to enter into real consultation with the `camp dwellers’.

They have particularly refused to talk with the women and the girls.

The women and the girls in the camps in Haiti describe a culture of sexual violence. Rape is rampant, as are all forms of violence against women. The camps present row after row of despair.

But that is only half of the story. It is the half that concentrates only on the absence of homes, only on the presence of violence, only on the despair.

People in despair do not march, do not protest, do not organize. Organizing comes from hope. Women know this.

Women like Colette Lespinasse, director of Le Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés, or Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, know that building housing must mean building community. To build houses without deep and extended discussions with the people who will live in them is to deprive the future residents of homes. They get roofs, walls, floors … but they don’t get homes.

The women who are organizing in the camps, organizing against sexual violence, women like Jocie Philistin and Earamithe Delva, the women of KOFAVIV, Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, live that lesson out every second of every day. Ending violence against women must mean building community, communities of women and girls first, then larger and larger communities. It must.

Camp residents are described as`frustrated’. Although they certainly live with frustration, they are, more importantly, women, children, men, who are working, organizing, building a world, building homes and communities, building cultures and a culture to be cherished.

As Michaëlle Jean noted today, January 12, 2012 it’s two years already, it’s already two years. It is time.

It is time the stone made an effort to flower.”

More than fifty years ago, Paul Celan wrote those words out of his experience of and experiences in the German death camps:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower.
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.”

It is time.

It is time `reconstruction’ took on the beating heart.

In her poem “Stones don’t bleed,” Michèle Voltaire Marcelin transports and translates Celan to Haiti:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower
said Celan
It is time it bled red I say
And love
And love
And love
flowed out of its wound
for ever and ever
Amen …”

It is time to understand that the women struggling for houses are organizing communities and entire worlds. It is time to understand that the women organizing to end violence against women and girls are organizing peace, are organizing love.

It is time for houses, and it is time for roses. It is time to be guided by a song of hope, the song that Haitian mothers have sung to their daughters, the song that Haitian mothers sing to their daughters today.


(Photo Credit: Flickr.com)