a week of serious reflection

This has been a week of serious reflection for me — and I’m sure for most of you, in view of the horrible events that have taken place in Haiti. So much can change in the blink of an eye.

As someone said at the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles last night, “If you’re human, you can’t help but be affected by what’s happened in Haiti.” And continues to happen. It’s so disheartening to see how long it is taking for help to make a significant improvement in the horror the surviving Haitians are living one week after the killing earthquake. Many who were fortunate (or unfortunate) to have survived the quake are now dying untreated from their injuries — or dying from hunger or thirst as there is no food or clean water to keep them alive. How much more can one battered nation take?

I hadn’t realized that Haiti has had one major natural disaster after another. In just the past five years, there have been many. More than 800 people were killed by Hurricane Hanna and storms in 2008. There was Tropical Storm Alpha in 2005 that caused massive flooding and evacuation. The list goes on. Take a look at this link for more: http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/disaster/listofdis.htm.

Being located in a hurricane path and on a subterranean tectonic fault has caused a string of natural disasters in Haiti. It is certain that future natural disasters will happen. The major earthquake that hit last week had been predicted by scientists. Not the exact date, but they knew it would happen. And there wasn’t anything that could be done to prevent it.

Haiti continues on — like a crippled child trying to walk — continuing to fall down with each step forward. Never knowing if it will see the light of a happy, accident-free day.

A friend of mine went to Haiti last fall on a volunteer mission to help test Haitians in need of eye glasses. She told me of the filth and horror the people were living in – and that was before this latest earthquake! She said that garbage one foot high was everywhere in the streets. That roads still hadn’t been repaired from previous storms. Her eyes teared when thinking of how that horror would now be magnified from the destruction of the January 12, 2010 quake with its whopping 7.0 reading on the Richter scale.

Many of the people who work in the Dominican Republic are from Haiti.

Many of the people who work in the Dominican Republic are from Haiti.

Coincidentally, exactly one year ago, I was on the same island of Hispaniola, lapping the life of luxury at a 5-star resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic — just 50 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It’s a difficult 5-hour bus ride over a mountain range from the province of Bavaro, DR (where you find Punta Cana and most of the tourist resorts) to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A relatively short ride, but it’s a complete world away.

It is utterly amazing how on the eastern half of the same island, life is pretty good for the locals who work at the resorts, and it’s certainly good for the tourists who come by the thousands each year to lay on the beautiful beaches and indulge themselves in the bountiful buffets. But on the western half of the island, Haitians live in filth and poverty, battling one major natural disaster after the other.

When we were in the Dominican Republic, I found it rather unsettling to know that we had to be accompanied by “Tourist Police” on the fabulous day tour we took with the Bavaro Runners tour company. http://www.bavarorunners.com/fulldaytour.html.

But police protection was necessary because the Haitians are known to assault tourists (for money, cameras, jewellery, etc.)  and even rob tour groups — out of desperation. Now I understand why.

I’ve made my donation to try and help Haiti via the Red Cross. They are one of the reputable organizations who operate efficiently, honestly and within a small overhead: http://www.redcross.org/.
The Salvation Army is boasting that 100% of all donations go straight to the Haitian cause and that there is no administrative overhead. They are one of our favourite charitable organizations:  http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/www_sa.nsf. No matter how and where you do it, please make a donation. It will help in some small way.

The big picture –as to whether all Haitians should be moved out and the land be left alone to withstand disaster without risk of human life, OR whether there are sufficient funds and manpower available to actually help rebuild Port-au-Prince to code (so that it has a chance at withstanding whatever form of natural disaster is next on the horizon) is far beyond my comprehension at this point in time.

But it certainly makes this writer’s own small problems seem much more manageable and insignificant.

Please share your thoughts. It is only through passionate, intelligent dialogue that we will be able to understand the challenges and improve the world in our own small and unique ways.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

18 Responses

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  2. wizardofwords says:

    Just got this new update today (Feb 8/10):
    "The federal government will match $113 million in donations that individual Canadians have made to the Haitian earthquake relief effort so far," International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said Monday.

    "The deadline for having personal donations matched by the federal government is Feb. 12," she added.

    Great news!

  3. wizardofwords says:

    I'm posting the following comments on behalf of tribe member, Big Roy, who has been having trouble posting to the blog:

    Kudos to all the NGOs turning themselves inside out and getting 'down and dirty' helping the Haitians.

    However, quicker work and fewer ANNOUNCEMENTS from Ottawa would have gone a long way to actually getting things done in Haiti, IMHO. Lucky for Harper he's prorogued Parliament or he'd be answerable to the opposition for his orgy of ANNOUNCEMENTS and lateness of showing up with help (in appropriate measure) in Haiti. China, from half way around the world was there in two days – pictures of Spanish military holding injured children were there in the newspapers on the third day. A CNN doctor worked all night the second night. All, on the ground and working.

    We've been helping Haiti for scores of years. It might have been better had we recalled this old adage over those last scores of years: "Give a person a fish and another'll be needed tomorrow – teach a person to fish and …" We should have been going the extra mile to help get the people self-sufficient over these, past scores of years. Regardless, we must assist to the limit of our ability. Our west coast is in peril of the same fate and we'd do no less for them.

    From the hard-nosed, pragmatic side of bigroy: anyone who has travelled has been face-to-face with the national police forces of other countries … and seldom do they meet the requirments that Canadians hold close and dear to our hearts. To seasoned travellers, even the term "national police" tends to bring chilling thoughts to the mind.

    We've already got criminal organizations with undesirable characteristics. Democracy doesn't have room for those attitudes in a national police force … in any measure.

    Doubly so when the force closes ranks so we can't rid ourselves of their bad apples.

    There are excellent reasons for disbanding the RCMP in spite of the fact that many are as good as they were 'in the old days.' Lack of pride in their professionalism is the cause for their descent, in the opinon of this old ex-cop.

    So, a long way back to the Highway of Heroes … the RCMP should avail themselves of their own customs and not try to hijack the customs of military units who have, in a more distinguished and professional manner as units, earned the honour we citizens have chosen to given our fallen soldiers.

    I'd say it was arrogantly, high-handed of the police to insert themselves into a ceremony chosen by the citizens for their fallen soldiers.

  4. Christine Peets says:

    Lest my earlier comment was misunderstood, I certainly didn't mean that we shouldn't donate what we can to Haiti. This disaster is of epic proportions and Haiti will need our help for years to come. Even the poorest of our poor are not likely in as dire straits as the Haitians. Watching some of the telethons last night was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. A local business here is donating the $100 cost of car detailing (thorough cleaning inside and out) to the Red Cross for Haitian relief. So we are having our car detailed today.I am donating my Shopper's Drug Mart Optimum points. It may only be $20 worth, but it's what I can do. I also gave some money to a street person yesterday, and I am bundling up all of our surplus mitts, scarves, etc. to take to a local mission. This is what I was talking about–let's give to Haitian relief as we can, but let's also not forget to help those in our own communities too. Thank you Doreen for your insightful post, and for allowing this discussion.

  5. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for bringing in the Montreal perspective, Tracey. It's really encouraging to see all the benefit concerts and fundraising activities going on in Montreal to help its Haitian friends. Looks like it's helping, as at Day 10 following the quake, aid is finally beginning to reach the people.

    And thanks to Irene Levine for chiming in as well. As fellow travel writers, you and I both know the obstacles facing the poor of the world on a daily basis, but when a crisis like this strikes, it must be magnified 100 fold.

    I am so grateful to live in a place with an abundance of clean water.

  6. Irene S. Levine, PhD says:

    Thanks for the post, Doreen. We are ordinarily so blind to a whole part of the world until travel or a disaster opens it up to us.

  7. Tracey Arial says:

    Today I woke up to find out Haiti suffered an aftershock that reached 6 on the Richter scale. Everyone who was safe may be in peril again. Here in Montreal, many people have family in Haiti. Now they are all struggling to find out whether their loved ones survived again. It does keep things in perspective. Like you Doreen, I donated last week to the Red Cross. My kids even donated.

  8. wizardofwords says:

    Here's the link to the article in the G&M that Heather spoke of:

  9. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for that tip, Heather. I'll see if I can access the article. (No hardcopy G&M here in Matlock!)

    It is indeed sad how differently Dominicans live compared to their Haitian neighbours. Someone very wise once said, "Life isn't fair."

    And now the Haitians had yet another pretty major quake (last night) cause tremors and some damage. Those poor people!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Heather Kent says:

    Today's Globe (P.A13) has an informative article, "A Tale of Two Nations" comparing Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (This is the hard copy, I don't know how to post those tiny url links). Striking differences of course such as an 80% poverty rate in Haiti, 42% in the DR, life expectancy of 60 in Haiti, 73 in the DR and much more. You might want to check it out.

  11. wizardofwords says:

    Terrific observations, Christine & Mariellen.

    You're right, Christine. I think world affairs sometime overpower what's happening in our own backyards. Hopefully the world will be a better place after this Haitian disaster as perhaps it will have awakened what is good in all of us.

    And you're right, Mariellen. For the most part, tourists don't want to see the bad. That's why it's so hard for us travel writers to sell articles that depict things as they really are. The advertisers don't like it, and people just want to go where the grass is green and life's a peach. But as you allude, that is beginning to change, and an increasing number of travellers are looking for the reality in any given place they visit.

    Good luck in your journey to India, and I hope you will write many enlightening posts and articles about your adventures.

  12. Christine Peets says:

    Like all of you, I too have been very moved by what the Haitians are going through.
    The news is full of reports of Canadians going to help; how they are feeling that no matter how much they do, it doesn't seem like enough. There are also reports of how generous Canadians are being, giving what they can, and turning events into fundraisers, like Virginia's group did.
    While all of this is commendable, I can't help but think: what has any of us done lately to help the poor, the hungry, the homeless in our own communities? How many of us have walked by, or tried to avoid someone looking for a hand-out? We need to remember that charity begins at home.
    I hope once the media attention dies down, there will be attention paid to other areas, and other people who need our compassion, and our help.

  13. BreatheDreamGo says:

    Hi Doreen,

    Just before this calamity, I wrote an article on The Matador Network in response to people who tell me they are afraid to go to India because of the poverty. They don't want to see it.

    I think the media and world travel is increasing a sense of global consciousness and making us aware of the inequity of material wealth. What's happening in Haiti is heartbreaking and there are similar scenes of poverty and desperation all over the world.

    We each have to figure out our own personal response, but denial is not the answer. For myself, I like Joseph Campbell's philosophy: "Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world."

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.


  14. wizardofwords says:

    I hear you, Irene, and agree that we can't stop travelling because of the Haiti disaster. I love to travel, too! The motivation for my post was to publicly apologize to the Haitians for what I had been thinking last year. (i.e. they were preying on tourists in DR and robbing them at every opportunity.) I now understand that it is/was out of desperation.

    I think that as long as we all help Haiti in whatever way we can, we are free to go on living our lives with a clear conscience.

    Have a great trip!

  15. irenemgordon says:

    We have just booked a 14-day cruise leaving from Puerto Rico on February 7. Like you, I almost feel guilty about going, but I realize that staying home will not help the Haitians and it will harm the people in the tourist business in the places we visit.

  16. Suzanne Boles says:

    Thank you for putting into words what I've been feeling. Today I went shopping but couldn't buy anything. I thought "I have everything I need, and so much more." I hope that everyone will donate something to help out. I found out that you can donate your HBC points to the Red Cross (online) and designate it to a particular cause. I donated 400,00+ points ($50) and chose Haiti.

  17. wizardofwords says:

    That's terrific, Virginia! Hopefully other groups will "seize the moment" as yours has done. It's certainly going to take a huge commitment of financial and human resources in order to make a permanent impact on the safety and viability of Haiti as a place that is safe for human habitation.

  18. Virginia Heffernan says:

    It was heartening to watch the donations pour in at the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame dinner on Thursday night. Even though it was a last minute decision to use the ceremony as a fundraiser, we brought in $900,000. Hopefully – with these kinds of numbers – there will be a silver lining for Port au Prince: a new urban infrastructure that's safer for its residents.

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