As reported by the oldest worldwide news agency in the world, the Associated Press, another school has collapsed in the land of my ancestors, Haiti. That’s two in less than a week, for a combined death toll of nearly 100 and some 150 injured.
The country, where Mother Nature’s wrath, in the form of four consecutive tropical cyclones (Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike) killed some 800 people and decimated 60% of already scarce crops, is certainly on shaky ground. It is easy enough to imagine overly saturated soil might have allowed foundations to shift dangerously, until the buildings collapsed. The pictures from the first school in Pétionville, however, revealed bare rebar and concrete that has literally pulverized.
In what appears to be an open letter to the Haitian government, the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (Rassemblement des Démocrates Nationaux Progressistes, RDNP)—which currently holds only one seat in the Haitian Senate— is calling for a special investigation into the collapse, suggesting members of various institutions are, if not a directly responsible, certainly morally so. The RDNP apparently insists on a full investigation that would lead to arrests (beyond that of the school’s owner), prosecution and incarceration.
That’s all well and good, but the fact is Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Corruption in that country has been rampant for decades and has actually grown worse since the ousting of the Duvaliers. Children eat dirt pies, literally made of dirt, lard and salt. If they can afford it: the price has risen to 20 cents, a pittance to us, the difference between life and death over there.
People have been trying to help for so long, I have never, in my nearly 40 years of life, thought of Haiti without thinking about foreigners lending their hearts and giving their courage to this nation, once so proud to be the first to wrestle independence from it’s Masters less than 20 years after the United States gained independence from England. How far Haiti has slid, in spite of the efforts of people like Mallery Thurlow. I came her story while researching the dirt pies.
The problem is, between all the political corruption and the maintenance of an equally corrupt military state, the brightest people have fled decades ago. Most of what is left is the worst the country ever had to offer. Desperation and hunger has forced even the proudest to do what they never would have thought themselves capable of. In Haiti, more so than in most other places in the world, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. If you have the right contacts, you not only live, you thrive. The wrong contacts can get you kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, killed. With no contacts… well, unless you’re either very clever or well-to-do enough to leave altogether, you’re flat out of luck.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m assuming it’s still possible to survive in Haiti without too much trouble. After all, foreigners are still able to come in and help out, and I’m not hearing a lot of outcry from aid agencies. But to expect a country, whose governments have operated for decades in what can best be described as moral and social turpitude, to put in the effort required to do what is right, might be a bit of a stretch.
Then again, the death of so many children in a man-made catastrophe may be enough to shake the country out of it’s apparent apathy. One can always hope.