The immediate toll of the earthquake in Haiti is unfathomable. Fifty thousand dead (so far) with an additional three million homeless or injured. Horrifying images illustrate these statistics – a bulldozer scooping away piles of bodies, a dead child being tossed out the back door of a hospital, a foot poking out of a mountain of concrete. Tens of thousands of people gather at the central park in Port-au-Prince, searching for family, food, and water. And this is to say nothing of long-term cost of fallen schools, ruptured roads and ports, and the enormous gaps left in the Haitian government after many of their occupied buildings collapsed.
While the earthquake was a natural phenomenon, the impact was anything but. As demonstrated by the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and now the Haiti earthquake, natural disasters disproportionately affect the poor and the vulnerable. To understand why Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, we must look to its history of hundreds of years of ruthless occupation by the Spanish and French. The colonial rule stripped the land of its resources and wreaked havoc on the indigenous population by means of slavery and disease. The 1915-1934 United States occupation set the stage for future destruction, which was followed by US involvement in aiding dictators and undermining democratically elected leaders. It is no mere coincidence that Haiti is so poor. Nor, as some bozos would like us to believe, is it a matter of a “pact with a devil” or a “progress-resistant culture.”
Northwestern University’s campus has been shamefully quiet in its response to the Haiti earthquake. Many have questioned whether Northwestern should do anything at all.
We can and we must respond. First, it’s about us. The earthquake is much more connected to our community than many realize. I know of several Northwestern students and employees who have been desperately trying to get in touch with friends and family in Haiti, but to no avail.
Second, it is matter of social justice, a matter of righting past wrongs. For too long, we as individuals and as a nation have stood by silently as Haiti suffered as a direct result of the actions of our government. This time, we can stand on the right side of history. Lastly, it’s because we have the money to do it. Nearly all of us can afford to dig into our pockets and give $5, $10, or $20 to support the ongoing relief efforts.
So, as my now favorite actress Meryl Streep remarked at the Golden Globes, “Shoot some money to Partners In Health and be damn grateful you have the dollars to help.” To give to Partners In Health, one of the leading aid organizations in Haiti, visit the Northwestern University community fundraising page at http://bit.ly/NUhaiti
Globemed National Office