It was almost seven years after the 2010 earthquake had decimated Haiti that I found myself in an old van rumbling down cracked roads through the small village of Grand Goâve, Haiti. Trash was strewn all over. It had accumulated in mountains on the edges of the road and in the old cement drainage ditches. The buildings all looked like the tops had been cut off and concrete rubble was built up around them. I slowly began to realize that the crooked structures made of jagged rusty metal and blue tarps were what people called home. It looked like Grand Goâve had not improved at all since the day the devastating earthquake struck. The earthquake that decimated the country destroyed the infrastructure of the small town of Grand Goâve, but also it had numerous effects on social life in the village and the country. It is important to ask: what have been the positive and negative social effects of the efforts to restore Haiti after the earthquake?
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a staggering 80% of its people living below the poverty line. Furthermore, 54% of the country lives in abject poverty, meaning that people lack the basic necessities of life like ample access to food, water, electricity, and education. The 2010 earthquake caused $7.8 billion in damage and caused the country’s GDP to shrink from $674.30 per capita in 2009 to $669.19 per capita in 2010. Haiti operates with a free market economy and has tariff-free access to trade in the U.S., but is often unable to compete with the prices that other countries can provide for goods. Haiti’s economy is hindered by its unstable political environment and its failing infrastructure. The government in Haiti receives over 20% of its annual budget in the form of foreign aid (“The World Factbook: Haiti”).
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. The epicenter of this massive earthquake was about 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. The village of Grand Goâve lies about 40 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake is estimated to have killed over 220,000 people across the country, injured over 300,000 people, and affected 3,500,000 people. The country was left even more ill-equipped to deal with this tragedy when 25% of the civil servants in the capital died (“Haiti Earthquake Facts and Figures”). Earthquakes are still impossible to predict and the country’s infrastructure was already weak before the earthquake, so the nation was ill-prepared to deal with this disaster. Grand Goâve is one of the many villages that felt the devastating impact of the earthquake. It was settled by the Amerindians who gave it its name. It is one of the oldest villages in Haiti and lies along a beautiful coast that provides the village with fishing that makes up a large portion of the economy in the town. Grand Goâve, like most villages in Haiti, is very poor and most of its 27,500 inhabitants live well below the poverty line. The 2010 earthquake is estimated to have damaged over 90% of the village’s homes and buildings (Hands and Feet Project: Grand Goâve).
One of the most tragic effects of the 2010 earthquake has been the increase in orphans after so many adults were killed. Half of Haiti’s population is under 18 years old, partly due to the low life expectancy and limited knowledge and access to contraceptives. UNICEF estimates that the 2010 earthquake left 20,000 children without their parents (Elliott). Some of these children have been taken care of by friends or relatives, but many of them have been left to fend for themselves. A small portion of these orphans are lucky enough to get into an orphanage where they are cared for. The orphan crisis caused by the earthquake has had an effect particularly on Grand Goâve because foreign organizations bought land in the village to build orphanages to combat this crisis. One of these orphanages called Be Like Brit was started by a Massachusetts family who lost their daughter in the earthquake while she was in Haiti for a missionary trip. Be Like Brit houses 66 orphans and provides all of them with education. The children are sent to schools in Grand Goâve so the children can connect with their community. Be Like Brit has become the largest employer in Grand Goâve, employing over 100 Haitians on average and even more for special projects like construction. Be Like Brit has had a large effect on the community because it provides about 2,000 gallons of free clean water to people each day, a basic necessity that would not be available to people without this service. The organization has built over 70 structurally-sound houses for people in the area and also has a medical clinic that is open to people in the community (“Our Impact: Be Like Brit”).
Other charitable organizations that have been built in Grand Goâve include Heart to Heart Haiti, Tree of Hope Haiti, and the Hands and Feet Project. Heart to Heart is a non-profit in Canada that has provided a home for 110 orphans over the years and currently provides education for 600 students in Grand Goâve. It also operates churches in the community that provide a variety of services for people like health and dental care, professional development programs, employment opportunities, and adult literacy programs (About Us: Heart to Heart Haiti). Tree of Hope, another charity run out of Grand Goâve, was created after the 2010 earthquake and has a commitment to provide clean water to people in the village, currently serving about 400 people each day. The organization also builds houses for people who lost their homes in the earthquake and offers support for the education of poor children in the community (“Our Projects: Tree of Hope Haiti”). The Hands and Feet Project in Grand Goâve is a non-profit organization that receives children from Haiti’s Child Social Services. This project offers children who are leaving the orphanage at 18 years old the opportunity to live in a “Transitional Care Home” until they are 21. They are given work in these homes and are required to study too. The Hands and Feet Project operates a company called Haiti Made that uses Haitian laborers and materials to make products like bracelets and necklaces. The profits help the Hands and Feet Project continue to fund their important work (“About Us: Hands and Feet Project”).
All of these charitable projects have created a new social dynamic in Grand Goâve because many foreigners, mostly from the U.S., have become a part of the community. The differences between Haitian and American techniques can be seen in the building of the Be Like Brit orphanage. Richard Korman, the American supervisor for the building of the orphanage, wrote that Haiti is a “tradition-bound country,” and that “Haiti has methods of construction that have evolved over hundreds of years” (Korman 1). He described the Haitian construction techniques as more reliant on brute force than precision. Korman’s description of differing construction techniques points to the bigger question of how a small village like Grand Goâve will handle the increase in foreign influences that have come since the earthquake.
Even though there has been a lot of positive work done by charities in Grand Goâve, there has also been some problems with aid for the country. USAID is one organization that has delivered over $3 billion to Haiti in the form of reconstruction projects and humanitarian aid. However, local Haitian workers are often forbidden from working in these projects and the organization employs US companies to do the work. This means that US companies are making profits while Haitian workers are finding it harder and harder to find employment. USAID also claimed that they would build 15,000 houses for Haitians after the earthquake but had less than 1,000 built by 2015 (Kao). Part of the problem with organizations like USAID is the lack of accountability for how these organizations spend the money they receive. People who donate to these organizations are rarely told where their money actually goes. These organizations have also been found to stretch the truth when reporting the work they do in Haiti. One of the more reputable and well-known organizations, the American Red Cross, has been under scrutiny for this issue. This charity raised over $500 million worth of relief money for Haiti after the earthquake. According to a study done by NPR and ProPublica, the organization claims to have built homes for over 130,000 people but has actually only built six houses. According to Laura Sullivan, a writer and researcher for NPR, when they looked for all of the money that American Red Cross raised, they “found a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success” (Sullivan 1). It is clear that foreign aid can help Haiti a lot, but it is important to have clear and guided missions with this aid.
At the time of the earthquake, there were over 10,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Haiti. This number has increased even more since the 2010 earthquake. The increase of foreign aid through necessities like free food and water is good for people, but it can also raise unemployment because many Haitians sell these products to make a living. In particular, the rice industry in Haiti has suffered because Haitian rice farmers cannot compete with the rice that is provided through foreign aid (Jobe). Foreign aid agencies must be careful not to make Haiti too dependent on aid and must set up the country for a sustainable future. This will have to be considered by the organizations that have come to Grand Goâve since the earthquake to provide relief.
Haiti was ranked 138 out of 191 countries for the World Health Organization’s overall evaluation of health system performance (Tandon). The Cuban Journal of Tropical Medicine conducted an experiment in which they tested 2,084 people in Haiti for malaria and found that 7.05% tested positive. Grand Goâve, Cayes, Jacmel, Petit Goâve, and Thomazeau were the regions with the highest rates (Fernandez). The inadequacy of Haiti’s healthcare system is especially visible in poor villages like Grand Goâve. Grand Goâve’s healthcare system was plagued by political violence in 2004 that caused most of its local doctors to abandon their clinic. Only Dr. Ricel Chavez, a surgeon from Cuba, remained at the clinic through the violence. Chavez said that the doctors and staff needed to leave the medical compound to get necessities like food and water and “if there are protests and people with guns, your life is in danger and no one goes out” (“Volatile Situation in Haiti” 1). Foreign organizations have tried to combat the lack of healthcare in Grand Goâve since the earthquake and attempted to provide the medical services for the people of the village that the government fails to provide. They provide opportunities for medical personnel from countries like the U.S. to go to Haiti for short trips to provide care for the people. As helpful as this work has been for Grand Goâve, it is important to develop a more sustainable medical system in the village that is run by Haitian doctors who are committed to staying and working in the village.
The 2010 earthquake also caused a notable shift in the religious attitudes of Haiti and Grand Goâve. Churches are important infrastructure in Haitian society and many were destroyed as a result of the 2010 earthquake. The Grand Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was one of the larger churches that collapsed after the earthquake and when it fell the archbishop of Port-au-Prince was killed along with many Haitian worshippers. Churches in Grand Goâve were also damaged, but parishioners continued their worship with masses held in tents afterward (Eberhard). Coping with a disaster “refers to a person’s efforts–both cognitively and behaviorally–to manage taxing or stressful events” (Smith 3). In the aftermath of disasters like the 2010 earthquake, people often turn to religion because it can create a sense of hope that comforts people. Vodou is a traditional Haitian religion that encompasses a worldview on religion and philosophy guided by the principle that everything has a spirit. A large number of the Haitian population that practiced Vodouism before the earthquake have since converted to Christianity because they felt like their Vodou spirits failed them. The 2010 earthquake increased the number of Christian mission groups that visit small towns like Grand Goâve to do charitable work and spread their faith. This caused an increase in exposure to Christianity for people in Grand Goâve and created a good reputation for the faith because of the aid that Christians have provided. The flock to Christianity has also been aided by the fluidity of Vodouism. Vodouism is a fluid religious identity, meaning that people who practice Vodouism can easily convert to other religions, like Christianity (Richman).
When I made my own trip to Haiti, I went with a group from the Catholic high school I attended. We were fortunate enough to be brought to mass at a church in Grand Goâve. The church itself was more like a pavilion with a tin roof and wooden benches for chairs. The church was filled with people, much more so than my home church in the U.S., and we were welcomed graciously. The priest had a translator with him because they knew that we were coming and wanted to make us feel welcome. When they ran out of chairs for all of us to sit in, a group of Haitians ran to get more for us. It was clear to me that the people at the mass were enthusiastic about their religion and were inspired by the hopeful sermon from the pastor.
The 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 decimated the country’s already weak infrastructure. It also had a large effect on the social structure in the small coastal village of Grand Goâve. These effects include an orphan crisis that has led to a new social dynamic in the town with foreign charities and orphanages now residing there, changes in healthcare, and an increase in the number of Christian converts. The aid that has been provided to Grand Goâve has been very helpful for the people there, but the town is still not self-sufficient. Small villages like Grand Goâve are all over Haiti and need to be brought to a sustainable position for the country to climb out of poverty.
“About Us: Hands and Feet Project.” Hands and Feet Project. N.p., 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.
“About Us: Heart to Heart Haiti.” Heart to Heart Haiti. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Del Carmen Marquetti Fernandez, Maria, Beltran Velazquez Viamontes, and Raymundo Cox Itraola. “Malaria Diagnosis during the Training of the Cuban Staff in Haiti.” Cuban Journal of Tropical Medicine 65.1 (2013): 125-30. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.
Eberhard, Marc O., Steven Baldridge, Justin Marshall, Walter Mooney, and Glenn J. Rix. “The MW 7.0 Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010: USGS/EERI Advance Reconnaissance Team Report.” U.S. Geological Survey (2010): n. pag. EBSCO. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Elliott, Debbie. “In Haiti, Quake’s Orphans Long For A Home.” NPR. NPR, 09 Mar. 2010. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.
“Haiti Earthquake Facts and Figures.” Disasters Emergency Committee. N.p., 01 May 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
“Hands and Feet Project: Grand Goâve.” Hands and Feet Project. N.p., 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Jobe, Kathleen. “Disaster Relief in Post-earthquake Haiti: Unintended Consequences of Humanitarian Volunteerism.” Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease: n. pag.EBSCO. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
Kao, Cynthia. “Haiti’s Multi-Billion Dollar Humanitarian Aid Problem.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 May 2017.
Korman, Richard. “Strong Guys with Mallets.” Engineering News-Record 271.4 (2013): n. pag. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
“Our Impact: Be Like Brit.” Be Like Brit. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
“Our Projects: Tree of Hope Haiti.” Tree of Hope Haiti. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
Richman, Karen E. “Religion at the Epicenter: Agency and Affiliation in Léogâne after the Earthquake.” Studies in Religion 41 (2012): 148-65. EBSCO. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
Smith, Lauren E., Darren R. Bernal, Billie S. Schwartz, Courtney L. Whitt, Seth T. Christman, Stephanie Donnelly, Anna Wheatley, Guillaume Casta, Nicolas Guerda, Jonathan Kish, and Erin Kobetz. “Coping with Vicarious Trauma in the Aftermath of a Natural Disaster.” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development 42 (n.d.): 2-12. EBSCO. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Sullivan, Laura. “In Search Of The Red Cross’ $500 Million In Haiti Relief.” National Public Radio. N.p., 03 June 2015. Web. 21 May 2017.
Tandon, Ajay, Christopher JL Murray, Jeremy A. Lauer, and David B. Evans. “Measuring Overall Health System Performance for 191 Countries.” World Health Organization (2016): n. pag. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
“The World Factbook: Haiti.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.
“Volatile Situation in Haiti Prevents Aid Organizations from Delivering Assistance.” Interview by Bob Edwards. National Public Radio. N.p., 09 Mar. 2004. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.