Haitian Americans United 11th Independence Day Gala January 7, 2011 “Rocks in the Water and Rocks in the Sun”



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Haitian Americans United

11th Independence Day Gala

January 7, 2011

Rocks in the Water and Rocks in the Sun”



Mesi anpil, Eno Mondesir, epi mesi anpil a tout zanmi m Ayisyen ay American. Mwen kontan isit la aswè a. I am honored to be celebrating with you tonight the 208th birthday of the first free Black nation and the second oldest free nation in the Western Hemisphere. n fèt, Ayiti! Happy Birthday, Haiti!

Tonight we remember the bravery of those who defeated – like David slinging rocks against Goliath -- the most powerful army of their day!i And tonight we remember the other Goliaths that have obstructed Haiti’s sovereignty over two centuries – not only France, but Spain, England, the United States, and international financial institutions which have imposed economic constraints. Controversy stirs about the Goliath of the United Nations, a keeper of peace, which through tragic malfeasance, has become a bearer of death. Controversy reigns regarding the proper role of Goliathian private aid contractors and international NGOs. Haiti is surely still struggling for her independence, for her right to chart her own development. At the same time, she requires enormous and expedient assistance to reverse two centuries of subjugation by external forces, as well as brutal oppression by some of her own leaders.



So what is the best way for us – Haitian Americans and Friends of Haiti -- to help Haiti today? That is the topic I have been asked to help us consider tonight, from the perspective of the Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation.

Over the last two years, what I have learned about life on Haitian soil and about the strength of the Haitian soul has come from many of you. I have been tutored by the extraordinary members of the Haiti Fund’s Advisory Council, especially our Chair, Marie St. Fleur, and by the passionately committed staff at the Boston Foundation. I am honored be speaking on behalf of this team tonight, but I do so hoping that you will all continue to enlighten me, correct me, and continue to share with me your undying passion for your homeland, which I have adopted as my own.

While learning about Haitian culture, I have been struck by the power of Haitian proverbs. I imagine that Haitian proverbs – with all their nuances -- are all the more potent for people long denied the right to learn to read, as well as the right to speak the truth to power. One particular proverb reverberates in me: ch nan dlo pa konnen doulèch nan solèy: The rocks in the water cannot know the pain of the rocks in the sun.”

I am clearly a “rock in the water,” privileged simply because of where and to whom I was born. But I cannot overlook the pain of the “rocks in the sun,” for we are born of the same earth. Rather, I can understand the pain of “the rocks in the sun,” because we are born under the same heaven. What I CAN learn will always be cloudy and imperfect, but I MUST TRY, for we were all created to belong to one another. “Wòch nan dlo ka aprann doulè wòch nan solèy: the rocks in the water can learn the pain of the rocks in the sun.” And furthermore, simply by virtue of residing in this country, we all are “rocks in the water” – and we have the power to shield other rocks from the injustices of the scorching sun.

Tonight’s Haitian Independence Day Gala honors those “rocks in the water” who have learned and embraced “the pain of the rocks in the sun.” Senator Kerry has championed the creation of a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program to fast-track the immigration of Haitians with approved visas to join their families in the U.S. This measure is far from popular given the anti-immigration mood of many politicians in this country. Still, Senator Kerry and his staff have listened deeply, have empathized, and have acted boldly. On behalf of hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in sub-human conditions, and on behalf of their anguished families in the US, we thank you, Senator Kerry.

Cherylann and Lenny Gengel have known the deepest suffering imaginable, the loss of their daughter, Brit. Instead of succumbing to grief and resentment when she perished in Haiti, they adopted her mission of caring for Haiti’s orphaned children. When you listen to Cherylann speak about their mission, you only hear words like, “blessing,” “couldn’t have been a coincidence,” “part of a bigger plan.” As a mother of adopted children myself, I am deeply inspired by their faith that God has called them to this new life devoted to Haiti’s youngest “rocks in the sun.”

At the Haiti Fund, we, too, have been working to understand “the pain of the rocks in the sun.” Just two months after the earthquake, and after an outpouring of support from the Greater Boston community and beyond, the Haiti Fund joined the Barr Foundation of Boston, the Trotter Center at U Mass Boston, and the National Haitian American Elected Officials network in sponsoring a conference for over 150 Haitian leaders from the Diaspora and from the nation of Haiti to negotiate principles for the rebuilding of their country. Hundreds more Boston-area Haitians, including many of you in this room, participated via a Town Hall meeting. Haitian entrepreneurs listened to Haitian peasants; Haitian Americans listened to Haitian officials; Roman Catholics listened to Evangelicals; elders listened to young adults; Haitians who speak French listened to those who speak only Creole; those who left during the Duvalier regime listened to Haitians who remained and supported Aristide. Indeed, “the rocks in the water listened to the rocks in the sun.” And together, they drew up five principles for the Reconstruction of Haiti – five principles that guide the approach of the Haiti Fund – and which can be guidelines for us all.



The first principle demanded that all Haitians be empowered to have a voice in the rebuilding process, particularly those persons excluded in the past -- like the disabled, women, youth and rural citizens – as well as members of the Diaspora. The conference urged support for “watchdog organizations” to make aid flows transparent to the public and to monitor whether marginalized Haitians were truly invited to the planning table.

In keeping with this first principle, the Haiti Fund has made grants to grassroots journalists and radio broadcasters, to a coalition of Haitian civil society groups pressing for permanent shelter, and to train Haitian NGOs to track US aid and to declare how those monies should be spent.

This principle of inclusivity – of listening to and equipping “the rocks in the sun” -- should be paramount, but it has been largely ignored by the biggest funders since the earthquake. Picture this: According to USA Today, of the $379 million in US emergency relief aid for Haiti, authorized right after the earthquake, only five cents of every dollar went to pay Haitian survivors for recovery efforts, and just less than one cent of every dollar went to the Haitian government.ii “Fòk sa chanje: this must change!”

Of the overall $1.6 billion in US relief dollars issued by August 2010, 41% had gone to our Department of Defense, 13% to our Department of Health and Human Services to cover expenses for Haitian evacuees; 22% to USAID; 9% to the US Department of Agriculture for emergency food assistance; 1% to the Department of Homeland Assistance for immigration fees, etc.iii

The same pattern was repeated by other donor nations, according to the UN Special Envoy for Haiti. Of the $2.4 billion in humanitarian relief funding from all countries, only “1 percent was provided to the government of Haiti, (and only) four-tenths of one percent … to Haitian NGOs.”iv “Fòk sa chanje: this must change!”

I don’t want to get us bogged down in statistics. I also don’t want to imply a lack of gratitude for the rapid and magnanimous response of the U.S. government and other governments to do whatever they could to save Haitian lives. My husband, who was on the ground in Haiti when the American troops landed, as he is today, said he was deeply grateful for their extraordinary service.

My point is this: many donor countries poured out funds in humanitarian assistance, but much of those funds cycled right back to those donor countries. No Haitian citizen had a say in the allocation of dollars, from the top officials to the poorest peasants. If we want to help Haiti become self-sufficient, “Fòk sa chanje: this must change!”

Our first priority – no matter what the size of our project in Haiti -- must be to give everyday Haitians a say in how money is spent and to eliminate revolving-door-style aid.



The second principle articulated at the Haitians Building Haiti conference was to build the capacity and mobilize the existing talents of Haitian civil society organizations and of the Haitian government. The conference urged all entities to train and employ the local workforce, whenever possible, before engaging outside experts.

This principle is in stark contrast to practice. “Of the 1,490 contracts awarded by the US government between January 2010 and April 2011 “only 23 went to Haitian contractors, who got only 2.5% of the total reconstruction dollars.” Contractors from the Washington, DC Beltway, on the other hand, garnered over 39% of the money. “Fòk sa chanje!”

On the other end of the spectrum, the Haiti Fund has been building the capacity of grassroots organizations and small Haitian enterprises. We have supported four peasant organizations, drawing upon their own ingenuity; equipped community-based sewing enterprises employing groups of women; and made grants for construction training for Haitian masons and youth. If we want to help Haiti, then whatever project we do, let it be geared towards equipping Haitians to do it.

The third principle articulated by the Haitians Building Haiti Conference was to promote decentralization of the population away from Port-au-Prince by making investments in all 10 Departments. To this end the Haiti Fund has supported projects in 8 out of 10 Departments to make all of Haiti more liveable. I have heard over and over again, if we want to help Haiti, we must close the chasm between urban and rural Haitians. For too long Haiti has been two countries -- the capital and everywhere else – but now resources, expertise, and government services must be equitably distributed so the country can advance as one nation.

The fourth principle from the conference was that NGO projects must align with and be accountable to the reconstruction plans of national and local Haitian authorities. Clearly, this is easier said than done. So often, WE, as grantmakers, as members of hometown associations, as missionaries, we may have a sincere passion to help and a great idea for service, but do we check to see if it is congruent with a local or national plan? Do we ask a mayor or a government minister if what we have to offer is what they need or want? Unless we start these consultations and public-private collaborations from the very beginning, rather than after the fact, Haiti will remain stuck. Haiti will continue to have the proverbial 10,000 NGOs tripping over each other and the Government will still have meager skills, capacity or authority to solve its people’s problems.

The fifth and final principle called for was respect for Haiti’s sovereign cultural identity and an understanding of Haiti’s distinctive social realities. Plans should not merely mirror those from other contexts, but reflect Haiti’s rich culture and emphasize her native Creole language.

To this end, the Haiti Fund has supported schools in which children are taught Haitian music and art, as well as other subjects, in Creole. We have made grants to schools that uphold the peasant way of life by putting vegetable gardening at the center of the curriculum. We have funded the dissemination of an accelerated program for teaching and healing Haiti’s restavek children, in partnership with the Ministry of Education.



If we want to help Haiti we must understand her culture. That is why Haitians who live abroad can be the greatest gift of all to Haiti – not only through remittances, but through respectful, culturally-sensitive partnerships that honor Haitian wisdom.

By using these five principles as a framework, we can all empower the citizens of Haiti to rebuild their country. Yet, the more I have been trying to comprehend the “rocks in the sun,” the more I have come to believe that the five principles from the conference did not go far enough. I suggest three more priorities.



First, the brutality and injustice inflicted upon women in Haitian society cannot be a footnote or a side issue. It not only holds women back, but impedes the progess of Haiti as a whole. Whether state-sponsored violence, as in persecution by armed forces; or criminal violence, as in the epidemic of rapes in the tent camps; or domestic violence, because women are treated as property and subhuman; or structural violence that denies women education, or land title, or access to birth attendants – all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls cripples Haitian society. “Fòk sa chanje: this must change!”

I say this not based on ideology, but based on fact. The data from across the globe proves that when women are educated, they educate a village – and they bear fewer children. When women are loaned a bit of capital, they use the profits to feed and school their children. When women’s bodies and health are respected and nurtured, they become more productive citizens. If we want to lift up Haiti, we must ask with every single project, “How will this lift up Haiti’s long-suffering women?”



Secondly, I have come to believe that no development project will ultimately succeed unless anchored in respect for the rule of law and for the human rights of all persons. Unless people are free from fear, they cannot be free to create and innovate. Unless people have the right to speak without reprisal, they cannot check the runaway powers of officials or elites. Unless courts prosecute fairly, and stay open when they should, the people cannot trust that truth will prevail. And without trust in the truth, the “rocks in the sun” will not reveal their pain to the “rocks in the water,” divisions will fester, and Haiti will never move forward. Without insisting that all officials and all citizens uphold human rights and end a culture of corruption and impunity, then no number of water projects, schools, clinics, farms or worker coops can create a more prosperous Haiti!! “Fòk sa chanje!”

To instill respect for the rule of law and trust in the truth, the Haiti Fund has been supporting the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, IJDH, and its Haitian-based partner organization, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. IJDH and the BAI are defending tent camp dwellers against forced evictions; are working with women’s organizations to defend victims of rape; are defending prisoners barely surviving in barbaric conditions; and are assembling voluminous evidence to try political criminals, including former President Duvalier. IJDH – right here in Boston -- is rebuilding the very fabric of a society torn by decades of oppression by dictators and henchmen propped up by Goliaths beyond Haiti’s borders. “S’ap chanje: this will change!”



Thirdly and finally, I contend that we need to use the power we each have as residents of THIS super-power to shape policies that will open the door to a brighter future for all Haitians on the island and here at home. We need to be organized and prepared for the next crisis, whether natural, economic or political. We need to be vigilant to ensure that the world’s good will, will be directed towards where Haitians know it can do the most good.

A highly-tooled coalition of human rights and faith-based organizations in Washington, DC, called the Haiti Action Working Group, has done a superb job monitoring political developments, lobbying decisionmakers, and drafting resolutions calling for greater oversight of US aid to Haiti. One of their current campaigns has been the implementation of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. But these groups do not have enough help or solidarity from Haitian Americans. “Fòk sa chanje.”



Haitian Americans can hold the U.S. government to her ideals of democracy, to her ethos of generosity, and to her long-term promises. Haitians here have far more leverage over Congress than do Haitians anywhere else.

But to have influence, as individuals and organizations, we must first be united – not seeing everything in exactly the same way – but united in our commitment to listening to each other and advocating in the halls of power… and united in our commitment to building bridges between Diaspora organizations.



How can we individually and collectively help Haiti? Together, we can rewrite one key Haitian proverb: “Wòch nan dlo ka aprann doulè wòch nan soley: the rocks in the water can learn the pain of the rocks in the sun.” In so doing, we can help Haiti become secure, self-reliant, prosperous, and rightfully proud of her place in history as the first fully free Black nation under the sun.

i Ibid., Proud Haitian., Yanatha Desouvre http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/proud-haitian/id469354053?mt=8 and https://www.facebook.com/ProudHaitianapp


ii From “AP: Haiti got getting little US qake aid,” January 28, 2010, USA Today. On line at http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-01-27-Haiti-aid_N.htm as cited in Bill Quigley and Amber Ramanauskas, “Haiti: Where Is the Money?” an unpublished paper. A summary of this paper without footnotes was published on-line in Counterpunch as “Haiti After the Quake: Where the Releif Money did and Did Not Go,” January 03, 2012, http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/03/haiti-after-the-quake/


iii Percentages here are calculated based on dollar amounts provided by the Congressional Research Service, ‘FY2010 Supplemental for Wars, Disaster Assistance, Haiti Relief and Other Programs,” August 6, 2010, Report 7-5700, R41232, Page 52. Online at: http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/crs/R41232.pdf and cited in Quigly and Ramanaskas above.


iv Comprehensive statistics are drawn from HAS AID CHANGED? Channeling assistance to Haiti before and after the earthquake. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. June 2011. Page 15. Available online at: http://www.haitispecialenvoy.org/download/Report_Center/has_aid_changed_en.pdf and cited in Qugily and Ramanaskas above.


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