The challenges facing Haiti existed before the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, according to Winnifred Brown-Glaude, professor of African-American studies at the April 6 screening of “Road to Fondwa.”
The event, sponsored by Here for Haiti, drew students and faculty members and included a panel discussion following the film. The panel consisted of Robert McGreevey of the history department, Maggie Benoit of the physics department and Brown-Glaude.
The documentary, made in 2008, showed the Haitian community of Fondwa and the progress the people there have made to respond to the extreme poverty.
Many countries, such as the United States, Canada and France have “put their hands on Haiti,” said a man in the documentary.
During the panel discussion, McGreevey talked about the “history of interdependence” between the U.S. and Haiti and the “legacy of racism” present in American attitudes toward Haiti, the first independent black republic. This could be seen, he said, in “how the relief aid was handled” after the earthquake.
The Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF), established in 1988, has been working toward solving the community’s problems. Already, the town has potable water, a school, a radio station and a health clinic, said one of its members.
The film shows the people of Fondwa working to build up the road needed for development in an act they call a konbit, which is working together toward a common goal.
Joseph Phillipe, a priest in the film, set this example by studying abroad and returning to help his hometown.
All of Haiti needs to develop, so Fondwa wants to “share this experience with other areas,” Merault, the community leader in the film, said. “Fondwa is like one finger in the hand … if you don’t have all the rest, you will be handicapped.”
Brown-Glaude spoke of the “perception that the current conditions of Haiti’s underdevelopment … were caused by internal factors.” Without letting “corrupt politicians and elites off the hook,” she said, the external factors of “the globalization of the economy” and the “double-edged sword of humanitarian aid” should be acknowledged.
Because of free trade, the entire agricultural sector of Haiti’s economy was “devastated,” she said, emphasizing rice specifically. Haitians can buy American-grown rice for much cheaper, so Haitian farmers cannot make money.
Many people have moved from the rural areas to the cities to find jobs that are not available, creating a “concentration of poverty in the city,” she said.
The earthquake caused a “reverse migration,” and the rural towns are now faced with the challenge of “absorbing the large number of people moving back,” many of whom are not skilled as farmers.
In terms of aid, while people should keep giving, Haitians need to have “a larger voice” in how the money is being used, she said.
Benoit explained the physics of the earthquake that occurred in Haiti, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, and why the damage and death toll there was so much greater than in Chile, which recently had an 8.8-level earthquake that released 500 times more energy.
The earthquake in Chile, she says, was 35 km deep, and the one in Haiti was only 15 km deep.
According to Benoit, the loose, wet soil in Haiti also caused the buildings, which were built with concrete that is not reinforced and other materials not made to withstand earthquakes, to fail because “the foundations were compromised.”
The re-development needs to be “realistic” in building new, safer structures “with the resources available,” she said.