The policies of the United States have contributed to Haiti being the poorest western nation. Because of this, we should it take it upon ourselves to help improve the economic situation on the island.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton conveyed this message to the small crowd at the Higher Grounds Cafe on North Third street in Philadelphia on Nov. 18. He hosted the fundraiser for the House of Grace Haiti Health Care Project which he created.
Gumbleton stated that Haiti has paid over $21 billion in reparations to France and this, along with the foreign policy of the United States in the ’90s, has contributed to the islands inability to thrive.
“France and other countries, including the United States, tried to prevent this country from flourishing. We could not recognize a country of slaves when we had so many of our own,” Gumbleton said.
Haiti is in the midst of a health care crisis. It currently has the highest infant mortality rate among western nations. Haitians are most likely to die from diarrhea, respiratory infections and malaria.
“You all probably have some awareness of Haiti and its lack of access to water. People are dying from diarrhea. It’s so simple to stop diarrhea. Really think about what that means. It doesn’t take a doctor to solve this problem,” Gumbleton said.
Katie Huynh made her initial trip to Haiti five years ago on with a human rights group. She was inspired by Gumbleton and so the House of Grace Haiti Health Care Project was formed to improve the lives of those on the island.”The best word that can describe it is apocalyptic,” Huynh said of her initial impression.
Currently more than half of the children in Haiti suffer from malnutrition.
“Hunger means something different down there. Kids in Haiti will eat cookies made of dirt. They’re eating it to not feel hungry,” Gumbleton said.
Despite the grim outlook, Gumbleton said that you can find a deep sense of community and commitment to the greater good among the Haitian people when you work closely with him.
“If we stop oppressing them they can start to solve their problems,” Gumbleton said.
In the 1990’s was shaken by the political unrest and the exile of its first elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to South Africa. Gumbleton knew him personally and defended him against political and media attacks.
“We can no longer just ignore the poor because we’re rich,” Gumbleton said.
Justin English, a Rutgers University law student, wanted to do something different on spring break during his freshman year at Pennsylvania State University. However he was shocked when he realized how different it really was.
“I never in my life had seen anything like that,” English said. “I was thinking, ‘how do people live like that?'”
On this trip, English was able to see that hope in the Haitian people despite the economic struggles the country is trying to overcome.
“The emphasis was on solidarity. We wanted to get to know the people,” English said.
In the United States, our generation doesn’t seem to be turning a blind eye according to English.
“Young people here are resistant but there is an interest to know a different culture,” English said.
The director of the Chester County Peace Movement was also in attendance. Kara Porter had Gumbleton speak to the group a few years ago and was inspired the speech on Wednesday.
“We’re citizens of the world, not just this country.” Porter said. “Do we want to live in a gated community or do we want to engage?”