Pledges from the conference totaled almost $10 billion in immediate and long-term aid to help Haiti recover, including $1.13 billion from the United States. Ambassador Merten stated strongly that the U.S. response would be to assist President Preval and the people of Haiti in reconstructing the nation, taking our lead from the Haitian Government.
Like the President and First Lady of Haiti, our ambassador and his family narrowly missed death on January 12 when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake — centered about ten miles away in Leogane — shook Haiti to its core, killing upwards towards 300,000 people. He told me his own earthquake story:
Lieutenant General Ken Keen, Military Deputy Commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, was visiting Haiti and we had just returned from visiting Cite de Soleil (see my story). We sat down on our veranda to have a Coke when the earth began to shake violently.
My wife and daughter were upstairs. I ran outside and began screaming to my wife, but she could not hear me. I learned later that she had been screaming desperately for me as well.
Somehow the house stood, and my family was spared. The water pipes burst and the house was flooded, but most people lost their homes – and many their families. What we lost was nothing by comparison.
“Whatever foundation we help lay here in Haiti must be a foundation we can build upon in the future,” Ken emphasized. And we must focus our efforts here more tightly.” He then outlined four specific priorities American aid would address: energy, agriculture, justice and security, and health.
“That’s a good plan which is badly needed,” Ambassador Merten responded. “Care will be especially important as the rainy season begins,” he continued. There are two rainy season in Haiti, he reminded me: April-May-June, and then August-September-October. As most of Haiti now lives in tents, the rainy season is especially dreaded for the disease it will bring to refugee camps.
We believe we have obtained full scholarships for ten of them to study in Beijing. But what about Harvard or the University of Akron? The Ambassador gave me his word that any qualified Haitian student we could get a scholarship for in the U.S., he would do his utmost to provide a visa to. Orphans International Worldwide will need to screen these applicants carefully.
In addition to having great academic scores and wonderful personalities, they must be able to deal with cross-cultural challenges and, like any visa applicants, have squeaky-clean backgrounds. We will require that they return to Haiti to give back for every year they study aboard.
As the Ambassador and I chatted, I discovered that he was from Ohio as am I. Small world! I wondered where he had attended school, and he told me Miami University. No! It struck me like lightening – as Ambassador to Haiti, he must speak French and my father taught French at Miami. Who was your French teacher, I asked cautiously. “Stan Luce!” The world is truly small, and made smaller every day.
Photos by Morgan Freeman. Originally published in The Huffington Post, April 19, 2010.
Other Stories and Interviews by/with Jim Luce about Reconstruction in Haiti
Film Shown at U.N. Donor Conference on Collapse of Haiti’s Presidential Palace (Huffington Post)
Inside the Shantytowns at Haiti’s Ground Zero (Daily Kos)
Live Report: No Spiders to Bite Me in My Pre-Dawn Haitian Shower (Huffington Post)
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