In the immediate aftermath of January’s earthquake in Haiti a number of American government officials and Haitian leaders began deliberating a proposed “Marshall Plan for Haiti.” Writing in The Wall Street Journal on January 30, Haitian Ambassador to the United States Raymond A. Joseph punctuated his appeal: “ ‘poor Haiti’ has contributed greatly to the wealth and the freedom of many. Now it seems that the whole world is poised to return the favor.”
Interest in this proposed Marshall Plan has waned since January; even as governments and development agencies continue assessing the eventual costs of rebuilding Haiti (e.g. the Preliminary Damage Needs Assessment (PDNA) projects the tally at 11.5 billion). However, calls for Haitians around the world to rally together have persisted. In New York, a group of Haitian Americans have begun promoting “A Surge for Haiti”—a term borrowed from the U.S. strategy in Iran and Afghanistan.
The United Nations Association (UNA) Haiti’s “Surge” has two main goals: normalizing life for Haiti's children through a month-long Olympic-style event; and helping families in desperate need earn an income while helping youngsters with music and artistic talents through microfinance.
Speaking at a recent press conference held on the steps of city hall in New York, UNA Haiti’s Secretary General, Harvey Dupiton, was clear to point out that this surge “is not a military surge, but a people surge,” and one that this is being enacted “on behalf of Haiti’s children…without whom [the country] has no future.” To relieve any fears that UNA-Haiti was promoting a resurgence of the militarism that haunted Haiti during the Duvalier regime, Dupiton was sure to clarify the rationale behind adopting the term “surge.”
Groups like UNA-Haiti are not the only ones ramping up their humanitarian efforts in Haiti. In a recent entry on The Root, German-based Haitian American writer Rose-Anne Clermont profiles some Haitian Americans who returned to Haiti to help with relief efforts. The figures in Clermont’s article range from those who had already been working in Haiti to those springing to action after the January 12 earthquake. Uniting the prodigal sons featured in Clermont’s essay is an unwavering desire to do more for Haiti.
One wonders though: a surge in Haitian-American volunteerism after the earthquake was inevitable, but the question is if this revamped volunteerism is sustainable. After all, when it comes to Haiti, progress is seemingly embodied by a gaggle of constantly emerging organizations and individuals seeking to improve life. Far too often these efforts have either been too overwhelming, too redundant, too sporadic, or at the very least exhibiting poor coordination between different groups. Without a clearer consensus on the historical legacy that these ventures are building on, progress in Haiti risks being relegated to being more of a verb than a noun.
* Ferentz Lafargue is guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org and is an assistant professor at the The NewSchool for Liberal Arts.