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Haiti group calls for student action, awareness

Ashley Charnley | Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Haiti Working Group discussed the food shortages, poverty, and political and economic unrest in Haiti, calling for action from Notre Dame students during a lecture entitled “Why Haiti?” in McKenna Hall Auditorium Tuesday evening.

“As Americans, as very privileged people, we are often ignorant to what is going on in other parts of the world or even the poverty that surrounds us,” Erin Wash, a member of the class council for 2009 said. The discussion’s goal was to raise awareness about Haiti in order to increase the success the Class of 2009’s clothing drive for the Haitian people, Wash said.

The discussion was led by Jean Marc Bissou, a Haitian lawyer who earned his degree from Notre Dame, Fr. Tom Streit, a research assistant professor in biological sciences who has done work in Haiti, and Brennan Bollman, a senior Biology and Peace Studies major who spent seven weeks in Haiti over the summer.

The group passed out papers with the basic facts about Haiti, a small country that shares an island with the Dominican Republic east of Cuba. It has a population of almost nine million and its official languages are French and Creole.

Bollman began the discussion by showing a film about food riots that have occurred in Haiti in the past few weeks. The movie showed people being forced to eat “cookies” made of dried mud, dirt, and water in order to sustain themselves.

In 2006 and 2007, the United Nations (UN) took an interest in the high rate of gangs and crime in Haiti and began a stabilization mission in the country, Bollman said. However, the UN was terrorizing citizens during these raids, she said.

“They probably did need a security force to lend strength to the local police, but then on the other hand you had these poor civilians being terrorized,” she said.

This situation helped inspire Bollman’s interest in the country.

“The Haitian people are incredible, really friendly,” she said. “They are very aware of their situation and their rights. Although the individual suffering is a definite issue, the structural violence is a problem. There is a lack of opportunity and health care in the country.”

Hospitals in Haiti have closed and now it is difficult for people in need to access them, she said.

Bissou discussed possible solutions Haiti could pursue. He spoke of the need for international help such as finances from the United Nations.

Countries continue to offer help but do not follow through, he said. The United Nations and other countries proposed that Haiti receive $10 million in financial aid; however, only two percent of that has been given to the country.

“It is unacceptable that in this century, a country in the Americas is facing extreme poverty,” Bissou said.

Streit said he thinks the University should offer aid to Haiti.

“I think that Notre Dame with so many ranges of talent, interest, and enthusiasm, Notre Dame could perhaps offer Haiti some things, some ideas, some areas of expertise we have here on campus,” he said.