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Hope for Haiti

January 14, 2010

If you’re like me the photos from Haiti that are beginning to flood the news media are almost too much to take. The magnitude of the devastation, the dead bodies and wounded survivors, the piles of rubble hiding unknown numbers of people. As a mother, the images of wounded children especially rip at my heart and I’m tempted to just turn away, turn it off. How many people will be lost? How will communities ever rebuild? How will the country ever recover?

Haiti was already struggling to overcome years of violent conflict, political strife, and high levels of poverty. A UN peacekeeping mission was helping bring greater security, but real and durable peace for Haitians was still a long way away. Then this.

I can’t imagine holding even a drop of the suffering the people of Haiti are experiencing right now. Even from my desk in Washington it’s hard to find anything hopeful to hold onto in the face of so much human suffering. Looking at pictures from the disaster just now, I was reminded of the earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985. Some 25,000 people died and it devastated the city. It took decades to rebuild and the city still bears its mark.

But it also marked an important turning point for Mexico. Because the government was incapable of responding effectively to the disaster, a vibrant Mexican civil society was born out of the dust of the earthquake. Communities organized relief efforts, pooled resources, and discovered they were a powerful force in society. Civic associations were formed, non-governmental organizations seeded, and the next 20 years saw the boom of Mexico’s now vibrant social justice civil society.

I don’t claim that the same will happen in Haiti, but the photos we’re seeing do tell another story along side the suffering. A story of doctors and nurses and relief workers and families and neighbors and strangers pulling together to help each other through the crisis. Of local relief efforts forming, national leaders responding, and international aid pouring in. I’m glad to see Congress mobilizing US assistance and calling for long-term commitments to help Haiti recover. The suffering in Haiti will never be erased, but perhaps some hope can emerge in the collective humanitarian response of Haitians and the international community and in the long process of rebuilding the society – and hopefully a durable peace – that will have to follow.

Click here for how Congress – and you – can act now to help Haitians recover.

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