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Everyone knows that before the earthquake, before the hurricanes, Haiti was a mess. What can we really do to help Haiti? Of course, immediate relief aid is needed and the American people have been tremendously generous. The people of Haiti have nothing and no resources to draw on. They need the basics -- food, water, tents, -- and they need them immediately, but the world cannot go on supporting an entire nation on charity forever. Now is the time to think about what to do in the future.
The people of Haiti need jobs. The clean up and rebuilding will take time. Wealthy nations can fund that, but jobs funded by charity from other countries will not solve the underlying problems, because sooner or later the foreign money will dry up. What is needed are jobs that make things that people outside Haiti will buy and jobs that provide services to non-Haitians. This kind of business has a multiplying effect, because those whose work is paid for by foreigners can then buy from local businesses.
Some people were shocked when shortly after the earthquake a cruise ship stopped in Haiti. How can people be having fun with such tragedy near by? But diverting the ship to another port would only have put Haitians out of work and made Haiti’s problems worse, were that possible. What are needed are more cruise ships stopping in Haiti, not fewer. We need to encourage the building of lush resorts in Haiti, which will employ Haitians, and to vacation there.
One way to help Haiti in the long term is to start a “Made in Haiti” campaign. If American distributors of handmade goods were to outsource some of the work to Haiti, this could start an economic revival. Haitians could be employed making quilting, embroidering, knitting, crocheting, and hand-sewing garments for foreign manufactures. The start up costs of such industries is small, the benefits great. Suppose celebrities and socialites decided to have a “Made in Haiti Ball,” at which every one would have to wear a garment made in Haiti. If Made in Haiti garments were available at Wal-Mart, those of us who are uncomfortable buying Chinese-made goods because of China’s one child/abortion policy could buy Haitian.
Suppose the companies that supply vestments and altar cloths to our parishes were to outsource the work to Haiti. Every parish in the country could be encouraged to buy a set of vestments and altar cloths hand made in Haiti, even if they really didn’t need one. This would put Haitians to work and be a sign of solidarity with the Haitian people.
There is another thing that all of us can do and that is pray for spiritual revival in Haiti. It is well known that, while most of the people in Haiti are nominally Catholic, many combine their Catholic worship with superstitious practices, magic, and outright pagan worship. This kind of thing has happened many times before. In the time of Elijah, the prophet, the people of Israel saw nothing wrong with combining the worship of the true God with the worship of idols. The prophet Elijah assembled the people on Mount. Carmel and challenged them “How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him, if Baal (the pagan god), follow him.”
The people of Haiti need to be challenged to give up foolish superstitions and turn to the Lord with their whole hearts. The Carmelite order considers itself the spiritual children of Elijah, and so we could pray a novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, asking her to intercede for the suffering people of Haiti, so that their faith can be cleansed of alien elements.
Some might think that this is not the time to worry about such things, but this is the perfect time. When we look at the magnitude of the problems, it is easy to view the people of Haiti as children who simply need to be taken care of by wiser and stronger grown ups, but they are not children; they are adults who need to be called to economic and spiritual maturity.
Dale O’Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality.”