This blog post is written by Rebecca Bowe, an intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office working on the Racial Justice Initiative. This summer she spent 9 days in Haiti with a mental health team, aiming to implement a mental health component to a medical clinic called The St. Rock Haiti Foundation. During her time there, she fell in love with the country and built strong bonds with members of the community. This blog speaks to how that experience influenced her reaction to the coverage of recent Hurricane Matthew.
Tuesday 10/4/16. I cannot sleep. My stomach is in knots and my heart feels like lead. How can a major disaster like this be happening again? I feel so powerless, so hopeless. I am in my comfortable apartment in Manhattan while Hurricane Matthew is directly destroying Haiti and people I love there are in fear for their lives. I think back to the relatively small rain storm I was caught in over the summer driving through Port au Prince. A little rain caused 12 hours of traffic…What would a category 4 hurricane do? The country’s infrastructure is not equipped to handle that level of distress.
I try to doze off but every time I close my eyes I receive another text update from Gerald. His family of 14 is huddled in their wooden shack praying on their knees. So far they all are safe but very much afraid. I wish I could say something to offer him any sense of comfort, but the truth is, there is not much to say. He mentions to me that they have no food to last them until the hurricane subsides. The nearest grocery store to his village is 27 miles away. How are they going to get food? Would the store itself even survive the catastrophe afoot? Gerald tells me that soon we would be out of communication. His cell phone will surely die and there and maybe no way to recharge it for weeks.
3AM. Still no sleep. But I have a text message…. Crossing my fingers that it’s Gerald with another update (hopefully positive) I glance at the screen and see it is something from a friend of mine in the US. I read, “Did you hear that Kim Kardashians just got robbed? What is wrong with the world, huh?”
My friend’s text stunned me. While I had been frantically trying to gain information on Haiti and fighting the urge to throw up out of pure anxiety, my friend was immersed in Kim Kardashian’s latest gossip, and sadly she was not alone. What felt even worse though is that I was forced to ask myself “If I had not spent time in Haiti and had a personal connection to the country and its people, would I even know the hurricane was hitting? And if I did, would my caring extend beyond the initial sting of first hearing about it?” My friend and her question “what is wrong with the world” played on a loop in my head. What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with the world?
After some processing and reflecting on this question this week, here is what I have:
What is wrong with the world is that close to 900 human beings have lost their lives due to the strongest natural disaster to hit their country since the 2010 earthquake. Instead of engaging in conversations about that, I am receiving texts about Kim Kardashian. What’s wrong with the world is that just a few weeks ago, two black men (Alfred Olango and Terence Crutcher) were murdered at the hands of police officers YET AGAIN, and the media barely covered it because “Brangelina” announced that they are getting a divorce. What is wrong with the world is that after the Paris Bombings last year, my Facebook newsfeed was booming with updated profile photos sporting the French flag in solidarity, while currently, my Haitian flag profile photo is one of three that I have seen. Who is to blame for this? A liberal media? A desensitized audience?
None of these instances is a coincidence; to the contrary, the lack of discussion about Hurricane Matthew or any of the examples above strongly correlates with what is really wrong with the world. The harsh truth is that societal conditioning and main stream media have programmed us to believe that there is a hierarchy in the value of human life.
We are growing numb to hearing about the ever growing epidemic of black men being murdered by police, as if to expect or accept it. Similarly, I would argue that hearing about 900 lives lost in Haiti does not shock our systems as much as it should because after all “It is Haiti,” a far off place that regularly faces political strife and natural disasters; a place that conjures up images in our minds of abject poverty, lack of resources, and constant struggle.
While it may feel more “comfortable” for us to chalk this up to a lack of personal connection or growing increasingly more “desensitized” to certain issues, here is the bottom line: Our lack of care has everything to do with our internalized biases and is nothing short of overt and covert racism.
It is a hard pill to swallow. After all, it is difficult to say what came first, the chicken or the egg. Does society care more about Kim Kardashian’s robbery than Hurricane Matthew because that is what the media is showing us more of, or is the media giving Kim Kardashian more airtime because they understand that their market would rather hear about Kim Kardashian then the wellbeing of people living in the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere?
As I write this, I can feel the anger bubbling up. The anger I so fear to feel, and with that the shame of recognizing that more times than not, I am a part of the problem. However, as painful as the recognition is, there are opportunities to make things better! We must remember that the media mirrors the demands of the people so let’s initiate conversations about things that truly matter.
Being part of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) enables me to engage in policy advocacy to address the various forms of racism. In the racial justice initiative, I intend to explore policy initiatives utilizing other Caribbean nations (CARICOM) to fight for economic relief for Haiti. I was glad to learn about the UUSC (Unitarian Universalist Service Committee), whose mission includes working toward a world free of oppression while utilizing grassroots approaches to restoring human dignity and power to the people. Their projects in Haiti have included emergency response capacity building and working with local partner organizations to assess the toll. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, UUSC is working with local partners to conduct an assessment of the greatest threats survivors face and put together an emergency crisis response.
I believe that people and organizations want to do the right thing. My fellow UU-UNO intern Kwanique Andrews and I will be collaborating with Capra Care, a non-profit organization that has dedicated their time to sustainable community health programs for people living in Haiti. Capra Care delivers a wide range of services ranging from school health programs, women’s health, mental health counseling and support, first aid and basic primary care. We look forward to collaborating with this organization and providing awareness on Capra Care’s relief action plan which you can find in the side bar.
But this is beyond us, beyond merely “doing the right thing”. We need to speak up. If we do not speak up this is what we might miss:
“Our friends from St. Boniface Haiti Foundation report tonight that in Les Anglais: 40,000 people, 82 houses left; 1 doctor; no food, no water.”- October 9th, 2016 #WhereistheMedia? #WhereistheHelp? - Harold Jonathan (Social Worker in Haiti)
Our silence while damaging to us, can be fatal to those whose stories go untold. For far too many, it is a matter of life and dealt. Let’s do better for them and for all of us.
Please support Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew by donating to UUSC's Haiti Crisis Response.