By Alicia Hughes
In 2010, Haiti, a naturally beautiful paradise nestled amongst the irony of extreme squalor and abject poverty, was hit by a devastating earthquake. In one iteration or another, everyone in Haiti was affected for the worse. Families were permanently damaged, with many people dying, institutions considered bedrocks destroyed and many children became orphaned. The imagery of Haiti’s devastation projected by news outlets around the world was gut-wrenching. Our hearts naturally bled for Haiti.
After the earthquake, millions gave aid, through loose and coordinated efforts and charities. Unfortunately, the aid has done little long-term to alleviate the abject and systemic poverty that is a way of life there, a far fall from being the first and only country to date to successfully lead a slave revolt.
Friends of mine began organizing “Hearts for Haiti” coordinated events and parties throughout the country to raise awareness and funds to help the rebuilding community. The events were largely successful, however, four years later, with the television camera lights shut off and ink dry from the pages of news articles that inspired us to care, still hobbling along is a complex and ragged Haiti, where life-changing aid did not get to the people most in need.
I am fortunate to be joined by a cast of everyday and influential philanthropic friends and current/former elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, to encourage once again, “Hearts for Haiti.” Our current focus is on promoting educational opportunities for higher education to substantially impoverished, first generation college students.
Upon leaving the Port au Prince airport, one is immediately met with an environmentally unfriendly smog-infested Haiti filled with masses of poor, proud people – hopeful and helpless at the same time. There are still tent cities and shanty towns. Traffic and transportation systems are primitive. The only form of public transport is the tap-tap, a non-government funded vividly colored and decorated, dusty pick-up truck that treks up and down dirt roads and pothole-filled, crowd-infested streets that flood when it rains due to poor irrigation and hand-dug ditches. While there are the haves, there are far more have-nots. Homes with no lights, no electricity, and no running water are commonplace for have-nots fortunate to have a home at all.
But even in Haiti, education is the great equalizer. Somehow, children all over the country are dressed in clean uniforms and presented for grade and high school daily. Students are disciplined and attentive in class, because they respect teachers and understand the opportunity to learn is a privilege. College students often take 4 or more tap-taps and awaken and start their journeys as early as 5:00 am to get to class. Again, education is a privilege.
[quote]Approximately 70% of working age citizens in Haiti are unemployed. Of the remaining 30% who do have jobs, the minimum wage a lot of them receive is $5/day or $100/month, which equates to $1,200/year. A college education is roughly $1000-$2000/year per student, which puts college out of reach for most families.[/quote]
Washington, DC spends approximately $18,667 per year per student and Arlington, Virginia, approximately $18,675 for a public school education. What we spend on just one grade student here could fund a full year of university studies for a graduating senior class in Haiti! I learned first-hand working with a 35-year old non-profit in Haiti, Double Harvest.
Double Harvest Haiti has a community church, a top of the line medical clinic and employs more than 800 Haitians, teaching them sustainability and agricultural harvesting techniques. Most important to me, Double Harvest Haiti provides an education to more than 500 students annually and has existed for only the past 20 years – http://www.doubleharvest.org/where/haiti/school.
I was privileged to spend quality time with the 18 members of the graduating class of 2013 at the Double Harvest School last year. Today, 12 of the Class of 2013’s 18 graduating seniors are college freshmen in Port au Prince. Their majors include accounting, engineering, medicine, law and public affairs. All are first generation college students poised to substantially improve the well-being of their families. The excitement is daunting and now, the Class of 2014 has 35 students! The seemingly helpless have again become hopeful.
Education is the human rights issue of this generation. I wholeheartedly ascribe to the Chinese proverb “give a man to fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime.” College education, especially in a place like Haiti, enables one to eat for life and feed his/her family.
A little known Black History Fact is Haiti was the first country to successfully lead a slave revolt. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the colony of St. Domingue, now Haiti, furnished two-thirds of France’s overseas trade, employed 1,000 ships and 15,000 French sailors. St. Dominigue was France’s richest colony and the envy of other European nations. That envy was short-lived, however. In August 1791, a twelve-year long slave revolt, also known as the Haitian revolution, broke out to garner human rights.
In the words of Max Lucado, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”We are hosting a fund and awareness raiser on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at the 201 Lounge on Capitol Hill at 5:30 pm to fund Spring semester tuition for these 12 first generation college students.
Please join us by going online to www.doubleharvest.org and donating according to your own heart’s desire. Please note your contribution for “Haiti college tuition” in the comments section. Your contributions are tax-deductible. We have a suggested minimum contribution for our event of $30/person, and all revenue generated goes to tuition.
Alicia Hughes is a former Alexandria City Councilwoman and Miss Black USA ’99 through USA Metroplex Pageant Systems, Inc. She is a graduate of Texas Southern University and the University of Miami School of Law where she was a Miami Scholar for Public Interest. She is an Aspen Institute Rodel Fellow, a Delegate to the American Council on Young Political Leaders and a University of Virginia Sorensen Institute Fellow.
HEARTS FOR HAITI: HOST COMMITTEE — Former Alexandria City Councilwoman Alicia Hughes, Chair * Mr. Antilla Trotter III, Co-chair — Alexandria City Councilman John Chapman * Former Alexandria City Councilman Frank Fannon * Mr. Isaac Fordjour * Mr. Siraaj Hasan * Lisa Hibbert-Simpson * Ms. Kendra Gillespie * Mr. Al Grant * Ms. Gaea Honeycutt * Mr. Darrell “DJ” Jordan * Arlington School Board Vice Chair James Lander * Alexandria School Board Vice Chair Chris Lewis * Mr. Michael Lyles * Ms. Deborah Mack * Mr. Michael McQuerry * Mr. Scott Price * Mrs. Carla Bass Richmond * Mr. Cheeky Sasso * Ms. Angela Turner * Ms. Shavannia Williams