Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Younger Generation Speaks Out on Haiti: Régine Chassagne and Thymn Chase Weigh In

An exchange has taken place in the past two days in Facebook that is worthy of being replicated in these pages. In yesterday's posting about the tragedies unfolding in Haiti, I quoted a young person whose cynicism and inability to empathize with the plight of the Haitians was troubling. I am pleased to offer a more positive light on the perspective of some members of "Generation Y" (or, sometimes aptly referred to as "Generation 'Why?'").

The poignant words below are taken from an interview with a musician of Haitian heritage. Régine Chassagne is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist musician and singer, and a founding member of the indie rock band Arcade Fire. Here are her words, as reported in this past Sunday's edition of the Manchester Guardian, followed by a link to the original article.

"Somewhere in my heart, it's the end of the world.

These days, nothing is funny. I am mourning people I know. People I don't know. People who are still trapped under rubble and won't be rescued in time. I can't help it.

Everybody I talk to says the same thing: time has stopped.

Simultaneously, time is at work. Sneakily passing through the cracks, taking the lives of survivors away, one by one.

Diaspora overloads the satellites. Calling families, friends of families, family friends. Did you know about George et Mireille? Have you heard about Alix, Michaelle etc, etc? But I know that my personal anguish is small compared to the overwhelming reality of what is going on down there.

When it happened I was at home in Montreal, safe and cosy, surfing the internet, half randomly, like millions of westerners. Breaking news: 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti near Port-au-Prince.

Such emotion came over me. My breath stopped. My heart sank and went straight into panic mode. I knew right away that the whole city is in no way built to resist this kind of assault and that this meant that thousands were under rubble. I saw it straight away.

I ran downstairs and turned on the television. It was true. Tears came rushing right to my eyes and I let out a cry, as if I had just heard that everybody I love had died. The reality, unfortunately, is much worse. Although everything around me is peaceful, I have been in an internal state of emergency for days. My house is quiet, but I forget to eat (food is tasteless). I forget to sleep. I'm on the phone, on email, non-stop. I'm nearly not moving, but my pulse is still fast. I forget who I talked to and who I told what. I leave the house without my bag, my keys. I cannot rest.

I grew up with parents who escaped during the brutal years of the Papa Doc regime. My grandfather was taken by the Tonton Macoutes and it was 10 years before my father finally learnt he had been killed. My mother and her sister returned home from the market to find their cousins and friends murdered. She found herself on her knees in front of the Dominican embassy begging for her life in broken Spanish. Growing up, I absorbed those stories, heard a new version every year; adults around the dinner table speaking in creole about poor Haiti.

When I was growing up, we never had the money to return. Even if we had, my mother never could go back. Until she died, she would have nightmares about people coming to "take her away". My mum passed away before she could meet my future husband, or see our band perform and start to have success, and though I have dreamed of her dancing to my music, I know she would have been very worried to hear that I was travelling to Haiti for the first time last year.

It is strange that I was introduced to my country by a white doctor from Florida called Paul Farmer who speaks perfect Creole and knows how to pronounce my name right. He is the co-founder of an organisation titled Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Creole). There are several charity organisations that are doing good work in Haiti – Fonkoze is a great micro-lending organisation – but in terms of thorough medical care, follow-up and combining of parallel necessary services (education, sanitation, training, water, agriculture), there is none that I could ­recommend more than Partners in Health. It takes its work for the Haitian people very seriously and, indeed, most of the staff on the ground are Haitian. PIH has been serving the poorest of the poor for more than 20 years with a ­curriculum that really astounded me, given the limited resources available in the area.

Visiting its facilities, I was overwhelmed by, and impressed with, the high-level, top-quality services provided in areas where people own next to nothing and were never given the opportunity to learn how to sign their own name. I was delightfully shocked to see the radically positive impact it has had in the communities it serves. Of course, during my visit, I saw some clinics and hospitals that were at different stages than others, but through it all, I could clearly see that PIH staff are very resourceful and set the bar extremely high for themselves. I know that, right now, they are using their full ­capacities to save as many lives as possible.

So in these critical times where death comes every minute, I urge you to donate to Partners in Health (www.pih.org) and be as generous as you can. I know from having talked to some staff that they are on the ground right now, setting up and managing field hospitals as well as receiving the injured at their clinics in the surrounding areas.

I realise that by the time you read this it will be Sunday. The cries will have died out and few miracles will remain possible. But the suffering survivors should not be abandoned and should be treated with the best care countries like ours can offer.

Many Haitians expect to be let down. History shows they are right to feel that way. Haitians know that they have been wronged many, many times. What we are seeing on the news right now is more than a natural disaster. This earthquake has torn away the veil and revealed the crushing poverty that has been allowed by the west's centuries of disregard. That we must respond with a substantial emergency effort is beyond argument, but in the aftermath, Haiti must be rebuilt.

Ultimately, we need to treat Haiti with compassion and respect and make sure that the country gets back on its feet once and for all. Haiti's independence from France more than two centuries ago should be thought of as one of the most remarkable tales of ­freedom; instead, she was brought to her knees by the French and forced to pay a debt for the value of the lost colony (including the value of the slaves: the equivalent of $21bn by current calculations). We cannot ­overestimate the strength and resilience of the brave people living in this country whose ancestors had to buy their own bodies back.

The west has funded truly corrupt governments in the past.

Right now, in Haiti, there is a democratically elected government.

Impossibly weak, but standing.

This is the moment where we need to show our best support and solidarity.

Since Haiti shook and crumbled, I feel as if something has collapsed over my head, too. Miles away, somehow, I'm trapped in this nightmare. My heart is crushed. I've been thinking about nothing else.

Time has stopped – but time is of the essence.

So I've been sitting here at my computer, food in the fridge, hot water in the tap, a nice comfy bed waiting for me at some point… but…

Somewhere in my heart, it's the end of the world."

Manchester Guardian Interview with Régine Chassagne


Régine's faith in the work and reliability of Partners in Health is well-founded. I mentioned PIH in yesterday's post as an organization worthy of financial support during this time of crisis in Haiti and going forward.

My son, Thymn, who lives in Krakow, Poland, has traveled extensively, and has developed a broader perspective on the world than many of his generation. These were his words in sharing Régine's musings with his Facebook friends:

"Yes. Besides the fact that the Arcade Fire is one of the groups I most admire in the world, her pain is about as palpable and moving and her plea as earnest and heartfelt as anything I've read so far this horrid week... I hope her words affect as many people as possible - especially those in my generation who are already so cynical towards the crisis of the 3rd world that is crumbling away on the fringe of their perception."

Thymn cannot possibly have a conscious memory of his visit to Haiti when he was a babe in arms in the early 1980's. Our family visited with many friends in Port-au-Prince, Fermathe and Petionville. Certainly the humble homes where we were so graciously hosted have crumbled to dust in the face of the trembling earth. During that visit, Thymn, only a few months old, was held in a loving embrace by our friend, Dieu-la. Now, almost thirty years later, Thymn returns that embrace through his words and empathetic heart. May his words and thoughts inspire others of his generation to give - of their money and of themselves.

Thanks, son.




Casimir Deronette said...

Wow! This is a great blog! I enjoyed reading every line and felt everything that was shared! Thanks for sharing such a great blog!

Mark Sohmer said...

My heart breaks especially for the orphans (and new orphans.) I have been follo currentlywing closely a few Haitian orphanages because of my ties to the International adoption community. I am currently in the process of adopting abroad again, but sadly we are not considering adopting from Haiti because the Haitian government makes it unpredictable and even corrupt. I hope this tragedy leads to Haiti changing their adoption laws and procedures radically so the orphans can find loving homes. I would adopt from Haiti in a second if the corruption involved were gone.