Haiti

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UT alum Chandler Busby had to make many adjustments after moving to Haiti, such as leaving the comforts of living in a developed nation behind for daily power outages and unreliable services.

Busby relocated to Haiti after graduating in May 2012 with a double major in apparel design and retail merchandising. In December 2013, Busby began running a new business, Fait La Force, which is a collection of goods that are marketed for buyers outside of the country and made by local Haitian artisans.  

“The physical and emotional challenges into this culture have been so worth it,” Busby said. “It’s challenging, but I feel like it’s a diamond in the rough.” 

Busby’s relationship with Haiti began when she took a trip to the country as a student with a campus group her sophomore year. Following that first trip, she returned several times to Haiti to work with the local artisans before making her move in September  2012. 

“My first trip here was a cheesy, typical mission trip,” Busby said. “I think I was blessed with ignorance because that’s what made me fall in love with the country.” 

After first moving to Haiti, Busby worked with Haitian Creation — a nonprofit sector of Heartline Ministries that supports local artisans. From the nonprofit, Fait La Force was born.

The business is broken up into two sectors that include in-house workers and those who make products in their own workshops. The in-house workers include 60 artisans who focus on sewing and making jewelry products. The outside workers specialize in more traditional crafts, such as working with bone. 

“Living and working here is just hard,” Busby said. “That’s why I think it is so important — because of the challenges the workers face. They need to participate in economic development since so much is falling down around us here.” 

Although her company stemmed from a nonprofit, Busby makes sure that customers understand that Fait La Force is a for-profit company now, not a charity service. Fait La Force makes men’s and women’s accessories, as well as home products. The artisans work with materials such as leather, signature waxed denim, horn, bone, recycled metal and banana and palm leaves.

“It’s really important to us that what we’re making is really functional, simple and will last for a long time,” Busby said. “People who buy our products prefer quality over quantity and care more about the process behind the product.”

Haitian Fabienne Beblet is the agent manager of Fait La Force and is in charge of taking the orders, running the payroll and working with the in-house artisans. 

“The most important thing that [Busby] is doing right now is giving us jobs and giving us work to do to help our families,” Beblet said. “We can improve what we are doing by learning stuff too.”

Since her first trip to Haiti, Busby focused her energy on the goal of one day working in the country. Her senior fashion line was Haitian-inspired and she worked with Haitian Creation in Haiti to fulfill her internship requirement.

“I was hoping to bring more attention and awareness to the artisan work in Haiti,” Busby said. “It’s super inspiring to me. Yeah, there is poverty and corruption, but I wanted to be able to spotlight the beautiful things that can come from here.”

Retail merchandising professor Nancy Prideaux supported Busby’s decision to intern in Haiti and helped work out her graduation requirements in order make the internship possible. With Prideaux’s support and her own determination, Busby has already achieved her goal of running her own company.

“She has found a way to satisfy her creativity and have it also meet her needs of making a difference in others’ lives,” Prideaux said. “She didn’t pick the glamorous route, but she picked the route that was right for her.”

Working through Partners In Health, medical anthropologist Paul Farmer has established a dozen public health care clinics around the world to combat a variety of infectious diseases and empower poverty-stricken communities. Photo courtesy of PBS.

As the director of Partners in Health and United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, Paul Farmer has a legacy of healing and activism that spans from Mexico to Russia. In celebration of his new book “To Repair the World,” the author and medical anthropologist will speak about his experiences as an international health advocate on Monday. 

Farmer’s success in the realm of public health stems largely from his ardent convictions about medical treatment in general.

“The fight for health as a human right ... has so far been plagued by failures,” Farmer said in an interview with National Public Radio in 2008. “Failure because ill-health, as we’ve learned again and again, is more often than not a symptom of poverty and violence and inequality. We do little to fight those when we provide just vaccines.”

The Partners in Health organization that Farmer co-founded in 1987 takes this idea a step further. According to the organization, medicine isn’t the solution to a country plagued by disease, malnutrition, violence and lack of infrastructure. The solution, they argue, is giving each community the tools necessary to combat poverty.

Among the Creole-speaking population of Haiti, “Dokte Paul” has attained somewhat of a celebrity status. Many other health care professionals had written off the Caribbean island as a lost cause, but Farmer saw an opportunity to reach out and bring advanced medical care to an undeveloped nation. 

“The assumption that the only health care possible in rural Haiti was poor-quality health care — that was a failure of imagination,” Farmer writes in “To Repair the World.”

Farmer’s visit is part of a biannual lecture series hosted by the Humanities Institute and comes in the context of planning for UT’s new medical school. He currently holds a Ph.D. in anthropology and a degree in medicine from Harvard University. 

According to Lynn Selby, a graduate student in the department of anthropology, Farmer works as a medical anthropologist examining the “social and cultural dimensions of illness, health and medicine,” and often advocating the idea of social justice. 

For Deliana Garcia, director of the Austin-based Migrant Clinicians Network, Farmer’s humane and pragmatic model in Haiti and other countries has worked better than previous attempts.

“Context is everything to him,” Garcia said. “He can look at the human emotional piece, he can look at the programmatic piece, he can look at the dollar motivational piece, he can look at the absence of the science and he can hold all of those things simultaneously and still work toward solutions.”

Melissa Smith, a physician at the Seton McCarthy Community Health Center, is excited to see what impression Farmer will leave on UT students.

“We have an opportunity with the new Dell Medical School at UT-Austin to train new physician leaders to respond to the challenges of the 21st century,” Smith wrote in an email. “Dr. Farmer’s approach of working in partnership with communities, to focus on the root causes of health problems and to find innovative, cost-effective ways to provide high quality medical care, would transform medical education and ultimately, the health of our community.”

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder discussed regional crime with Caribbean leaders on Monday during a summit in Haiti.

Holder talked with the leaders of mostly English-speaking Caribbean countries about crime problems, efforts to curb weapons and drug trafficking and a need to alert countries in the region about imminent deportations at the conference of the Caribbean Community, known as Caricom, held at a hotel in the Haitian capital.

Hundreds of thousands of people from Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and other nations have been deported to homelands they barely know since the U.S. Congress mandated in 1996 that every non-citizen sentenced to a year or more in prison be booted from the country upon release.

“With regard to deportees, I think what we need to do is make sure that we give as much notice as we possibly can before people are to be released and deported from the United States,” Holder told reporters. “As we increase the more general capacity, law enforcement capacity, security capacity of the nations of Caricom, they will be in a much better position to deal with these deportees from the United States.”

Holder also met privately with Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, who assumed the chair of the Caricom group in January and will hold the title for six months.

It’s the first time Haiti has hosted a Caricom conference. The gathering ends Tuesday afternoon.

Holder flew Monday afternoon to Thomas, Virgin Islands, where he is to meet with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

—Associated Press

Last month, the Distinguished Speakers and Music and Entertainment committees brought “Arcade Fire: A Lecture on Hope, Haiti and Service” to the LBJ Auditorium. Whether students lined up in anticipation for the event out of genuine interest in Haiti or because they appreciate the band and its music, it was difficult to not be intrigued by the optimistic two-hour talk about the type of service Haiti needs, its continued development and its rich culture.

The band’s lecture provided UT students with basic but necessary guidelines on how to get engaged in service, not only in Haiti but for any issue of interest.

Ultimately, philanthropy is an active choice; no force compels students to improve their community, country or world. Of course, most students involved in philanthropic causes are not doing so out of a guilty conscience but because giving back is important to them and because involvement in philanthropy makes them feel connected to others.

Deciding to chiefly dedicate to one cause does not have to be based on its relative worth, but on personal interest, connection and previous experience. When an incoming freshman enters the university, he or she encounters a tremendous variety of clubs and programs dedicated to widely different efforts. They are all significant to someone and they all need advocates, so it can be difficult to commit to just one. Arcade Fire, who has been working for Haiti for six years, advised UT students to “stick to one thing and make it happen.”

This advice is perfectly reasonable as students can fall into the trap of spreading themselves too thin or becoming too overwhelmed and ultimately doing little of substance. Band member Régine Chassagne recalled that the band had a difficult time initially deciding which cause they could use their newfound influence to support until she asked herself, “What is the most relatable thing?” answering her own question with “Well, my family is from Haiti and Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere.”

But deciding where to give your time is just the beginning. Researching effective ways to make a difference is in some ways even more difficult. Although some observers think contributing money to a cause is overly simplistic and doesn’t qualify as good philanthropy, money is the basis of aid and shouldn’t be viewed as harmful. The key is that the donation of money should be to a reliable and well-established organization with a transparent record. Arcade Fire donates one dollar from each concert ticket to the Haitian effort and has collected about one million dollars to date.

They give to Partners in Health, the second largest organization in Haiti, which provides informed and thorough aid. The majority of its directors are Haitians, and the organization has worked in the country for nearly 25 years to give the community ownership of its own development.

For those wanting a more direct, personal way to give, the opportunity to travel to the region to witness improvements as can be inspiring and rewarding. Goodwill is only the first ingredient in the recipe for becoming involved in a cause. Afterwards, what must be added is the duty to become informed, to act smartly when choosing how to convert your desires to help into concrete strategies (whether it is through a promising, ambitious start-up organization or a well-established one) and the determination and persistence to continue and evolve the effort.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies freshman.

Arcade Fire's Regine Chassagne speaks to an audience Monday about the importance of advocacy and volunteer sercice in a lecture entitled "Hope, Haiti & Service."

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Undaunted by the complexities of outreach to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, Grammy award winning band Arcade Fire hopes to help forge bonds with Haiti by combining indie rock and philanthropy.

Arcade Fire members and Texas natives Win Butler and Will Butler and bandmates Regine Chassagne and Marika Anthony-Shaw were present for the evening, entitled “Arcade Fire: A Lecture on Hope, Haiti & Service.”

The group spoke about their relationship with Partners in Health, a healthcare charity in Haiti. The band has donated over $500,000 throughout the past four years and $1 of every ticket the band sells at concerts goes to the charity, said band frontman Win Butler.

“In the [United] States and Canada, there’s a basic attitude that you should be able to do things yourself,” Win said. “You take for granted all the infrastructure we have. When you see a place that has no government or money for basic necessities, you know people shouldn’t die from not being able to get a tetanus shot in 2012.”

Regine Chassagne’s Haitian heritage first inspired the band’s relationship with the country. Her family settled in Montreal after fleeing the dictatorship of François Duvalier in the 1960s.

After the band began to achieve rapid fame, they chose focus their efforts by working continually with Haiti, Chassanges said.

“I started thinking, how can I ignore this petition and that petition, how is this more important than this?” Chassanges said. “Well my family is Haiti, and Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, so hmm, that was pretty high on my list.”

The group was also inspired by the work of anthropologist Paul Farmer and his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” which details his outreach in Haiti. The book served as the starting point of involvement for many members of the band, said Anthony-Shaw.

“The poverty that was there was unlike anything he’d ever seen,” Anthony-Shaw said. “The dollar-per-ticket program grew from that book and it grew with the band.”

At the event, the band was questioned by members of the audience, including one who asked the group about the dangers of flooding money to countries while not checking on how effective that help would actually be.

Win said while he was extremely skeptical of celebrity charities, there are ways to check the efficiency of organizations and use money more effectively.

“If the question of ‘is this useful’ isn’t coming up, then you’re doing something wrong,” Win said. “If I donate a bunch of money and people end up going out and painting some schools when there’s massive unemployment, I’d be concerned.”

While other forms of advocacy and outreach are important, money is still a useful way to support afflicted and under-developed regions, Anthony-Shaw said.

This was the first time Arcade Fire has spoken at a university to advocate for Haiti, said band member Will Butler.

“We feel like we have a really great connection with Austin and the University of Texas at Austin,” Will said. “It was exciting to discuss with students and paint a more complex portrait and engage with such an exciting crowd.”

Band members said they hope their advocacy will lead to progress in Haiti that will benefit the country 20 or 60 years down the road.

“It’s not us helping the Haitians across a divide, its about making a common cause with these Haitians who respond to problems like any of us,” Win said “What makes people healthy is more complicated then just giving them a pill.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Band integrates philanthropy, music

Two years ago, a national team of engineers, including UT civil engineering professor Ellen Rathje and civil engineering graduate student Oscar Suncar, traveled to Haiti in a reconnaissance mission after the Jan. 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association sent the group of engineers and scientists to map damage and collect data on soil behavior during the earthquake.

Suncar said the research team’s information could facilitate the reconstruction of Haiti’s infrastructure.

“We used remote sensing and satellite images that are taken at the moment of the earthquake,” Suncar said. “We try to identify wherever we think the soil may have [collapsed]. We evaluate what kind of soil it was and we run some tests to measure the consistency.”

The research team also informed Haitian authorities on how to prepare for future earthquakes and how to implement good regulations and building codes. Suncar said the magnitude of the disaster resulted from a combination of poor soil conditions and a lack of strong regulatory building codes.

“The soil was very soft and relatively, geologically new,” Suncar said. “Most of the construction was made on top of these deposits in Port-au-Prince including the national palace.”

Due to great poverty and poor regulation, infrastructure in Haiti was poorly made previous to the earthquake, Suncar said.

“People construct however they can,” Suncar said. “We saw a lot of the steel reinforcement was very old that could not withstand the earthquake.”

However, two years after the earthquake and the research mission, Suncar said there are still many problems with the infrastructure in Haiti.

“There is still a lot of rubble,” Suncar said. “I would hope to see a reconstruction plan so that Haiti can go from the position they are in right now, to a country that can grow by itself.”

Wendy Womack, sophomore radio-television-film major and secretary of the Lespwa Means Hope Texas Chapter traveled to Port-au-Prince in March 2010, and said the buildings in were still destroyed.

“They need people who will go down and help it be rebuilt,” Womack said.

Civil engineering senior Amber McCullough said she hopes to be part of the reconstruction of Haiti in the future.

“These are the projects that as a civil engineer I hope to one day donate my efforts, talents and knowledge to,” McCullough said.

However, she said she acknowledges the huge task ahead for civil engineers.

“If the rebuilding does actually take place, this could be a monumental project for engineers because of the limitations such as resources, and will take efforts of pro bono workers,” McCullough said.

A girl receives treatment for cholera symptoms at a Doctors Without Borders cholera clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Oct. 19, 2011. Dr. Paul Farmer said that cholera has sickened more than 450,000 people in a nation of 10 million.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A human rights group said Tuesday it has filed claims with the United Nations seeking damages on behalf of more than 5,000 Haitian cholera victims and their families.

The claims filed by the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti argue that the U.N. and its peacekeeping force are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to adequately screen peacekeeping soldiers.

They cite a range of studies that indicate the infected soldiers caused the outbreak when untreated waste from a U.N. base was dumped into a tributary of Haiti’s most important river.

“The sickness, death and ongoing harm from cholera suffered by Haiti’s citizens are a product of the U.N.’s multiple failures,” the complaint reads. “These failures constitute negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and deliberate indifference for the lives of Haitians.”

Cholera has sickened nearly 500,000 people and killed more than 6,500 others since it surfaced in Haiti in October 2010, according to the Haitian Health Ministry. Evidence suggests that the disease was inadvertently brought to Haiti by a U.N. battalion from Nepal, where cholera is endemic. A local contractor failed to properly sanitize the waste of a U.N. base, and the bacteria leaked into a tributary of one of Haiti’s biggest rivers, according to a study by a U.N.-appointed panel.

The disease spread throughout Haiti because of poor sanitation, and the country now has the highest cholera infection rate in the world.

There had been no documented cases of the disease prior to its arrival, and medical workers say the disease is likely to become endemic.

Cholera is caused by a bacteria found in contaminated water or food, and can kill people within hours through dehydration. It is easily treatable if caught in time.

The Institute filed the petition on Thursday with the Office of the Secretary General in New York and with the claims unit for the mission in Port-au-Prince, said Brian Concannon, an attorney who is director of the Institute.

Concannon said he hoped the U.N. mission would set up a tribunal to evaluate the claims. He also said he hoped the U.N. force would create a lifesaving program that would provide sanitation, potable water and medical treatment. He also said he wants a public apology.

“We’re obviously hoping that the U.N. will step up and do the right thing,” he said by telephone.

If that doesn’t happen, the group plans to file the claims in a Haitian court, he said.

The petitioners include families who saw breadwinners die from cholera, and the institute said some families spent their life savings and went into debt to pay for funerals.

The Institute is also seeking a minimum of $100,000 for each bereaved family and $50,000 for each cholera survivor.

U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg said she was aware that a group was planning to file the complaint but couldn’t confirm that a claim presented to her was the same one officially received by the United Nations.

“In any case, the petition, when it is received, should be transferred to the legal office and headquarters,” Van Den Wildenberg said.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The top U.N. official in Haiti says the government’s plan to restore the army will require a new agreement with the world body.

Head of U.N. Mission Mariano Fernandez tells The Associated Press the existing agreement has no provision to allow peacekeepers to work with a Haitian military. Fernandez says the Security Council would need to change the mandate.

Fernandez is in charge of the 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers who have kept order in Haiti since 2004. He said Monday the country has been making progress in reducing political conflict. He praised President Michel Martelly for recent meetings with former leaders.

Haiti’s army was disbanded in 1995 after years of abuse and military coups.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced Tuesday the designation of Jacmel, Haiti, as a Friendship City of Austin.

Jacmel is often compared to Austin, Leffingwell said in a press release, a similarity primarily found in their creative communities including art and film.

The effort to aid the city following the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country may serve as a model for other U.S. cities to adopt Friendship Cities in Haiti through a relationship that includes tourism, trade and cultural interaction, said Matt Curtis, a spokesman for Leffingwell’s office.

“If our communities can exchange culture, promote tourism and economic development, the benefits will be significant,” Leffingwell said.

Curtis said the designation would increase awareness of the similarities between both cities in an effort to strengthen the links between them.

“The mayor’s number one goal is that our community can help in the reconstruction of Jacmel,” Curtis said.

One example is the exchange in film between both cities, which will develop a richer appreciation of the material each has to offer, said Kevin Johns, director of economic growth and redevelopment for the city of Austin in the press release.

“The Friendship City relationship between Austin and Jacmel will create tremendous creative industry opportunities,” Johns said.

The designation of a Friendship City pushes communities to encourage cooperation in economics, education and culture, according to the press release.

News Briefly

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian President Michel Martelly has chosen a former justice minister as his nominee for prime minister in his second attempt to fill the position, a government official said Wednesday.

Bernard Gousse was chosen in the hopes that his experience and reputation as a prominent attorney will overcome opposition from lawmakers who rejected the president’s first candidate for the post, businessman Daniel-Gerard Rouzier, said Martelly’s chief of staff, Thierry Mayard-Paul.

“He’s an honest man. He has experience in public administration,” Mayard-Paul told The Associated Press. “We believe that Mr. Gousse can drive this country out of its turmoil.”

The nominee still may face a challenge winning approval from a Senate and Chamber of Deputies dominated by the opposition Unity party of former President Rene Preval.

Gousse served as justice minister under the interim government that was formed after the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Critics accused him of persecuting supporters of Aristide, who returned to Haiti in March and remains a popular figure in the impoverished country.

Unity party Deputy Patrick Joseph said Gousse would be rejected. “The choice is a bad choice,” he said. “He won’t be ratified.”