Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for September 2010

Ask any Haitian: What’s in a word? Turns out a whole lot

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According to the Associated Press, Haiti is still waiting for the money pledged by the United States after the earthquake. Key word is pledged. Pledging (or promising) is a far cry from actually paying out. According to the AP:

Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived. (

That is much needed money that would go into rubble clearing (most of it is still in the streets) and subsequent infrastructure rebuilding.

Well done, Obama Administration. What’s next? Cutting funding for PEPFAR? Oh wait, you did that already. Where’s Bush when you need him?

– ML


The conscience of one of Haiti’s great heroes

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The official title of this letter/image is: “Toussaint L’Ouverature , Division General Commandant in Chief of the West department, to Rochambeau, General -in-Chief, Expressing regrets about atrocities committed against prisoners. Gonaives, St Domingue.”

Donatien-Marie-Joseph Rochambeau was a French general under Napoleon and a major land-owner in St. Domingue. In 1802, he was appointed to lead an expeditionary force against the island in rebellion. He was notorious for his ruthlessness and for employing brutal tactics. One account, published a half-century after his death, declared:

“Rochambeau, the commanding general, from the landing of Napoleon’s expedition to the entire expulsion of the French, was a hard-hearted slaveholder, many of whose years had been spent in St. Domingo, and who, from the moment that he landed with his forces, treated the colored men as the worst of barbarians and wild beasts. He imported bloodhounds from Cuba to hunt them down in the mountains. When caught, he had them thrown into burning pits and boiling caldrons. When he took prisoners, he put them to the most excruciating tortures and the most horrible deaths. His ferocious and sanguinary spirit was too much for the kind heart of Toussaint, or the gentlemanly bearing of Christophe. His only match was Dessalines.” (The Black Man, His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements by William Wells Brown (1863))

Rochambeau surrendered to the rebel general Dessalines in November of 1803 after losing the Battle of Vertières and soon after, Haiti became an independent republic.

War being war, prisoners were presumably taken on both sides and, as the title of the letter indicates, prisoners are often mistreated or even killed. This letter demonstrates that even in war, Toussaint L’Ouverature – who could often be ruthless himself – maintained the honor of a soldier.

Old Administration Building in Port-au-Prince

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This is an old picture taken of an unspecified government administration building most likely in what is now, downtown Port-au-Prince. Like most of the government structures built in PAP during the early 1900s, it hints at Haiti’s French tradition. Many buildings, most notably the National Palace, drew inspiration from the French Renaissance. Similar architectural motifs are prevalent in the other former French colonies in the Caribbean and around the world. It’s in stark contrast with the tarpaulin tent colonies currently spread all over the capital.

– ML

Written by conversationswiththeliving

September 27, 2010 at 7:20 pm

We’ve Been Forgotten

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Today I received a text message from a dear friend in Haiti. “Please message me and tell me how you are doing. When I have minutes at the Internet café, I will respond. I hope you haven’t forgotten about me. I am still writing my stories, I hope one day you will read them. I will translate them for you. I am writing a book about Haiti. We hope for a better Haiti. My family is ok. We are tired and I would like to find work. It is difficult to have no one to count on. We miss you. We love you. When will you return?”

I stared at my phone from my desk at work, and my only concern was to respond to him immediately. We message almost daily and I slowly feel him losing hope. It is not characteristic of him, or of the Haitian people to relinquish that hope, a driving force for survival and strength when circumstances are dire. As a Carrefour native, with very little before the earthquake, he now lives like 1.3 million others in Haiti – in a tent city – with his mother and two siblings. Because of the economic struggles of his family in Haiti and abroad in the US, he no longer receives any relief, and worries for his family and his country, still buried in rubble.

He says, ” I want to study to become a doctor so I can help my country. I want to write so I can share my stories with the world. I know I have talent, but will I ever see my dreams realized?”

I have to believe he will. He can certainly count on himself if no one else, but he wants to trust someone will help, something will change, that promises made to his country are not empty.  As an educated youth in Haiti, he is not the norm, but the exception, and he knows Haiti’s people and their youth deserve better. He is amongst the many that take nothing for granted and if provided the proper tools will build a future for themselves that now seems so far from reach. He feels forgotten, and I sense through his words, it is not about him alone, it is about his country  – he feels they have been forgotten. He wants to be counted on to do great things; he wants the chance to do great things.

Something happened when the earthquake hit Haiti – the world woke up, remembered that Haiti exists, and reacted in a combined effort of humanitarian relief and compassion. Amongst the devastation lingered hope that the response from the world would not cease, that that pre-existing need in Haiti would be recognized and the urgent need to rebuild would be the fuel to power a new and better Haiti. Eight months later, not much has changed, and in a tent, only 26, he writes a fictional story about a young man near his age in Haiti who through finding love and opportunity manages to fulfill his dreams. I can only imagine where his inspiration comes from in this fictional story, riddled with the realities of his life, his hope bleeds onto the page in a haunting tale fueled by his passion to succeed in life, and be of service to his people. He is telling his story, and he is holding on to that happy ending.

He is a representation of the struggle of so many; millions with the capacity and will to rebuild a better Haiti if afforded the opportunity, millions who feel they have been once again been forgotten by the international community.

Sitting at my desk at work I e-mailed him to let him know I have not forgotten about him. I tell him if he keeps working he will succeed, to not lose hope, and that I will do everything in my power to help him. Words I hope will comfort him and continue to motivate me to continue my work in Haiti and maintain the life changing relationships that I have created with the people and organizations that work everyday for a better Haiti.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) has released a report of a human rights investigation into displacement camp conditions, titled We’ve Been For­got­ten”: Con­di­tions in Haiti’s Dis­place­ment Camps Eight Months After the Earth­quake, which outlines the desperation in Haiti’s camps and promotes a rights-based approach to relief and reconstruction.

The hope is that this report will give a voice to the people of Haiti, Victims of not only the earth quake, but of a history of instability who are facing grave conditions.  Discussing the lack of basic necessities and human rights, such as food, water, sanitation, housing, medical care, education,  and  employment, while providing an approach that maintains the ever-present spirit and integrity of the Haitian people  and their desire to assist in rebuilding their nation.

Presented by the University of San Francisco, the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH), Bureau Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Lamp  for Haiti , this document can be  read and downloaded at the link below.

An All-Star Panel discussing HIV in Haiti

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Dr. Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti, and Dr. Eric Goosby, UN Global AIDS Ambassador, draw a large crowd to an early-bird session on Haiti at the International AIDS Conference. Hosted by the Global Health Council the session aims to explain the devastation wrought by January’s earthquake – and offer plans for rebuilding.

Dr. Jean W. Pape, founder of Gates Award-winning NGO, GHESKIO, talks about how although well-positioned to tackle HIV/AIDS the wholesale destruction caused by the quake has taken the country’s struggles to another level. Despite this, both Pape and Farmer see in Haiti the opportunity to, in Bill Clinton’s words, “build back better”.

– ML

No Excuses

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There’s no doubt that the worldwide financial downturn of recent years has affected everyone. The ranks of the unemployed around the world linger in double-digit percentages. Millions of people are struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table while still more are living in fear of losing their jobs. As a result, the priority of most families is to stick money in the bank for a rainy day. It’s understandable and prudent. However, it also poses a problem for organizations that depend on the public’s generosity. With the threat of a double-dip recession looming, reports seem to indicate that people are holding back from donating, the latest of which was reported in the BBC.

Global poverty charity Oxfam has reported rising sales but falling donations in its results for the year ending in March. As the recession bit, donations to the UK-based charity fell 3%, but sales of second-hand clothing and goods at its stores rose 2%.


For those of us fortunate enough to still be gainfully employed, we should think seriously about giving during this time when others are not able to do so for financial reasons. It’s time to pick up the slack as if we’ll all on the same team. In a way we are. We share this planet with each other and depend on each other.

One good charity that has a long history of doing good work is Partners in Health. Since the earthquake, they have started a fund called Stand With Haiti that will supplement what they are already doing there. And what are they doing? The list is staggering and you can find it here: They feed Haitians, teach them how to feed themselves, empower them through education, and offer health care free of charge. They have set up clinics in the spontaneous tent settlements that have sprouted up all over the earthquake-affected areas.

If you can give, it’s important that you do so. Five-ten-twenty dollars. Anything and everything helps.

– ML

Written by conversationswiththeliving

September 20, 2010 at 9:33 pm