Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is the United States Racist?

I'm in Florida today, which is as close as I'm going to get to Haiti for awhile. It's a good time to contemplate a couple of things about Haitians who reside in the United States. First of all, there are close to 1,000,000 of them. This group of people is referred to as the Haitian diaspora.

When I think about how Haiti manages to remain even a little bit functional, I, and others, come to the conclusion that it is because of the estimated $1.2 billion that Haitians in the United States send back to their families in Haiti. These remittances total one-third of the Haitian economy.

TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, is the second thing to contemplate regarding Haitians in the States. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, TPS can be granted by the U.S. government to people from countries that are experiencing "ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions." Before he left office, President George W. Bush extended TPS for the citizens from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Wouldn't you think that given Haiti's four back-to-back hurricanes in 2008, on top of a whole lot of other problems, that its citizens might qualify for TPS? Haitians might qualify, but they weren't granted TPS.

Why? Given the other nationals that we've extended TPS to, there is no credible answer to this question. Haiti definitely has suffered from repeated "environmental disasters." If you worry that granting TPS to Haitians would causes masses of them to sail for Florida, recent history refutes this. According to the Miami Herald, in the 1990's, the Clinton administration allowed 50,000 Haitians to stay in the country; there was no big deluge of immigrants.

Really, if you look at all the evidence, the only conclusion you can come to is that Haitians are denied TPS because of racism.

There is no other answer, and I take it personally.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Nobody does Mardi Gras or Carnival, like Haiti. It's a whole season of partying, culminating today, in Fat Tuesday. The whole country will be one big party with many coming from the States to join in the festivities.
For Richard Morse, the owner of the fabled Hotel Oloffson and leader of the Haitian band RAM, Carnival is a busy time, with his hotel busy and the band playing all over the country. Richard posts regularly to the Corbett list and his comments are always interesting. Here's recent example that has nothing to do with Carnival
When the population eventually rises up and puts an end to Haiti's archaic economic system, controlled by the Gang of Eleven, controlled by "Friends of the Embassy", people will be screaming bloody murder. People will have forgotten how the Gang of Eleven decided to import rice and sugar, instead of producing it locally. People will forget how when the Gang of Eleven used the Haitian army to wipe out thousands of less fortunate Haitians, when their personal and economic interests were questioned. People will forget how in 2009, people couldn't get to work, children couldn't go to school, because the Gang of Eleven didn't like the lowering of the public gas price. There were no complaints about windfall profits when the price went up, but the reversal of fortune is unacceptable to the Gang of Eleven.
Despite all of our time in the country, we at Haitian Hearts have never gotten too involved in the cultural aspects of Haiti, though I find learning about the culture interesting and Carnival sounds like a lot of fun. In theory, it's the big, indulge-all-your-desires blowout before the abstinence and penance of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. When Haiti was a predominantly Catholic nation, this was probably more the case. But even though the religious significance may have faded, the parades, parties, bands, dancing, costumes have remained. So party on!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What's the Solution?

Sometiemes when we've been in Haiti in a clinic, the waiting room overflowing with sick and poor children, I want to scream, "Why doesn't the world do something?" Why is it that the suffering children of the world don't command our attention, our compassion, our action?
Calm-headed sages might take me aside and say, "Maria, fixing this problem just isn't so simple." How do you go about making life better for these children? To use a hospital analogy: if sick poor children are the patient it seems the disease requires both the emergency room and long term chemotherapy.
Aid from the developed world is one of the accepted solutions to developing world poverty. Well, not according to Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist with a book coming out called, Dead Aid. In this interview in the NY Times, when asked what she thinks has held back Africans, Moyo responds,
I believe it’s largely aid. You get the corruption — historically, leaders have stolen the money without penalty — and you get the dependency, which kills entrepreneurship. You also disenfranchise African citizens, because the government is beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people.
She believes that things like capitalism, microfinancing, small businesses are the way to change a country as she says is happening in China.
Perhaps she's right and this is a better solution. In any case, how many children will have to die before things change?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Katia Needs a Job

Katia, pictured above with my dad, had successful surgery in Joliet in 2004. She had a heart damaged by rheumatic fever. I vividly remember the autumn day that we got her U.S. visa. What a time of celebration!

After recuperating for a couple of months, Katia returned to Haiti in May 2005. We see Katia when we travel to Haiti and keep her supplied with the medicines she needs.
Katia sent John the following e-mail last week:

i got a problem, i don't work i don't go to school but you know in my country the situation isn't good but i want to make something to live; i haven't no one,then i want to ask you for seconde if you can help me in that case but i let choose for me any way you give i will accept to do it.please you know i considere you as my father. i don't feel me well cause every day i stay in my mother would to help me but she can't.then please try to understand me. when you stay to do nothing that's bad please thinking about that for me please. i pray god for you for give you the possibilty.god bless you.kiss for every body.

Katia concerns embody Maslow's Hierarchy of psychological needs. Now that she has her pressing health need met, she can turn her attention to higher level needs. One of these is to be productive and contribute.

Katia's note is a good reminder that we work to restore people's health in part so that they can make their unique and necessary contribution to the world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In the past year, my 77-year-old father Ed has been to Haiti twice. These have been his first trips to the island nation. Each time, my husband John has invited dad to help escort patients back to the States.

I must admit that I have been a little nervous about my dad going, mainly because if he were to have a health problem there would be little chance that he could get adequate care. But each trip has gone well.

There's really no substitute to going to Haiti for understanding the country. Hmm. . . understanding might not be the right word to use; perhaps encountering would be better. I have spent so much time in Haiti that I was interested in what a first time visitor's impressions were. Following are some comments John made about my dad's observations.

The first morning Ed looked at me, chuckled, and said, "We are surrounded by walls." Ed had surveyed the neighborhood that morning. And he was right. There were walls everywhere. The top of the walls that surround private homes in Haiti have broken glass and razor wire embedded in cement. One would really have to want to get inside the walls to run the risk of going over top. . .The formidable walls in our neighborhood in Haiti's capital startled him since he has spent most of his adult life trying to tear down walls.

Later that first morning in Haiti we piled into a pickup and traveled south and east of Port-au-Prince to an elite suburb called Petionville. We wanted to visit the site of La Promesse, the school that had collapsed suddenly one morning in early November. This tragedy had riveted the world's attention on Haiti and its courageous people. The UN soldiers in Haiti dug through the rubble. International disaster experts were flown in. Pope Benedict sent his condolences. The world seemed to care about these Haitian students and their families.

When we arrived at the site, a small contingent of UN forces from Jordan was walking up the street from the collapsed three story building. A big empty spot was apparent on the side of the street overlooking a steep ravine. About 30 Haitians were milling about on top of broken cement, rubble, and twisted rebar. Many were staring down into the ravine. Most people were quiet. . . I wondered about crushed little bodies that may lie just beneath my dirty shoes. One mother had lost 5 kids in the crush at the school named " The Promise".

Madame Telemak, a neighbor lady, standing in the debris with us, told me she heard a loud noise at 10 AM the morning the school fell. She ran over and witnessed the panic and screaming that enveloped the neighborhood. Family members and neighborhood people dug with their bare hands attempting to free anyone they could get to.

Walls of adjacent homes that had been attached to La Promesse were hanging in various states of disarray and shambles. The walls had been partially ripped off when the school collapsed and again with the process of extrication of survivors and victims. . .After a short time, there wasn't much more to see or talk about. Helpless doesn't describe the situation. A few pictures and collective shaking of heads, and it was time to leave. . . I agree with my sagacious father-in-law. Walls everywhere, not just in Haiti, need to be removed so places like La Promesse don't collapse and crush the future for all of us.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Host Families

Haitian Hearts could not do what it does--bring children to the States for life saving surgery--without the generous contributions of host families. Actually, "generous contributions" doesn't do these families' involvement justice. For they open their homes often for months to poor children with serious medical problems from another country who don't speak English.

As you can imagine, in addition to not feeling well, these children are often afraid and homesick. In a short plane ride, they have been transported from their familar world to one that, however more prosperous, is jarringly different and filled with strangers.

Thanks to our host families, these children are soon among friends. Our families feed, hold, play with, rock and in all ways help these children make the adjustment to the States and prepare and recover from surgery. They take them to appointments, sit by their beds, and act as their surrogate parents with as much love, caring, and effort as they do for their own children.

So many dedicated families have helped Haitian children through the years, but I'd like to mention one in this post: Jim and Jane Ebel of St. Louis. Jim is a physician and Jane is an art teacher. The Ebels, who have four grown children are a close knit family, who are devout in their faith. Jim and Jane make a good team and have provided a wonderfully loving home to children from the ages of 10 months to 17 years. Jim monitors the children's health and Jane does art projects with the kids. They take them to church, to family events, and to the sights of St. Louis, as well as everything mentioned above that goes into caring for a child who has had major surgery. Actually, this list seems woefully inadequate because what the Ebels really do is make the child part of their family.

They have done this for five children and even two of the children's mothers. Jim and Jane keep in touch with some of their guests after they return to Haiti. They have really given of themselves to these children.
I think I know Jim and Jane well enough to know that they would say that they have received as much or more as they have given. In a awesome and mysterious way, isn't this how it works?The Ebel Family is an inspiring example of the principle. We thank them and so do a lot of people in Haiti.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Heurese Update

Heurese, the young woman who had surgery a couple of months ago in Cleveland, is doing very well. She is continuing to recover in Cleveland.

Heurese had a state-of-the-art artificial heart valve put in to replace her defective valve. One of the really excellent things about this new valve is that she shouldn't have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life.

You may know that blood sometimes clots around artificial things in the body. In order to prevent this, patients with artificial valves have to take medicine that thins the blood for the rest of their lives. For people who live in Haiti, this is problematic because they have to monitor their blood to ensure that it doesn't get too thick or thin. This can be done in Haiti, but like many things, it is extra difficult. For reasons I can't explain, Heurese's new valve will not require her to take blood thinners.

Heurese is a very industrious person. With her health restored, she is helping her host family with chores and in any way she can.

She is a blessing to all of us.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Life is very hard for poor people in poor countries. All their energy and attention is focused on survival: getting enough food to eat, having safe shelter, obtaining clean water. It's hard for people to try to better their lives or the lives of their children in these circumstances.

Once in awhile, though, you come across a person who for many reasons, is able to think of and work toward a better life. We know such a person in 20-year-old Frandy. We met Frandy seven years ago when he came to John about his heart.

Frandy lives on top of a mountain with his mother and two older brothers in the seaside slum of Carrefour, next to Port-au-Prince. He is very thin. I remember when we went to Frandy's home. We hiked and hiked and came to a two room, concrete block structure with a tin roof. Frandy welcomed us, and his mother served us Coca Cola that they had gotten for the occasion of our visit.

Frandy had a hole in his heart, and he came to St. Louis for medical care. His mother accompanied him. On the first night here, as his mother soaked up the incredible luxuries of this country, she said, "We are in paradise."

Frandy did not have to have surgery, which was a blessing. Another blessing for him was an opportunity to experience the blessings of the United States.

He returned to Haiti after a two month stay. Frandy was already a driven person who excelled in school. He was now motivated to work even harder and with the support of people in the States, he saw a way that he might attain the almost impossible goal for a poor Haitian of going to college.

Frandy's supporters paid for his education in Haiti. He studied and studied. He listened to the Voice of America. He practiced writing English through sending e-mails and speaking English with anyone he could. He became quadralingual in the process. Frandy speaks French, Haitian Creole, English, and Spanish.

He passed the Haitian equivalent of high school, a huge achievement for someone from Frandy's background. Later this month, he will take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Passing TOEFL is a requirement for a foreign student to attend college in the United States. Say a prayer that he does well, will you?

I think Frandy is succeeding because he is: intelligent and driven. These may be God-given qualities, but Frandy is making the most of them. He also has people willing to invest in him. Without this, attending college in the United States would be a cruel dream.

Frandy sees a better life for himself and his family and that vision draws him on. I admire him a lot. God willing, he will succeed.