The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
13 Years Later: Vibrancy, Vigor Colors the Lives of the People of Haiti
By Mike Givens on January 12, 2023
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 introduced a magnitude 7.0 earthquake to the Republic of Haiti, a natural disaster that would impact one third of the nation’s population. Death toll estimates ranged from 100,000 to more than 300,000 and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.
Words will never be able to adequately encompass the impact of how this earthquake changed Haiti, but one critical piece of infrastructure the earthquake failed to touch was the spirit of its people.
In 1804, Haiti became the first Black republic; it rose as a symbol of what freedom looks like when oppression is cast off. Its freedom from European colonialism and control set a global precedent and demonstrated on an international stage the strength, wisdom, and fortitude of an entire group of people refusing to allow their lives to be circumscribed by the shackles of anti-Black racism and degradation.
As we commemorate this day, the lives lost, the damage wrought, and the international response that would cast a light on just how Haiti was—and is—treated by other nations, we cannot forget that this is a nation of people who refused to be beaten down, oppressed, and defined by a subservience to—and dependence on—wealthier nations.
Today, January 12, 2023, the people of Haiti continue to face their own challenges: A despotic and incompetent government that refuses to listen to civil society; unimaginable instances of violence in Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities; the complete collapse of the law and vital social supports to protect those in need.
However, in times like this, we are reminded that the word Haiti in the language of the Indigenous Taíno people, means “mountainous land.” And while that first word does indeed describe the topography of the nation, it also describes the collective people of Haiti.
Mountains are strong and inviolate. While a physical marker that can denote location, the idea of a mountain is also a spiritual marker, a beacon of solidity and resoluteness. No other visual is appropriate in describing Haiti or its people.
As we solemnly acknowledge this day, we also acknowledge that determination and strength is in the DNA of the people of Haiti. We will listen to what the needs are and be responsive to those needs in the spirit of meeting our partners eye to eye, hand to hand, and heart to heart. Most importantly, we will follow their leadership, experience, and expertise and support civil society’s efforts to rebuild and replenish.
Image Credit: UNICEF