The magnitude of last week’s earthquake in Haiti measured 7.0, but the full scope of the tragedy continues to unfold. Each day brings new challenges, from reports of looting, lack of adequate supplies, and a strong aftershock that struck earlier this week. But stories of survival, resilience and hope are also emerging from the rubble, and these authors find that strength, faith, and music are vitally important as the crisis continues.
Upon his return from Port-au-Prince in the wake of the disaster, Paul Farmer wrote in a Miami Herald op-ed that he was struck by both the widespread devastation and the willingness of people to help one another. Farmer, author of Partner to the Poor, Pathologies of Power, and other books, gave his perspective on the kinds of support that are most needed in Haiti now. He writes about the logistical challenge of getting aid to the people who need it, the need for money and coordination in meeting this challenge, and the strength and resilience that he saw amid the destruction. In this 60 Minutes clip, Farmer talks about surgical care in Haiti since the quake. Farmer is co-founder of the organization Partners in Health, which has provided medical care in Haiti for more than 20 years and has been treating patients in Port-au-Prince and beyond since the earthquake. To learn more about PIH or to support its earthquake relief efforts, visit standwithhaiti.org or PIH.org.
PIH uses a community-based model, joining with impoverished communities in long-term partnerships and working with them on many levels to improve the quality of health care. Margarita Mooney, author of Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, echoes this sentiment in a Miami Herald op-ed and on her blog, where she writes that enlisting the active cooperation of Haitian people is crucial to recovery. “The Haitian people are the greatest resource Haiti has to rebuild itself. Their resilience in the face of disaster forms a foundation upon which all organizations rushing to aid Haiti can build upon”, she says. She finds that Haitians’ religious faith is a vital supplement to humanitarian aid, with the power to heal wounds that surgery and bandages cannot.
In an op-ed on CNN.com, Elizabeth McAlister, author of Rara!: Voudou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora, looks at the various ways that people of different faiths and backgrounds are interpreting the earthquake. She writes: “For Christians it is to have faith, hope, and charity. For fundamentalist Protestants, it is to convert all souls, give aid, and wait for Jesus’ return. For Vodouists, it is to regain balance with the land and the unseen spiritual world. For many social scientists, it is to strengthen Haitians’ capacity for self-government, to relieve the debt Haiti owes, to reforest the land, and to figure out how to divorce aid from dependence.” In this Interfaith Voices interview, McAlister discusses how Catholics, Pentecostals and Voudoists are understanding the crisis of meaning presented by the earthquake, and the roles of faith and prayer in grieving.
This week, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a segment on the role of Voodoo in helping Haitians understand and cope with the disaster. In the piece, McAlister gives some background on Voodoo, and in this Washington Post article, she explores the Voodoo perspective on the earthquake’s meaning. In a New York Times interview, McAlister discusses the Voodoo philosophy of a spirit that transcends the body, and some ways that this philosophy may be helping people cope with tragedy.
In this segment from WNYC/Public Radio International’s The TakeAway, McAlister talks about how music is bringing people together in Haiti: “It’s crucial. People in the streets have absolutely nothing except the breath in their lungs…what we’re hearing from the streets is that what they are doing is that they are gathering together and singing. And they are singing hymns. They’re singing spiritual songs.”
Listen to Elizabeth McAlister on Public Radio International’s The TakeAway: