Tonight on PBS, two really strong documentaries dig deep into issues in Haiti that not only provide insight into the situation now post earthquake but reveal the truths of how desperate the situation was prior to the earthquake.
It is especially important to remember that lack of education and employment leading to children turning to crime and gangs and thus increased violence is not just Haiti's problem. These are important issues and cause and effects that plague countries even the United States and Europe.
I encourage you to spend the evening on your couch watching Frontline's Battle for Haiti produced and directed by Dan Reed and Independent Len's Children of Haiti produced and directed by Alexandria Hammond.
I spoke with both of these filmmakers today and they each answered a few questions and gave their perspectives on the current situation in Haiti, one year after the earthquake.
You can watch both of the trailers at the end of this post.
Interview with Alexandria Hammond:
The boys featured in your documentary did not attend school and they were living on the street with very little prospects for their future. Since you shot the film, have you seen any positive changes in the educational system in Haiti?
When I went to Port-au-Prince this summer, I had a meeting with the head of education in the government and he said the goal is to create free schools by 2015. Education gives kids structure and a goal. Of course there are special issues with these street kids. They need counseling and often teaching them specific skills will be more helpful than a "formal education" at this point.
There is an amazing organization called Kids Alive that has started in Cap-Haïtien and I see them doing beautiful work, not just with the street kids but the orphans that have arrived from Port-au-Prince in Cap-Haïtien.
What was your personal experience with Haiti as a country and what drew you to keep returning?
When I step in Haiti, and I have to be honest, now it feels really sad, but before the earthquake it was always a place that felt like Technicolor. The moment I stepped foot onto its soil, it is humanity at it's rawest. It's a hard to thing to describe, but you feel alive there, there is this energy there.
The culture and people and it's history is so captivating. The history especially, the Citadelle Laferrière, the National Palace and to be there and know this was where the first black slave revolt, the only successful black slave revolt in the world occurred is huge. I wanted to capture all of this through the eyes of the Haitian children and give them a voice and also show why Haiti is so important to world history.
Interview with Daniel Reed:
Your film deals with the fact that during the earthquake. the prisoners escaped and for the most part have remained free. This only adds to a sense of lawlessness that exists on the street of Port-au-Prince. What is your perspective on the gangs, violence and now these street children and orphans thrown into the mix?
If you want to stop kids joining gangs, you have to create employment in order for their parents to be able to afford schooling. The private sector is the only part of the Haitian economy where real jobs for illiterate workers (most Haitians can't read or write) can be found. For the private sector to grow Americans must invest in Haiti. For them to risk money in a country without rule of law would be foolish. Without basic security and a functioning court system you can't have rule of law. And so it all comes back to security. The Haitians I met were all desperate for security. It's their number one priority.
Corruption is part and parcel of the absence of rule of law. If there's total impunity, and the courts don't work, no one is going to obey the law. So corruption becomes endemic. And donor countries channel their aid to NGOs, who have to spend huge amounts for their foreign workers to be able to operate safely and comfortably in Haiti. And the aid disbursed to NGOs is spent without the Haitian state - corrupt and weak though it may be - having any say in coordinating how it all gets spent. So aid money ends up being "sprinkled" around without much effect. To be blunt, what Haiti needs is: roads, sewers and a working government - in particular an administration that is enabling and not compulsively obstructive like the current one.
What was your impression of Haiti and do you think outside involvement is aiding or deterring its rebuilding process?
I'd never visited Haiti before last year, though I'd known about the heroic exploits of Toussaint l'Ouverture since reading about him as a child. Haitians are born survivals and they never quite tell you the truth about anything as a means of survival. The same thing you or I would do in that situation. There's a word for it in Creole, "Marronage" meaning "never really letting the other guy know what you are thinking."
Many people turn up and approach the Haitian people as victims, very cute good-looking victims, but that is a condescending approach. I look at them as my equal and good problem solvers and especially good at looking at foreigners coming in and using the foreigners'' ignorance to obtain some kind of advantage.
I spent long enough there to really get to know and like the people and my gut feeling is that the involvement of foreigners there, while it might look good on paper, is really resented by the Haitian people. This was even before the cholera outbreak was pinned on the UN. There is a fierce pride and a resentment of outsiders. I can't help but thinking the less we are involved and the more we let Haitians sort out their own problems the better.